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Inventing New Ways to Design Holiday Packaging and Marketing

Inventing New Ways to Design Holiday Packaging and Marketing

Lauren Kossar

It used to be straightforward for brand designers and CPG marketers to modify a package or product for sale during the holidays. Your brand’s design team added a dash of green and red color and then inserted a sleigh with reindeer, a Christmas tree, and, of course, a bearded Santa to the package, shelf talker or retail signage.

But in today’s multi-faith, pluralistic culture with a society intent on equity and inclusion, how can brand designers honor the holidays without alienating a segment of their consumer base? Is it time for us all to think beyond that red-nosed reindeer?

As an indication of trends to come, consider Harry’s Shaving, which promotes “nondenominational packaging” that Dieline marveled is “suitable for Christmas, Chanukah, Saturnalia, Festivus or any other end-of-the-year occasion.” The online marketplace Zazzle now offers “nondenominational holiday wrapping paper,” with imagery that suggests just about any end-of-year holiday you could name. Even Mrs. Fields cookies offers “nondenominational holiday gift baskets” for the holidays . . . truly any holiday.

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An example of a new way of viewing holiday marketing is our agency’s seasonal redesign of hot beverage cups for the Wawa convenience store chain. We began our process by evaluating the everyday cups, Wawa’s brand positioning, and analyzed current cultural seasonal trends. It’s always a great idea to consider any equity in color and symbolism a brand has as a jumping off point. In this case, Wawa already possessed equity in the color red and its iconic goose. We leveraged the image of Wawa’s soaring flock of geese across the four cups to elevate community, then dressed each cup up with eclectic graphics to feel like a collection of special gifts (image at top).

Everyone has their own recipe for how they celebrate, but the constant ingredient is the emotion that goes into the holiday—the way we feel at this time of year, the spark of joy and the universal sense of togetherness. Using an assortment of designs extends the opportunity for more, different or unexpected experiences and adds a sense of personalization. It shows thoughtfulness by taking the extra step to make sure there’s something for everyone to identify with. In Wawa’s case, it was an added bonus that people reflected back the cheer we were hoping to elicit by posting photos on social media with the cups in their hands. It’s a great example of how a simple seasonal gesture can build a dialogue and promote togetherness.

Regardless of faith or cultural background, every consumer understands the beauty of a snowflake and the magic of glowing lights. Consider the opportunity to identify with a larger population by capturing the wonderment of a nondenominational seasonal creation.

Several clients have asked our agency to avoid exclusivity or bias when concepting holiday packaging. Rather than focusing on attributes of a particular holiday—Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, Diwali—our goal is to bring back the magic of the season and help consumers reconnect to positive memories of what had been lost, challenging or stressful during the pandemic.

So as you think about how to position your brand’s packaging or in-store signage during the holidays, keep this in mind: Regardless of faith or cultural background, every consumer understands the beauty of a snowflake and the magic of glowing lights. Consider the opportunity to identify with a larger population by capturing the wonderment of a nondenominational seasonal creation, rather than a tree or reindeer or menorah. Whether it be the iconic snowflake on one of our Wawa cup designs, or the intricate pattern on Nespresso’s limited edition Gingerbread coffee pods (right), the inspiration is all around us. 

This is not to say that traditional holiday icons or colors should be tossed out for good. Deciding what imagery and language to use depends upon your consumer base and what your brand stands for with them. Marketers should consider the opportunity they have to capture the spirit of the season implicitly rather than explicitly. While Santa doesn’t necessarily have to leave the building and abandon that chimney, the goal here is to open up our minds and consider new ways to make a holiday connection. Check out this Gorenjka chocolate package that brings to mind the classic “ugly sweater” trope, which avoids explicitly religious imagery—but still nods to a popular Christmas tradition in a subtle way.

Design can be a great conduit to bring people closer this time of year, revealing the people behind your brand and starting a meaningful dialogue with consumers. Doing a little more during this time of year has the potential to mean a lot more. As the shopping culture pendulum continues to swing further toward online sales, marketers and designers can think about including an extra touch like a designed tissue paper wrapping or a ‘thank you’ card in each box expressing a seasonal sentiment, a well wish to make each consumer feel cared for. In keeping with the gift-giving season, consumers are looking for packages that evoke personalization and an experience that’s familiar and yet also surprises them.

While gifting is a standard, traditional practice for many—for Christmas, under the tree; for Chanukah, by the menorah—it’s not only about the gift and where you find it, but the feeling of receiving one. It’s connecting with the excitement, intrigue, joy, thoughtfulness and associated affection. It’s about discovery and revealing layers—literally the holiday gift that keeps on giving. Consider tapping into those seasonal memories with extra details that attract from a distance, fascinate up close, and pique curiosity at various stages of product interaction.

During the holidays, consumers tell us they’re looking for an escape, even a transformation that fills their world with a snippet of magic. They’re looking for products and packaging that will enhance that transformation, something that means the product or its package isn‘t relegated to the bottom drawer and instead becomes an integral part of the seasonal décor in their home. Consider re-imagining the role of your entire package to tell a holistic seasonal story. As an example, Kleenex had its holiday tissue boxes transformed into ginger bread houses which consumers would proudly display in their homes to continue the theme of their festivities.

Ultimately, as a package designer or product marketer, it’s worth bringing all seasonal messages, images and icons to the conference table for discussion. As long as we approach each opportunity with an open mind and open heart, brand design can preserve the seasonal charm while helping to build a future that embraces acceptance of our consumers’ full range of diversity.

Diversity and inclusion will be a permanent part of our future as brand designers. DE&I is a critical value for the younger generation of consumers. And marketing agencies, which have always struggled with diversity in their own ranks, can respond with brand imagery that reinforces what unites us during a holiday season.

Lauren Kossar is associate creative director for CBX, where she’s led creative initiatives for J.M. Smucker Company, Del Monte, Hormel, General Mills, Hain Celestial, and Kimberly-Clark. Based in New York and Minneapolis, the CBX agency provides brand positioning, identity and package design, and corporate branding.