What is Pack-vertising? (And Why It Matters in 2018)
Good Advice , Branding :punch: :astonished:

What is Pack-vertising? (And Why It Matters in 2018)

Marketing experts anticipate 2018 to be the year of pack-vertising. The term, coined by Big Fish Founder and Creative Director Perry Haydn Taylor, refers to using a product’s packaging as its primary advertising tool. Of course, all good packaging exists as some form promotional device. With pack-vertising, the difference is that instead of complementing a broader marketing strategy with your packaging, the marketing strategy becomes your packaging—your packaging becomes the ad.

As traditional advertising fizzles out and ad-blockers grow in popularity, brands are exploring different promotional avenues. And given that 70% of purchasing decisions are made in store, it’s quickly apparent that the best ad space up for grabs is on the shelf. POP displays have long reigned as retail’s promotional darling but for smaller brands, the expense can be far too great. Consider how retailers charge big bucks slotting fees, pay-to-stay fees and display fees, most of which are snagged by brand giants like Pepsico and Nestlé. With pack-vertising, your packaging does all the work. Your product’s ad exists by virtue of its presence on the shelf. 

The Packaging-First Approach 

Babushka Packaging

Concept product Babushka provides a ridiculously perfect example of this packaging-first approach. The packaging experiment, masterminded by Russian creative agency Wunderbar, is best articulated by its product description:

“The future of pickles from granny. Everybody loves pickles. And nobody does better pickles than your granny. Because she knows the secret ingredient – love. The only problem is that usually she packs her ‘love’ in very inconvenient huge and heavy glass jars. Meet Babushka with the new look at pickles packaging! Babushka is an easy but also very familiar way you can enjoy pickled tomatoes and cucumbers. Babushka—where traditions meet the future.”

With Babushka, the packaging, product and brand messaging become so intertwined that the elements are indistinguishable from one another.

  • You can SEE the food product, which reinforces the natural, babushka-approved ingredients.
  • The clean typeface and minimalist aesthetic emphasize how the packaging simplifies your life (no more struggling with those stubborn pickle lids!)
  • The old-meets-new concept is perfectly communicated by a granny logo in the style of an app icon.

It’s pack-vertising at its finest: Wunderbar’s concept packaging is engineered as the backbone of every subsequent piece of Babushka marketing material. Just take, for instance, this animated gif that depicts nothing more than the packaging and how it functions:

Babushka Gif

The Rise of Influence Marketing

As we mentioned at the start of this article, traditional and desktop advertising no longer pack the punch they once did. Conversely, social media platforms are emerging as the most robust narrative venues to promote your product. We’ve touched upon this subject in our post about Unboxing Videos. The idea is that the distinction between content and advertising is increasingly blurred and that, as a result, packaging design has become an exceedingly powerful approach to put your product out there—it’s often the element that receives the greatest exposure from influencers.

Here, successful influencer Mari Takahashi (@atomicmari) poses with a colorful Roseshire package. A rose is a rose is a rose, without question. But a cleverly packaged rose presents us with something a little different. Note how Mari doesn’t mention the brand’s name in her post (it’s not even visible on the box). She simply tags it, knowing that the unique packaging design will speak for itself.  

While Roseshire products are not available in retail, the brand nevertheless takes the pack-vertising route. With Roseshire, you’re not buying a dozen roses; you’re buying a stunning package to be opened, smelled, touched, played with... The packaging is part of the experience. It’s an approach that lends itself beautifully to the world of influence marketing. 

Less is More (Except When It Isn’t)

Minimalist packaging design is all the rage. And when we look at something like Babushka, it becomes very apparent why. But less isn’t always more. When developing your packaging design, an important thing to keep in mind is that advertising is real estate. When a brand purchases an ad, it’s purchasing space. And whether that space occupies pixels on a screen or, in the case of pack-vertising, the cardboard encasing a product, it needs to be filled with a thoughtful message that sets the brand apart. For instance, ask yourself which of the two brand messages leaves a bigger impact?

  1. “Natural. Organic.”


  1. “Meet Peggy. Or Miss Peggy, as we like to call her. Years ago, she decided to make a change in the way she eats for herself and her husband, Jeff. She looked to her ancestors who had led long and healthy lives and came across the idea of sprouting grains. It turns out it's a great way to obtain essential minerals and fiber, and it sounded like something she just had to try. She started baking with sprouted flours in her Alabama kitchen. From there, her hobby grew (or sprouted, if you will) into a full-fledged passion. She decided that instead of baked goods, she would focus on making sprouted flours so more people could make their own treats. Now her company, To Your Healthy Sprouted Flour Co., makes thousands of pounds of sprouted flour from all kinds of grains. So, when we started our venture to make a cereal with organic sprouted grains, Peggy was a natural fit. Her passion for changing the way we eat is one we all share. And we're proud to share this cereal with you.”

Unquestionably, Peggy’s story is far more engaging than generic buzzwords. Here, healthy cereal brand Kashi maximizes its packaging space with engaging, editorial-style storytelling. The copy, which chronicles a series of different farmers, is situated on the back of the box—the space where health-conscious, Whole-Foods shoppers are guaranteed to look.

Kashi Packaging

Kashi knows that it's competing with shelves upon shelves of organically-labeled products. In response, it uses packaging space to thoughtfully articulate its values. It’s not the what (organic, naturally-sourced, sustainable, etc.) but rather the why that becomes the brand’s story. Kashi even goes so far as to explain why some of its products are not organic:

“This cereal is not organic. But hang on. That's the point. The truth is, less than 1% of farmland in the US is certified organic and transitioning conventional farmland to organic is difficult. Farmers like Newton (pictured above) often want to do it but they have to implement more costly methods for at least three years to become certified. And while that's good for all of us, it means farmers don't see a return on their investment immediately, and they may be less motivated to make the change. So, let's do something about it. The Kashi Transitional farms initiative was created so together we can help farmers like Newton transition their farmland.”

Don’t confuse negative space with empty space. Negative space is never empty. In the case of Babushka, negative space is leveraged to tell a story—that of new, convenient way to appreciate the wholesome ingredients you’d find in your grandma’s pickle jar. Kashi approaches space quite differently but to an equally powerful effect. Not a single square inch of either package is wasted.

The Perfect Storm for Innovation

More and more, packaging printing companies like Packwire are fulfilling smaller orders for budding brands. Easier, more-affordable package printing solutions are available at the same time small- and medium-size businesses seek out alternatives to traditional advertising. In 2018, businesses will undoubtedly be turning to pack-vertising as their go-to marketing strategy. Expect shelf competition to be fierce as products find new, innovative ways to vie for consumer attention. What is your brand doing to compete?