The Wonders of Wackaging
Someone drew my attention this week to a fascinating marketing phenomenon: ‘wackaging’. This ‘wacky packaging’ has become an increasingly common sight on the shelves of supermarkets and food bars across the nation over the past 15 years, gradually insinuating itself into the hearts and minds of the general public.
“But how do you define ‘wackaging’!?” I hear you ask. Well, most of the sources I have found, including a number of venerated broadsheets, describe it as ‘food packaging featuring messaging with an overly chatty, matey tone’. Guilty products talk to consumers, inviting them to “keep me in the fridge” or declaring that “my delicious chocolate segments are made with real orange oil”.
This very British craze for food with a personality seems to date back to the launch of home-grown brand Innocent Smoothies in 1999.
Rather than being a conscious marketing decision to differentiate the fledgling brand from similar products on the market, the founders simply saw it as a way to fill empty space on their labelling. Instead of shrinking their labels, they chose to include jokes, factoids and quirky comments. The brand stuck with this format as it grew, using the wry and familiar humour of the original packaging as a template for its tone of voice.
This move by Innocent was edgy and unique in the late 1990s, but it soon began to be adopted by other young brands seeking to stand out from more established rivals.
For example, British crisp makers, Tyrrells, founded in 2002, uses eccentric black and white photography on its packaging to suggest a false home-made pedigree, accompanied by serving suggestions such as “perfect with a pork pie hat at a rakish angle”, and “cracking with a Cornish pasty”. All of this is designed to highlight Tyrrells’ traditional roots (insert whatever root vegetable joke you wish).
Another highly successful British start-up from the noughties, baby food maker, Ella’s Kitchen, also sees wackaging as the ideal way to reach consumers.
It favours simple product names, such as “the Purple One” blackcurrant juice, and “Banana Baby Brekkie” rice meal, designed to appeal to children rather than adults. This helps the brand stand out from its less child-centric rivals on the shelf, and makes it easier for toddlers to request their favourite flavour at dinner time.
The personification of the product in the phrase “I’m 100% organic!” draws further attention to its unique selling point (USP) in the eyes of consumers, helping to keep Ella’s Kitchen at the front of their mind when they think about organic food.
Perhaps part of the reason for wackaging’s success is that it appeals to the somewhat quirky British sense of humour (can you imagine any other country being happy eating something that talks back?). Some leading newspaper commentators seem to think that it is one more example of the infantilisation of our culture. I, with all due respect, disagree.
Wackaging is still unusual enough to grab our attention when we see it in the supermarket. Its generous use of the first person gives the impression the brand is talking directly to the consumer, establishing an immediate relationship that encourages them to try the product out. This is a boon for younger, less-established brands, like Innocent, Tyrrells, and Ella’s Kitchen, starting out in a market as highly competitive as the food/FMCG sector.
For the consumer, I think it re-injects a sense of fun into the shopping and snacking experience. It keeps their eyes on the packaging and the product long after they’ve made the purchase, ensuring they read and absorb all the key messages the brand has spent so long devising.
This, in turn, cements the brand’s identity in their minds, ensuring that when they need a tasty snack, a healthy thirst-quencher, or organic baby food, they know immediately where to go to get it. And isn’t that, surely, the point of packaging?
I’m certainly a wackaging convert. Are you?