Does your Xmas packaging make the naughty or nice list of building a brand identity?

Adoring packaging with festive touches could result in brands disguising what makes them distinctive, says Ehrenberg-Bass’s Will Caruso.

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In the marketing world, the holiday season presents a golden opportunity for brands to infuse a touch of festivity into their packaging. While many businesses eagerly embrace the spirit by adorning their products with Christmas-themed elements, a delicate balance must be struck to avoid potential pitfalls that could compromise a brand’s identity.

The temptation to dive into the sea of reds, greens and snowflakes is strong. However, an overindulgence in holiday designs can inadvertently lead to the dilution of a brand’s identity. When a brand’s packaging blends seamlessly into the festive backdrop on store shelves, the risk of consumers overlooking a brand escalates as it becomes just one more face in the holiday crowd.

During the festive season, stores transform into winter wonderlands, and consumers are drawn to displays that exude holiday cheer. Brands can maximise their impact by strategically placing products in high-traffic areas and creating visually appealing Christmas displays.

A critical drawback of excess holiday-centric packaging is the potential disruption to a brand’s visual consistency.

Collaboration with retailers is essential during this time. Establishing partnerships to secure prominent placement on endcap displays or within themed sections of the store can significantly enhance a brand’s visibility. Moreover, aligning with retailer promotions and coordinating packaging to complement in-store decorations fosters a cohesive and immersive consumer experience.

The key is to seamlessly integrate the brand into the holiday narrative of the store without losing its individual identity. This involves creating packaging that harmonises with the festive atmosphere while ensuring the brand’s unique elements remain prominent. The goal is to capture the consumer’s attention and provide a compelling reason to choose a particular product over the myriad options available.

Distinctive assets

Every brand possesses a set of distinctive assets that make it instantly recognisable to consumers. These assets can include logos, colour schemes, and unique design elements. Knowing the strength of these assets is crucial, especially during the holiday season. Instead of diluting the brand’s identity with an overload of Christmas-themed elements, brands should strategically incorporate festive touches that complement, rather than overshadow, their distinctive assets. This approach ensures consumers can still easily identify the brand amid the holiday array, reinforcing brand recall and loyalty.

Understanding the visual equity of distinctive assets involves analysing consumer responses and performing market research. Managers are often surprised at the relative strength of certain packaging elements, and they often do not link up with their expectations.

‘Any brand’s biggest strength’: Top marketers on the value of distinctive assets and a consistent tone of voice

Brand managers must know which elements resonate most with their audience and capitalise on these strengths. By doing so, they can create holiday packaging that celebrates the season and fortifies the brand’s visual identity.

A critical drawback of excess holiday-centric packaging is the potential disruption to a brand’s visual consistency. Consistency is a cornerstone in branding, fostering familiarity among consumers. A drastic departure from a brand’s usual aesthetic during the holiday season may need to be clarified for customers, undermining the hard-earned recognition the brand has established at other times of the year.

Moreover, a strategic approach to holiday packaging involves considering the post-purchase experience. During the gifting season, when presents are exchanged, the appearance of a product on the shelf plays a pivotal role. A gift that looks markedly different from what consumers are accustomed to seeing on the shelf may create confusion and hesitation. Brands must balance festive allure and maintaining a semblance of familiarity, ensuring that their products seamlessly integrate into the holiday gifting landscape.

Not everyone celebrates Christmas

However, navigating the holiday marketing landscape is more than maintaining a brand identity. It’s also about considering the implications of packaging design choices. Brands also need to be mindful of the diversity of their customer base. While Christmas is widely celebrated, not all consumers may partake in the festivities. Inclusivity, therefore, is not just a nice-to-have but a necessity. Alienating a segment of the audience with excessively Christmas-centric packaging could have repercussions on brand perception.

The allure of holiday packaging should be tempered with a thoughtful strategy that preserves a brand’s identity. Mastering Christmas packaging involves:

  • A nuanced understanding of a brand’s distinctive assets
  • Utilising distinctive asset strength in packaging designs
  • Strategically building physical availability in stores

By striking the right balance between holiday elements and the brand identity and ensuring a visible and attractive presence in stores, brands can successfully navigate the festive season.

Here’s a good example, used to build physical availability in the store, but looks like the packaging consumers expect to find on the shelf all year round. Plus, it ties into the festive season. It is almost the same, but it also is very clear that it’s not. Same logo type, same (similar) pack colour, same Cap’n character in a similar pose. But it loudly says Christmas.

Dr Will Caruso is a Senior Marketing Scientist and the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science.