Kate Fischer, our new columnist, looks at The ins and outs of beauty packaging and what it can teach us
Beauty is a fascinating category. It’s highly personal, dealing with what we’re most particular about – our hair, face and body. So consumers take extra care when choosing products and are willing to pay a premium too, even for the most miniscule amounts. As such, the sector can provide a lot of insight into the packaging industry and consumer behaviour.
Most notably, in beauty the tension between aesthetics and functionality is at its strongest. The emotional power of packaging can draw the consumer in, but the product itself is the deciding factor. It has to work. Plus, as always, cost is crucial. With plenty of cheaper, more basic options available, the pricier brands have to justify the extra expense. In fact, in a report last year, Raconteur revealed that 44% of women find cheaper products effective, happily making use of the wares discounters like Aldi have to offer. But for those that are loyal to the bigger brands, trying out a less well-established product is a big gamble. At the launch stage especially, it’s no easy feat to convince consumers to make the jump from a product they know and trust.
Aussie shampoo is a great example here. A comparatively new entry to the sector and more expensive than its competitors, it successfully broke the US and the UK markets with Procter & Gamble buying it out in 2003. Yet its no-frills packaging consists of little more than its signature kangaroo logo, purple typeface and screw cap. This simplicity, plainness even, sets the Aussie bottle apart. Looking nothing like the more stylised shapes favoured by Herbal Essences, Pantene and Head and Shoulders, shoppers can easily recognise the packs’ on-shelf. Aussie’s natural, understated style suggests quietly confident reliability. Ultimately though, even if a design suggests superiority, it can’t prove its worth until it’s tried at home.
Functionality means more than just performance in the Ronseal “does exactly what it says on the tin” sense. The entire consumer experience is vital. When you’ve paid an arm and a leg, you want to use every last drop. The majority of skincare products cater to this concern, with pumps and squeezable tubes designed to dispense exactly the amount. It’s reassuring to know when you’re done, you’re done. In the States you get the other side of the coin, with absurd, industrial-sized shower gels and shampoos that might only appeal to teenage boys. In this light, personalisation in beauty behaves in a way that is unique to the category. The growing trend of playing with on-pack space hasn’t taken hold because it’s already inherent to beauty products. Think frizzy, coloured or damaged hair, or the many graduations of makeup shades, catering to ethnicity and skin-tone. In beauty, there’s no need for a campaign in the same vein as “Share a Coke” because the range is already diverse.
But this kind of individualised messaging can be overdone and prone to stereotyping. How many men’s products have you seen with the tagline “extra” or “extreme”? Women are no longer the only ones with purchasing power in this category. Figures from Euromonitor show that roughly a third of men buy facial and body moisturising lotions, a product previously aimed largely at women. Likewise, far more men use hairspray than they’d let on.
As the boundaries continue to dissolve, brands with more nuanced packaging will be the ones that thrive, and products that deliver on promise will secure life-long ambassadors.