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As the public becomes increasingly design literate, packaging design needs to talk to potential customers. Even in ‘difficult’ product categories such as sanpro and condoms, packs are no longer afraid to declare their contents.

A new, up-front stance is emerging in packaging design as consumers become better informed and more confident about their choices.

This is particularly true of product categories such as sanpro and contraception. Products that once hid shyly behind their brand names or coy, confusing concepts are moving to centre stage.

The driving force is two-fold. First, san-pro products now have all kinds of gizmos, absorbencies, shapes and surfaces. Clarity of information and choice is paramount. Second, consumers are demonstrating a new pragmatism. Now visually literate, they know when they are being sold to.

It used to be a lot easier as a consumer to ask the shop assistant for Lil-lets rather than a box of tampons – or for Durex instead of a packet of condoms. Brand names offered discretion. But packaging is no longer afraid to declare its contents.

Lil-lets’ relaunched packaging throws caution to the wind. Brewer Riddiford, designers of both the old and new Lil-lets packs, has helped the brand to do a complete about turn. The old pack was beautifully bashful: once the cellophane was removed, the brand name disappeared. The consumer was left with a smart, unmarked blue box. Discretion was the brand’s point of difference.

Today there can be no doubt about the contents of these bright-blue packs. The cellophane has gone and Lil-lets is emblazoned across the front of the pack. With plentiful information about innovative tampon developments, there’s nothing shy about this packaging. It is confident and straightforward.

That’s not the case with Durex. Its packaging, designed by Pea Green Boat, looks like it has walked straight out of the Seventies, with an attitude to match. The branding is strong, but the product names are as uninformative as Mills & Boon imagery. What is Elite? – posh sex? In contrast to Mates, Durex is coy to the point of embarrassment.

The new Mates, designed by Blue Marlin, has grown up. The brash red and white pack of the Eighties has become sleek silver. Confusing symbols have gone and a diagram of the product itself now appears. Clearly, condoms are no longer taboo. But the copy and coding lack confidence. We know what the product looks like, but will consumers want it? If one product is Ultra Safe then what are the others – high risk?

The problems are not confined to “difficult” products. In the crowded haircare market, Organics has claimed a patch of territory. Designed by Mike Cassidy & Associates, the strident colour and upfront product benefits shown on the pack declare that it is a no nonsense brand.

But compare it to Finesse. The packaging features the original US bottle and graphics and appears to have no unique proposition or benefit. With nothing intelligent to say, designers are hard-pushed to create anything but a bland pack.

Lil-lets, Mates and Organics may have intelligent pack designs, but do they go far enough? Lil-lets is courageous, but where does the brand’s point of difference lie? Meanwhile, Mates is yet to openly declare that some of the products are aimed at homosexuals. The Organics design may be distinctive but misses a trick. Today’s women want the lot. The brand proposition hits the mark, but where’s the emotional appeal?

However, the innovation which has been introduced points to a new kind of designer: pragmatic, bold and intelligent.

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