Modern retail stores have a particularly endearing way of bidding goodbye to their customers at the exit. They take great care to place stacks of products packaged in minisizes all around the cash register and at the check-out counters. Experienced retailers recognise the check-out counter as a key point-of-sale capable of provoking the inevitable impulse purchase. An impulse purchase is described as a purchase made at-the-spur of a moment without prior intention and of a product that is not really needed. It is recognised that a customer is tempted to make an impulse purchase when presented with an attractive display and an affordably packaged treat. One of the most significant factors contributing to the design of a product capable of provoking a successful impulse purchase is pocket sizing the pack.
Pocket sizing is not a new concept. Cigarette manufacturers were perhaps the earliest to grasp its huge potential. The flip-top cigarette pack is one of the most successful pieces of packaging design in history. Such packs, along with their cousins — the shell-n-slide carton and the soft paper-pouch pack can certainly take a part of the blame for the widespread increase in the popularity of the smoking habit from the mid twentieth century. Carrying a flat cigarette pack around in a shirt or suit pocket is certainly more convenient than carrying the round tins (or expensive cigarette cases) in which cigarettes were packaged earlier. With prestige quality branding and decoration they transform from being just convenient packs to lifestyle accessories designed to make a personality statement. Spurred by the huge demand, the cigarette industry invested hugely in improving box-board print and conversion capability, decorative print and embellishments as well as achieving a better consumer connect by designing for more convenience and affordability. A memorable example is (was) the soft pouch-pack of 20 cigarettes made of thin multi-layers of paper. (Panama was one such iconic brand of the 60’s which stood not just for a raw, unfiltered smoke but an entire class of smokers.) Soft pouch-packs offered the smoker a unique convenience of not having to open the pack each time a cigarette is needed and they need lesser and lesser physical pocket space as the cigarettes are used up. In addition, the cigarettes packaged in soft-packs were usually a few millimeters longer than their hard-boxed counterparts.
Brand owners and packaging designers were quick to realize the benefit of pocket-sizing towards creating bigger markets. Pocket-pack versions of almost all categories of products have been regularly showing up in the market place. Chewing gum, mouth fresheners, chocolate bars, snack foods and lately, hanky tissues, wet wipes and hand sanitisers are among the most visible examples. Personal care products like lip balms, creams, make-up and healthcare products like probiotic drinks and cough syrup ‘shots’ are also found in this category. Marketing trendwatchers term it the result of the ‘right here right now’ (instant gratification) desire of the modern consumer driven society. The onset of modern consumer conveniences such as the portability of the Smart-Phone, I-Pads and Laptops and the convergence of work and leisure (enabled by Facebook and Twitter) directly feed such trends.
In many ways, a pocket-pack represents the same high level of convenience that is offered by modern smart gadgets. It can answer our needs while enjoying the outdoors or when on the move, and be particularly easy to use and fit into clothing (or a handbag) just as well as the cell-phone. Its appeal lies in its high convenience, right quantity offering (as needed in a required situation) as well as attractive looks and affordable pricing. In fact as long as the convenience and prestige associated with such packs is high, the consumer does not seem to mind the high margin built into the pricing of such products.
Pocket Size or Pocket Friendly?
Pocket-packs are often confused with their less glamorous cousins — the pocket-friendly packs. Unlike pocketpacks which rely heavily on shape, styling, textures, dispensing convenience and decoration to boost their appeal, pocket friendly packs are merely down-sized and stripped down versions of bigger SKU’s (stock keeping units) designed to appeal mainly on the basis of affordable price points. For this reason they are often termed price-point packs (PPP). The ubiquitous 10ml shampoo sachets, ketchups, tea, coffee and pan-masala are common examples of such packs. The famous Rs 5/- x 100ml bottle of Coke was another memorable example of creating incremental markets for a product by offering a tempting price-point.
S Chidambar, veteran packaging industry consultant, wrote in PSA, Jan 2007 — The PPP is a unique packaging and marketing innovation that went totally against conventional wisdom. The local consumer product and flexible packaging companies were pioneers in this radically different approach and immensely successful pathbreaking concept.
They observed how FMCG majors, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Britannia aim for a deeper penetration in rural markets by introducing products in low price points particularly in the M5 category as part of their strategy to shore up volumes. According to these companies, the bottom of the pyramid segment provides a huge opportunity although it currently contributes only 20 per cent of India’s consumption and (but) ‘is tipped for explosive growth’.
According to estimates reported by Coca Cola in the ET report, by 2015, more than half of the consumption spending in India would come from families earning nearly Rs 25,000 per month making them a market ready to be tapped. For such reasons all FMCG companies are focusing heavily on the lower end of the market and we begin to see the pocket friendly Rs 5/- packs of Lays, Kurkure, Haldirams or even Treat or Tiger cream biscuits!
It is an undeniable fact that PPP’s are a powerful marketing tool to help pene- trate untapped weaker (rural) markets and establish a brand. But do they help in creating brand image too?
Pocket Packs – leading from the front
If PPP’s are the foot soldiers that spread out in a market and establish a brand it is the job of a well designed Pocket Pack (PP) to lead from the front and win the battle of the mind. As already observed, unlike PPPs a Pocket Pack relies heavily on design features to make its consumer connect. Some of the design features that can be instrumental in the success of a Pocket Pack are:
Correct pocket fit
While pockets come in all kinds of shapes and sizes — from the manly shirt pocket to the suit pocket or the shapely hip pocket, a sensitively designed PP identifies its potential user’s most likely needs and sizes the pack for a best fit.
Tactile shape and feel
Just as modern cell-phones and writing instruments are carefully designed to offer optimum hand grip and a sensuous hand feel the PP must also be built the same way. It is no coincidence, therefore that so much effort is spent in designing the look, feel and touch of lipstick packs.
Due to their restricted size PPs themselves offer very little space for on-board brand graphics but it helps greatly if the pack itself could be designed to represent the brand. Examples of this are the Polo Mouth Freshener or the Sugar Free tablet dispensers which are designed to look like their slimwaisted users.
Ease of use and product dispensing in everyday conceivable work and leisure situations is an essential part of the PPs function. It must be capable of allowing easy dispensing — preferably single-handed, ambidextrous usage — and yet be spill-proof.
Not many conventional packs can take the punishment of being carried around for hours in pockets or cluttered handbags without print scuffing, crushing or staining their surroundings. PPs must be designed to be non-toxic, leakproof, rugged and unbreakable and safe for children as needed.
For its relatively insignificant size, the mighty Pocket Pack therefore demands a lot of attention from marketing professionals and designers to be able to get it right. Once it is produced effectively it has the potential to be an influential brand ambassador, induce product trials, create brand image and move jumbo markets. An added advantage of PPs which is unmatchable by conventional size packs is their ability to command relatively high gross margins. This is because the cost of product plus packaging is low compared to the perceived convenience value that can be attached to the offering. In such situations the consumer can be tempted to act on impulse and pay a relatively high, yet affordable MRP for an occasional luxury.This is a classic win-win situation for the consumer as well as the brand owner. The consumer gets a tempting pocket size convenience as the brand owners get to line their pockets!
This article was first published in the October 2011 print issue of Packaging South Asia.