Charting the Far Side

Back-label design

panel design

We are all enchanted by the face of the bright moon as it beams down at us from the night sky. This is the side which is familiar to us. We grow up with it. Many of us want to reach out to it. Many of us want to own it. Many want to gift it to their beloved. Few of us, however, realize that there is a forever hidden – dark side of the moon which is unfamiliar and unexplored. In the same way many of the packaged products that we grow up with or own or gift, remain familiar to us only by their front panels but seldom by their back panels.

“If the role of the front panel design is to stimulate pur- chase either through strong branding, appetite appeal, special offer or product advantage,” asks Lars G Wallentin, a renowned pack designer for Nestlé, “the role of the back panel is re-purchase, i.e., to strengthen the bond between the consumer and the brand/producer. If this is the case, why are so many back panels on food pack- aging totally uninteresting, to such a degree that the consumer does not even look at them?”

Many pack designers would argue that a back panel is far too crammed with consumer protection text declara- tions to leave any room for interesting back-panel design. After all a typical back panel has to guarantee availabili- ty of complete information about Con- tent, Composition, Manufacturing Ad- dress, MRP, MFD and Bar Code be- sides assorted information like Direc- tions for Use, Customer Care and Vol- untary compliance. In addition, there are several special categories of prod- ucts that stipulate the need for catego- ry specific information, like Nutritional Values or Allergen Warnings, to be dis- played on the label. The most evident examples of category specific informa- tion display are found in pharmaceuti- cals, personal care, infant food, organ- ic food, edible oil and cigarettes, guth- ka and liquor of course. To make mat- ters more difficult from a design per- spective all such information often needs to be displayed on small size SKU’s (stock keeping units) which are difficult to print in multicolour, and need the typeface font size to be scaled down to 6 points or even less. Such ex- acting demands can unnerve the most enthusiastic designers and lead them to focus all their creative energy on the front panel only.

A Mother Dairy ice cream pack and its back panel

The creative difficulty faced by pack designers, however, is hardly of con- cern to the various consumer activist and environment watchdogs that are increasingly successful nowadays to pressure packaging policies. Packag- ing label space on a widely sold popu- lar branded product is a powerful vehi- cle. Every lobbyist, activist, environ- mentalist, regulator, legislator and do- gooder wants a ride on it. While the brand owner may derive pleasure from splashing his brand identity and USP solely and boldly across the front panel he is hard put to claim even a few square millimeters to ‘strengthen the bond between brand and consumer’ on the back panel. This is the result of the often conflicting and sometimes over-exacting Regulations and Decla- rations stipulated by the various con- sumer protection authorities. Apart from the problem of finding space on the back label is the ever present threat of liabilities; which may result from in- complete or incorrect declaration; in- adequate Health Warnings or just printing errors. Given the current pack- aging design trends of creating complex surfaces with subtle colours, the designer and printer are often faced with the daunting task of printing vast amounts of fine text sharply and yet, make it look customer friendly!

Will a better Back Panel really mean better sales?

“If the designer approaches the task (of designing the back panel) just as the editor of a daily or weekly paper/journal approaches his or her readers … with words, pictures and layout that invites reading,” continues Lars Wallentin of Nestle, “it is not difficult to design a good (sales appealing) back panel.”

Unfortunately this ‘editorial ap- proach’ to back-panel design is seldom the case. In most cases the back panel results from the internal pulls and pres- sures inside and around an organisa- tion, instead of the best practices. In most organisations I have worked with an initial draft of the back-panel text goes around to all relevant sections of the organisation, such as R&D, Legal, Commercial and Taxation before art- works begin. Each section is required to ‘sign-off’ on the text for design and printing. Each section at this point ap- plies its own interpretation of ‘the re- quirements.’ A design capable of pro- pelling more sales results only when, as Lars Wallentin points out,” there is no misunderstanding about what has to appear; what can appear; what should appear and what may appear.”

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Currently, regulations like the Preven- tion of Food Adulteration Act, 1955, Meat Food Products Order, 1973, Fruit Product Order, 1955, the Standards of Weights and Measures Act, 1976 and the Standards of Weights and Meas- ures (Package Commodities) Rules, 1977 and the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, among others, regulate processed food and FMCG packaging in India. All these Acts are applicable independently of each other. The re- sult is that there are instances of ‘infor- mation overload’ required on back- panels — especially for small size, price point packs — which obviously needs to be avoided. Hopefully, the re- ported move to unify all these laws un- der one Food Safety and Standards Act will serve to simplify their complexity and align better with current interna- tional practices.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Packaging South Asia’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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An engineering graduate from BITS, Pilani and a Post-Graduate Diploma from Milan, Italy in Human Factors Engineering. Over 40 years of work experience in branding, packaging design & development. Worked as Head of Packaging at Oriflame – Silver Oak; Dabur India and Ranbaxy Laboratories. Currently - an Associate with The Packaging Consortium – a packaging development consultancy. Worked closely with Jindal Polymer Films for Application Development of Specialty Films for flexible packaging. Now a packaging consultant for some reputed companies. He is also an Associate Director with Firstouch Solutions – a design company providing services in Brand Comm, Packaging, Exhibitions and Branded Retail Environments. He is closely associated with the Indian Institute of Packaging as a Member of the Northern Regional Committee. He is also active as a contributor to Packaging South Asia magazine and other journals and at forums and conferences. Has been writing articles on packaging design and marketing for Packaging South Asia since 2007.


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