The Challenge of Choice

July 1, 2005
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The Challenge of Choice
Jennifer Acevedo, Editor-in-Chief
Last month, Proctor & Gamble announced it would close the doors to its customized cosmetics business, Reflect.com. The online cosmetics purveyor, which allowed consumers to personalize a product’s color, formulation and packaging, had been held up by many as a model for mass customization.
“It was very much forward thinking. Maybe it was too far ahead of its time, who knows?” Ginger Kent, CEO of Reflect.com from Dec. 1999 to May 2002, recently told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
But was the company truly ahead of its time, or is the end of Reflect.com reflective of another issue entirely? How much choice is too much choice and does offering every conceivable option have a negative impact on the consumer’s ability to make buying decisions? And more to the point of this publication, how is packaging, which serves as the silent salesperson for these countless products, affected?
“In an effort to differentiate between over-extended brands, marketers are challenged to discover a yet unmet consumer benefit or a truly distinctive product benefit. This often results in more information being added to brand packaging, which only amplifies the visual cacophony at shelf,” Rob Wallace, managing partner of brand identity and package design firm Wallace Church, told attendees of our Packaging that Sells III conference last month.
The demise of Reflect.com does not mean the end of customization. In fact, custom and personalized packaging is expected to surge in the coming years. But it certainly reinforces the value of simplicity in all of your marketing and packaging endeavors. To that end, Wallace has three “simple” suggestions:
• Own an experience/hone your message. If you can’t express your brand’s unique reason for being in less than five words, you are not yet done with your positioning statement.
• Visualize your positioning. Convert your positioning statement into the colors, shapes, typestyles and graphics that best evoke the brand experience. Then determine which of these “visual positioning images” resonate with consumers.
• Resist the urge to fill the “white space”. Consider your back, top and side panels as the staging areas for important yet ancillary claims. If the face panel is clean, uncluttered and engaging, consumers will pick up your package (and turn it around and read the additional messages).
The most important thing to remember, says Wallace, is that simple is the new better. “Simple is the new, most effective design and communications aesthetic,” he says.

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