Mae West once said, “If a little is great and a lot is better, then way too much is just about right.” While she was talking about quantity, the sentiment embodies the feeling underlying the trend of premiumization, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as the process of making a brand or product appeal to consumers by emphasizing its superior quality and exclusivity.
Premiumization is everywhere in retail is these days, blurring the lines between mass and high-end markets, giving consumers a taste of the aspirational by creating an affordable slice of the luxury pie. Think Hermès keychains—affordable enough for consumers who want the cache that comes with owning that luxury brand.
So, what does premiumization have to do with luxury packaging? Everything—particularly in the alcoholic beverage segment. According to a Forbes article titled “Premiumization: The Most Affluent Retail Trend of 2016,” Bertrand Steip, international commercial director for Moët & Chandon, says people who want premium are looking for three things:
- Brand authenticity and heritage
- The embodiment of a luxurious life
- The element of experimentation
Luxury packaging is key to communicating all three of these drivers, creating the desired sense of exclusivity for consumers through innovations in design, materials and printing.
Luxury Packaging, Defined
Defining luxury packaging is not as simple as it might appear. To some, luxury packaging is any packaging for a luxury item, identifiable by brand, reputation, price or any combination of the three. By this definition, even the humblest kraft paper label qualifies as luxury packaging. For others, luxury packaging can mean the use of new, unusual or expensive materials, innovative production techniques, or label and packaging designs that convey that indefinable “cool factor” to which consumers respond.
By this definition, luxury packaging can be seen as experiential, with packaging presentation and unwrapping all part of creating that specific feeling—good news for mid-range brands that can now use luxury packaging to help redefine themselves as premium. That’s according to an article published on LinkedIn titled “The Future of Luxury Packaging and What You Must Ask Your Supplier,” by Nick Stevens, packaging coordinator at Antalis Packaging.
No matter how you define luxury packaging, though, its role is clear: to reflect the value of the product, enhance the image of the brand and create the kind of consumer engagement that will result in sales.
Differentiation is the name of the game for designers. Charged with creating the kind of shelf appeal that will translate into sales, designers are going inside the box and outside the envelope to create luxury labels and packaging that stand out.
Important for the craft movement, authenticity has become a design buzzword and growing label trend. In particular, small wineries increasingly want the label to be an authentic representation of the people who make the wine, with the feel of a personally connected life, according to October 2017’s issue of Wines & Vines.
Authenticity is also clearly important to Millennials. Not only are they four times more likely than Baby Boomers to select a bottle of wine based on its label, they are also more likely to look for personality and originality on the label, rewarding both with purchase. Depending on the brand and its story, which can range from whimsical to deeply serious, designers are using everything from white space and simplicity to ornate typography to achieve packaging authenticity.
Clearly, luxury for one is not luxury for another. Yet despite that, designers are utilizing every trick in their books—specifically color, shape, typography and imagery—to evoke “exclusivity” on the label:
- Shiny: According to a Wines & Vines story in that same issue, designers are loving shiny. Labels are moving away from dark backgrounds to shimmery papers, metal-accented designs, precious-metal inks screen-printed onto bottles, transparent inks on silver stock, and metallic foils for wines and spirits. Craft beer brands are also getting in on the shiny game by increasingly opting for cans instead of bottles for their beer. In some cases, designers are emphasizing the metallic look of the cans by using clear, transparent labels to heighten the metallic sheen
- Unique shapes and sizes: With the move to luxury packaging, gone are the days of the conventional rectangular or circular labels. Intricate die cuts, oversized and undersized labels, and unique label shapes with complex punch-outs draw the eye and integrate with the bottle design for added visual impact and originality. Neck and cap labels, flag labels, back-of-bottle labels and integrated hangtags are also being used for enhanced wine and spirits shelf appeal. The same move to the unique holds true for craft beer: Think tall boys and outsized glass bombers. Even wax dipping—traditionally reserved for high-end spirits—is now being used for beer bottles
- Graphic typography: From typefaces that shout to those that whisper, the way designers use typography is a hallmark of luxury packaging. In cursive or block—on the prime label or neck label, on alternative forms of packaging (like wooden and cardboard boxes, and cans) and on the bottle or can itself—typography is the “paint” for the packaging canvas, helping to set the mood and tell the brand story
- Interruptive imagery: Traditionally, images for luxury brands have used highly stylized, dramatic photographs; yet departing from predictable imagery is resonating with consumers (especially Millennials) and sparking purchase. While some designers use just type and graphics to create the look of luxury, others are using unexpected images to connect with the consumer. For example, The Fableist Wine Company uses drawings of ants, a beetle, a bee, snakes and a hatchet on its bottles, while California’s Bargetto Winery uses images of art through the ages to differentiate
And, as consumers grow more concerned about the environment, brand owners want to demonstrate their products are responsibly sourced, as well as renewable, reusable and recyclable. Designers are reacting to these mandates, providing powerful, sustainable labeling and packaging that enhances the image of the brand and speaks to consumers.