Creating Brand Identity Through Packaging Symbolism

The packaging and branding experts are rich with illustrations that the consumers buy a product not only for the functional utility it provides but also for the symbolic meaning it possesses. The symbolism associated with products operates in two directions. The first is inward in constructing our self-identity, self-symbolism. The other is outward in creating the social world, social symbolism. To date, the marketing and branding experts have focused primarily on advertising as the major instrument of cultural meaning creation and transfer for brands and consumers.


One marketing element that has been largely overlooked in the practical construction and communication of brand symbolism is product packaging. Packaging acts as a communication vehicle for transmitting brand and product symbolism and is important for its symbolic contribution to the total understanding of the brand. Several managerial trends and strategic practices suggest a growing role for packaging as a brand communication vehicle.


These include an increase in non-durable product buying decisions at the store shelf, a reduction in spending on traditional brand-building mass-media advertising, and growing management recognition of the capacity of packaging to create differentiation and identity for relatively homogenous consumers non-durables.


Retail display box packaging communicates brand personality via multiple structural and visual elements, including a combination of the brand logo, colors, fonts, package materials, pictorials, product descriptions, shapes, and other elements that provide rich brand associations.


Symbolism generated and communicated by the retail display boxes may include convenience, environmental consciousness, ethnicity, family, health consciousness, national and regional authenticity, nostalgia, prestige, value, and variations in quality, among others. In addition, unlike the singular symbolic resource base provided by advertising, retail display box packaging exists as a dual symbolic resource base.


The imagery of such packaging boxes through design continuity and the social meaning attached to package design elements (e.g., color, size, shape, typography, etc.) is a critical mechanism in the shared social understanding of the brand. Packaging is also tangible, a three-dimensional marketing communication vehicle that is often integrally tied to the ongoing performance of the product offering.


After the products have been bought, the printed display boxes may reside in the home, potentially becoming an intimate part of the consumer’s life. This is a phenomenon that represents a type of lived experience between consumer and brand.


Packaging boxes are positioned as a product-related attribute. They are known as an aspect of the product that is often critical to creating and communicating brand identity. This positioning contrasts directly with several brands’ practices that consider packaging a non-product-related attribute – an aspect of the purchase and consumption process that is typically not directly related to product performance. These benefits communicate and contribute to the brand’s identity while also providing a vehicle for the expression of self via purchase and consumption. This brand communication role is especially important for relatively homogenous low involvement consumer non-durables.


Packaging may also play a key role in the creation and enhancement of the consumer-brand relationship. Branded packaging and its symbolic associations play a primary role in providing meaning and value for creating and maintaining the consumer’s personal and social world. Consumers often realize a profound symbolic significance from the products. The implications inherent to possessions are integral to the construction and perception of brand identity.


Because packaging exists as an element of mass communication in the marketplace, consumers can experience symbolism-derived retail display boxes without engaging in the actual purchase and usage of the product. This type of mediated experience will generally take two forms: (1) processing package information at the point of purchase; and (2) processing packaging in advertisements and promotional communications. These mediated experiences can deliver meaning due to the shared social purpose innate to package design elements.


Package design is generally referred to as having two components, graphics, and structure. Both graphic (e.g., color, typeface, logos) and structural elements (e.g., shape, size, materials) can connote symbolism, as these attributes often share a distinctive public meaning in a culture. Package colors provide brand identification and visual distinction and produce emotions and associations that reinforce a brand’s benefits and symbolism. Consumers experience color in printed display boxes at three different levels: physiological, cultural, and associational.


The physiological response is universal and involuntary (e.g., the red color speeding the pulse, while green slows it down). The cultural experience relates to visual conventions that have been established over time in various societies (e.g., the color black evoking images of wealth and elegance in Europe and the Americas).


The associational experience reflects the color expectations for a particular product category and product due to marketing efforts over time. The element of color can: facilitate recognition of different types (e.g., bright colors relate to detergents, whites for medicines); communicate product positioning (e.g., black and gold symbolize prestige, elegance, wealth); serve as a code within a category (e.g., yellow refers to lemon in detergents, blue to peppermint, green to menthol in candy); and serve as a cue for abstract attributes (e.g., green as environmentally friendly, less-fattening).


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