Whiskas, Air Wick and Russian beer show packaging is “dark horse” of new product success

Marketers should pay more attention to the 60% of consumer decision-making that happens at the shelf

Package design, one of the least heralded aspects of marketing, is a major factor behind the most successful product launches over the last two years.

The latest annual “Breakthrough Innovation Report” from research firm Nielsen analysed 9,900 product launches across Europe. From among many successful initiatives, Nielsen selected 11 that truly broke through. All 11 – which include Colgate®, Air Wick® and Whiskas® – generated at least £7.5/€7.5 million sales in the first year of launch (€5 million for launches in Eastern Europe) and maintained at least 90% of that figure in the second year. Image of 11 winners
Package design emerged as the key theme due to the amount of consumer decision-making that happens as they stand in front of the shelves.

“Package design is the dark horse of the marketing world. It receives little attention compared to other marketing disciplines, and its impact tends to be vastly underestimated,” says Ben Schubert from Nielsen’s Innovation Practice in Europe and co-author of the report. “Back-to-basics marketing such as how essential it is to stand out at the shelf has become slightly lost due to marketers’ increasing focus on where to advertise in a media-saturated world. Nearly 60% of product decisions are made at the shelf, and 56% of European consumers say in-store discovery is one of their top information sources for new products, compared to 45% for TV ads.”

Schubert points to winning examples by Whiskas in the UK and Air Wick but starts with the most striking example of package design’s role in a successful product launch – Gold Mine Beer’s Zhivoe, Russia’s first premium unpasteurized beer.

Since unpasteurized beer has a limited shelf life but a fresher taste, the brand’s agency created a bottle that resembles a freshly poured glass of beer. This “forged a more visceral connection in consumers’ minds with the refreshing taste of draft beer and a bar-like situation,” says Schubert. “It was so unlike traditional beer packaging that the bottle practically leapt off shelves and retailers actively began requesting to stock the product.”

Whiskas went for a new direction in their cat food package design. “Our new packaging is designed to help cat owners buy the right food for their cat’s age,” says Gina Head, senior brand manager at Mars Petcare. The design features clearer labelling of the target age ranges, more vibrant colours, larger fonts, a brighter food shot, and a larger cat image. "It may sound simple, but in the split-second when consumers make that decision about which cat food to buy, these things really make a difference and give consumers confidence that their cat is getting the right nutrition.”

For Air Wick’s Pure air freshener spray, testing revealed consumers loved a benefit the team had completely overlooked because it was a by-product of how the formula was developed – unlike traditional aerosol air fresheners, it didn’t wet surfaces such as furniture, clothing or skin. Thus, Airwick went for a cleanly designed bottle to support this key attribute, an aerosol that dispersed immediately in the air without spray settling. Retailers immediately saw the value of the concept’s elegant simplicity which enabled Pure to command a price point 20% above competitive offerings.

Schubert also cites a 2015 soft drink Breakthrough Innovation winner as an example of how much attention marketers should pay to package design. “They vetted over 30 different bottle designs whereas the typical design agency presents just three or four to the brand, who only select only one for further development. Based on an analysis of more than 90 package redesign initiatives, brands who test at least five designs with consumers are able to identify an option that performs significantly better on consumer preference and shelf standout than brands who explore fewer design directions.”