Categorized | design

Out-of-the-box thinking about boxes — Valentine’s Day edition

Although I spend most of my days in marcom and marketing consulting, I used to be a professional designer (the real kind, with formal training, not someone who learned Adobe Photoshop one weekend). Of all the challenges in marketing design, nothing is more difficult to do right than product packaging. And there is nothing in the promotions portfolio that can translate into revenues more effectively than a strategically well-designed package.

In designing packages, there are literally tons of practical considerations and “things to include.” There is also reams of research as to what works and what doesn’t, just as in catalogs. Spend any amount of time with a real pro, say from Mattel, and they’ll tell you that you have to do this and you have to do that and that if you do it this way, sales will go down by at least 20%, and so on and so on.

So it’s always a pleasure when some marketer and designer gets up the gumption to think totally out of the packaging box (think of Apple’s original packaging for the iPod as the gold standard of creative, rule-breaking, highly effective packaging). Now sometimes, designers and marketers can go a bit mad, such as when my boss designed a black package for toothpaste (sure it was creative, but would you buy toothpaste in a black box?) And sometimes, totally mad is what the doctor ordered.

So, on to the totally mad and brilliantly effective.

I collect packaging from all over the world — I have an entire network of friends that send me packages and ads from hither and yon — and I just received this mad package of Valentine’s Day chocolates from Japan (Japanese is one of the 26 languages I’ve studied).

The Japanese have Valentine’s Day just like we do. However, as anyone who has ever spent some time watching anime or devouring manga knows feelingly, the Japanese do things a bit differently. In Japan, it’s the woman who gives the man chocolates, not the other way around (however, on White Day — ホワイトデー, March 14, men give the women (white) chocolates, marshmallows, or some other white sweet thing).

And women don’t just give chocolates to their sweeties on Valentine’s Day (“love-chocolates”). They’re also expected to give chocolates to the significant men in their life, such as their boss, even if they can’t stand the sight of them. The Japanese call these, “obligatory gift chocolate” or “courtesy chocolate” — 義理チョコ or ぎりチョコ (giri choco) (Pronunciation alert: That’s “cho” (チョ) as in “chosen” and “co” (コ) as in “cocoa”, so “choaco”, not “chawco” like you might pronounce it in English — the whole word is pronounced something like “(hard-g) geelee choaco”)

Kind of melts your heart, that. Obligatory gift chocolate.

As you might imagine, as women in Japan have become more independent, they have been less inclined to give out giri chocos, particularly to guys they don’t like. Which is a serious marketing problem for chocolate makers.

Well, marketers being what they are, some chocolate makers are trying to convince men to buck tradition and buy women chocolates on Valentine’s Day, to “give in reverse.”

So, from Morinaga’s Carre de Chocolat line, here we have a package of “reverse chocolates”:

No, there’s nothing wrong with the image — look at the bottom right where it says “21 Pieces.”

This is brilliant packaging.

Everything on the front of the package, English and Japanese, is reversed (except for the info in the bottom left and “21 Pieces”). However, the little blue ribbon in the top left says in normal top to bottom, unreversed Japanese writing, “Reverse Chocolate,” 逆チョコ , where “reverse” means what we would mean in English when we, for instance, drive a car or run a machine in reverse. So an incredibly accurate translation would be, “chocolate to be given in reverse” (i.e., man to woman).

The idea is simple, gets the message across, gets attention, and has high shelf appeal. When presented to a woman, the joke is instantly apparent. In other words, it not only has a strong shelf appeal — it has a strong presentation appeal, which is what gift-givers are looking for when choosing gifts.

Technically, the designer doesn’t break any rules. This is the kind of creativity I always try to impress on clients when they start working on packaging design. For instance, a couple years ago I designed a crayon box for an entertainment property consisting of books and videos. The oddest thing about competing crayon boxes is that they’re virtually colorless (they’re all trying to imitate Crayola boxes). So I designed a box bursting with color with cartoon crayons smiling and waving. When we did a focus group, 100% of the kids we tested grabbed our crayons first. With great gusto.

So, men, for Valentine’s Day, order your reverse chocolates and see what kind of response you get this year (yeah, you can find Web sites that will ship, but you have to navigate the Japanese).

If you are cool with Japanese, you can view the Carre de Chocolat Web site here. That’s where I kiped the image I’m using up above.

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2 Responses to “Out-of-the-box thinking about boxes — Valentine’s Day edition”

  1. jimmy says:

    it’s all too confusing, women give me chocolates, men give women “reverse chocolates” and then do it all again on white day


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