Umpteen KitKats are sold every day, every one of them emblazoned with the brand’s distinctive red-and-white wrapper and mixed-case lettering. It’s a style that seems almost unchanged since 1949, when the chocolate and wafer bar emerged in its current form. Confectionery folklore attributes its creation to Nigel Balchin, a multi-talented novelist, Hollywood playwright, work psychologist and chocolate enthusiast who’s also credited with coining the Black Magic name and putting bubbles into Aero. Whatever its exact history, the KitKat, along with Rolos, Smarties, Twix and dozens of other sweets, reveal the importance of packaging design. ‘Opening the wrapper is part of the pleasure of eating chocolate,’ says Robert Opie, director of the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising. ‘The colour, lettering, texture, and even sound of the packaging are important. People get very nervous when you change the design, as they’re not sure if the chocolate will be the same.’ Opie has curated a show of 1960s sweet wrappers from his extensive collection, and it’s both hugely nostalgic and graphically rewarding. There are long-forgotten bars, like Aztec with its faux-tribal lettering, Cadbury’s Twenties designed like a cigarette pack, and ‘Fry’s 5 boys’, one of the few bars to include cartoon people on the wrapper. In the 1960s, all the big names – especially KitKat, Mars and Bounty – looked very like their current incarnations, making you wonder if sweet success is as much about consistent design as chocolate and caramel.
Sweet Sixties is at the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising, Colville Mews, Londsdale Road, London W11, from 8 September to 31 May 2009