Top ten tips for designing limited-edition seasonal packaging

The season is upon us. It’s time to prepare for an avalanche of snowflakes and snowmen, rivers of red and green, and more twinkling lights than you can shake a candy cane at. It’s also time to prepare for the inevitable backlash against all this commercialised holiday cheer.

But take heart! Holidays and other special occasions provide brands with a license to put aside their typical constraints and innovate. It’s also an opportunity to drive incredible sales performance. Icons like Coke and Starbucks have been capitalising on holiday cheer and holiday spending habits for decades, and you can too. Here are some best practices for staying above the holiday fray and showing consumers a new side of your brand.

1. Don’t put an expiry date on your design. Design packaging that has a shelf-life beyond December. Consider forms, materials and visuals that can withstand the season and weather the holiday shopping hangover. Example: Instead of focusing just on holidays, US companies Widmer Brothers, Redhook, and Kona Brewing Co. create packaging that evokes the tone and spirit of the season all winter long.

CBA 12-pack
Craft Brew Alliance winter variety pack

2. ‘Tis the Season of Gifts and Traditions. Add value beyond your product, but in a way that is contextual to your product. Help consumers create a ritual around your brand. Example: Ballantine’s packaged its whisky with a unique and festive ice tray.

Ballantine’s with ice tray

3. Create collectables. Packages that are part of a set or able to be repurposed in an innovative way help make your brand part of some of the strongest traditions families have. Example: Pangea Organics created an easily wrapable and ‘easily plantable’ holiday gift box for its bodycare products that will actually grow a spruce tree.

Pangea Organics plantable spruce tree

5. Make Shopping Easy. Promote ‘gifting’ through fancy or unique or personalised packaging that is beautiful enough to be a gift itself. Example: Johnnie Walker allows you to personally engrave its coveted Blue Label bottles for the holidays.

Johnnie Walker
Johnnie Walker engraved bottle

6. Create a Campaign. Build ‘fanfare’ around your product launch. Tie your special-edition packaging into a campaign or topical event. Create a story around the specialness of the product that plays on the brand’s core attributes. Example: M&M’s does a great job of using its quirky candy characters to build seasonal or holiday specific awareness by tying packaging to print and TV ads.

MM Dark Christmas
M&M Dark Christmas

6. Change the Product (if possible).  Packaging may come and go, but if you can create a product that will only be available for a limited time, you’ve immediately jumped into the premium category and created urgency around the purchase. Example: Marmite Gold actually added edible gold flakes to its product.

Marmite Gold
Marmite Gold

7. Make the purchase an experience. Work with the distribution channels to help provide them with point of purchase materials that make the purchase part of the product experience. Better yet, create pop-up in-store experiences to help them sell-in the product. Example: Vaseline created engaging in-store experiences around its limited edition lip therapies, and its latest Pink Bubbly flavor became the fastest selling product in history at Selfridge’s department stores.

Vaseline Pink Bubbly
Vaseline Pink Bubbly

9. Frosty is safer than Santa. Design packaging that is evocative of the spirit of the season, but isn’t specific to individual religions. In addition to being a political quagmire in recent years, the winter season is booby-trapped with clichés. Wade in at your own risk. Example: Starbucks beautifully balances the holidays into its packaging design and products. Each year they have a slightly new take on the season so brand enthusiasts have something to anticipate.

Starbucks Christmas
Starbucks Christmas

9. If you can’t avoid clichés, have fun with them. You will be entering a market saturated with Santas and snowmen. Look for visual and tonal treatments that evoke the season without being overly dependent on overused symbols, or look for ways to turn them on their head. Example: Pot Noodle became Pot Noeldle, cleverly embracing the hype of the holiday season. And it took it a step further by adding the tag line ‘The Gift That Keeps on Giving’ to the front of pack, paying homage to the infamous line from the holiday classic Christmas Vacation. 

Pot Noeldle
Pot Noeldle

10) Start Early: No one wants to think about the Holidays in July, but in order to have your ducks in a row for a product or package roll out that doesn’t drown in the sea of red and green, you need to start thinking snowmen even while you’re still soaking up the summer sun!

Ali Whiteley is creative director at Hornall Anderson.

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