5 Themes for Packaging in the Post-Covid World

In these unprecedented times punctuated by a world united, if not in deed then at least in predicament, fighting a global pandemic that is fuelled by those very things that are foundational to all human societies- coming together, having in-person conversations, shaking hands and giving hugs, sharing food and hospitality. In this new normal eCommerce is one of the few things that is surging, as people hunker down for a long haul in isolation.

In the past, we have talked about the major role that packaging plays in the eCommerce world. Consumers bereft of product experience must rely on the packaging to be enthused in their product journeys. As the current global situation only exacerbates the isolation, how will packaging evolve and play a greater role in the lives of consumers and brands?

  • Active packaging– There is a small chance you can catch the virus from a recently contaminated package. While a small amount of alcohol spray on the package will eliminate any risk, there is a larger point that as eCommerce surges, the sanitation of the packages themselves becomes a matter of concern. Therefore, we think we are about to see an evolution of corrugated and product packaging with anti-microbial properties. The exact mechanisms remain to be seen but going forward we expect Active packaging- i.e. packaging with properties to control temperature, humidity, pH and other properties to gain importance for both rigid and flexible packaging. This could be especially important if cooked, preserved meals must be shipped across large distances to more affected communities.
  • Public Messaging– Packaging, especially retail product packaging has been a communication “wall” for a long time. Going forward we expect packaging will become an important conduit to spread public awareness (because not everybody is glued to electronic screens all the time!), positive messages of well-being, and modes of personalization. This “Keep Calm” message on a Snickers bar, circulated in a different context does wonders for the brand as well as the consumers even in the time of Covid-19! How brilliant is that!
  • Buddies In Deed– In the new “4E” marketing paradigm, brands understand that pricing is for transactions, but the exchange is for bartering loyalties. We think in these generally depressing, scary times brands will get rid of sullen, toned-down themes for their packaging and celebrate life. We expect rich designs, positive messaging, and a general attempt to be upbeat and help people become hopeful and positive. While this has been done in the past too, we think this year’s true tragedy is likely to create messages with more genuine feelings, affection and caring. Think of it less like an ad that’s enticing you to buy a product and more like a friend cheering you up by taking you somewhere to have a good time. Sure, you spend money in both situations, but one of them leaves you happier.
  • Virtual Expos- In the wake of the pandemic and the total forced remote working, dozens of important expos have got canceled. Some have been postponed to future dates, but as the number of infections continues to rise brands may see a need to evangelize their new product lines virtually, in line with the way more people are working anyway. Therefore expect to see more brands going online to continue their marketing.

We aren’t talking about digital marketing here, nor just podcasts or webinars. After all, event marketers, one of the most important marketing assets of any company use marketing expos and fairs to not only interact with potential customers but also to get a sense of the market, ecosystem, and competitors. While some online events (mostly glorified online catalogs) already exist, we think virtual expos will explode in the near future.

True, the grandeur, scale and sheer usefulness of in-person expos is still impossible to replicate online, but we think emerging technology is about to change all that. AR glasses, VR experience centers, and increasingly sophisticated haptics activation will make virtual expos an important destination for brands. Especially with VR objects activated for observation and directly tied to the host company’s B2B eCommerce sites, virtual expos likely mean that CGI artists and product packagers will start putting out incredibly realistic product packaging for multiple uses, including in-house merchandising planning, product expos, use as virtual marketing material, and so on.

  • Sustainability – Before the pandemic and ensuing problems hit, there was already a lot of focus on eco-friendly, sustainable packaging. That focus will increase even more going forward. We not only expect continued elimination of plastic in favor of more sustainable packaging media like recycled paper and earth-friendly vegetable inks but also innovations along the “form with function” philosophy. We expect more “ready to retail” packaging to appear, where protective product packaging also serves as a display case, migration of more ready-to-eat foods like Mayonnaise and Ketchup from hard plastic to upside-down flexible containers with a significant portion of the container made of sustainable materials, and packaging that serves a central purpose to the functioning or proper consumption of the product itself- from a simple pizza box which separates into separate pizza plates to a sophisticated electronics case which turns into an attractive stand, protective cover or similar for the product. Basically the idea is to maximize the value for the consumer while minimizing the financial burden on the manufacturer and sustainability load on nature. In the current context, we could also see product packaging unfolding into games for children who are forced to stay indoors, helpful charts for adults, etc.

On the pre-press side, this could mean significant challenges for pre-press artists. If packages are to do more, they will be more expensive. One way to drive down costs is to minimize colors and printing costs while continuing to create attractive packaging. Pre-press teams will be seriously challenged to help marketing teams achieve their goals while driving down package creation costs.

Conclusion

Disruptions always bring out the best in human ingenuity. Some of the most important inventions of the past were done in times of great difficulty, be it war, famine or disease. It is time for all of us across the world to unite not only to break the back of this pandemic’s health hazards but to use this opportunity to create lasting changes in the way our most beloved products and their packaging impacts us in our daily lives.

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