Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Face Appeal

Published in Nov-Dec 2017

The evolution of package design in Pakistan.

I am old enough to remember the time when all groceries came in totally biodegradable material. Every morning, our cook would carry a jute or cloth bag from home to the bazaar and return with fresh meat, fish and poultry, wrapped in newspapers; yoghurt and syrupy sweets in clay pots and dry sweets in containers made of leaves joined together with twigs. For milk and cooking oil, we had to provide our own containers. Consumer products, such as shampoos and squashes, came in glass bottles and detergents in cardboard packs. All soft drink bottles of glass were returnable. Biscuit and chocolate tins were a treasure and almost never thrown away! AB was a leading local brand of biscuits and the lids of their tins had games such as Ludo and Snakes & Ladders printed on them, ensuring children’s engagement with the brand much after the contents were consumed.

Of course, developments in packaging material changed all that. As consumerism and advertising progressed, packaging became the face of the brand. It became an integral part of the brand-building process, luring buyers to store shelves with impactful and innovative designs, exploring fully the design potential of new packaging materials – whether it was polythene, PVC or PET. Revolutionary developments in printing processes too, enhanced the attraction of packaging. From rotogravure to offset to screen and digital, today, technology has opened up the designer’s imagination.

While many leading brands – particularly those belonging to multinational corporations – have dared to go for dramatic changes in their packaging, conservative Pakistani manufacturers have chosen to change only minimally the look of their products over the decades. Averse to risk, they have been apprehensive of losing consumers if a revolutionary new look was inducted into a bestseller. Rooh Afza, for example, has retained its original look (even as the bottle has changed to plastic) of a cluttered collage of fruit and flowers. It’s a testament to its enduring success that other entrants in the category have followed its elements of label design. Rooh Afza may not be seen as a trendy brand but the sense of familiarity it exudes contributes to the loyalty it enjoys. It is an indisputable iconic brand and looks set to retain its status.

In the unique case of one brand, a symbol used in advertising became so successful that it found a permanent place on the packaging. This is the Peek Freans Pied Piper. Introduced as an iconic symbol for the biscuit brand in its advertising in the early 70s, its sustainability and association with Peek Freans resulted in the figure ultimately becoming an integral part of the pack.

Tibet Snow, too, has sustained its appeal to women with its image of traditional beauty. Rejecting modernity, it has continued to use illustrations on its packaging and adhered to its old-fashioned looking jar. Almost absent from the mass media, it clearly continues to sell on the strength of its heritage through social media primarily. Another product to successfully follow a similar strategy is the ageless Woodward’s Gripe Water. While the font of the brand name has been modernised, this is the only concession to change. The graphic of the baby has remained unchanged – possibly since its introduction into the market. It is clearly a symbol of mothers’ trust for Woodward’s. This product, too, now sells online.

The packaging for cigarettes, before restrictions set in, was a particularly challenging job for designers as packaging played a major role in the choice of a brand. The power of visual literacy was an important factor in designing for the lower-end cigarette brands. Many of the popular brands were asked for – not by the name – but by the symbol on the pack. For example, King Stork was commonly known as bugla wala cigarette and Scissors as kaenchi wala. The higher-priced local ones attempted to benefit from the success of the top brands by emulating their graphics and colour. A case in point is of Morven Gold, which adopted the red of Gold Leaf in a way that when it peeped out from a pocket, it fooled observers into believing that the smoker could afford to be a Gold Leaf loyalist. Perhaps no other category relied so heavily on packaging to create image perceptions.

In the category of food too, quality perception has been a prime determinant of design. All major brands, from tea to cooking oil and biscuits, go through periodic transformation, while retaining brand recognition elements. However, in the unique case of one brand, a symbol used in advertising became so successful that it found a permanent place on the packaging. This is the Peek Freans Pied Piper. Introduced as an iconic symbol for the biscuit brand in its advertising in the early 70s, its sustainability and association with Peek Freans resulted in the figure ultimately becoming an integral part of the pack.

Over the years, marketing and advertising in Pakistan have become more global. With all brand activities coming under one international umbrella, the look and positioning of many products have dramatically changed. Lifebuoy is a prime example of revolutionary change. For decades, consumers were accustomed to a red, carbolic, sharp-edged block of a soap, wrapped in paper with very masculine graphics. The soap’s advertising always depicted macho working-class men washing off dirt, sweat and grime after a hard day’s work. Today, in a radical departure from this legacy, Unilever has turned Lifebuoy into a white bar, which is also the dominant colour on the pack. It has also changed entirely the look and feel (and the fragrance) and positioned it as an anti-bacterial soap for children, significantly uplifting Lifebuoy’s image. The company has done practically the same for its skin whitener, Fair & Lovely. Once looked down upon, noticeable changes in packaging and positioning have led to wider appeal and acceptability among young women today.

Innovation in packaging has also resulted in surprising lifestyle changes and the swift spread of consumerism, even in small towns and villages. The emergence of sachet packs has suddenly made many consumer goods accessible to millions more. These colourful strips are ubiquitous everywhere, strung at small shops across the country, offering everything from detergents to shampoos. The low pick-up price for a single unit has been a major factor in influencing behaviour change. Women who used traditional methods of washing their hair, such as mud or soap, now find it easy to pick up a shampoo sachet – occasionally, if not daily. They soon become accustomed to the experience. Similarly, with detergents, the availability of top brands at low cost is fast leading to the rejection of laundry soap by many consumers in rural and peri-urban areas.

Manufacturers have also lately explored the ‘do-good’ potential of packaging. A few years ago, Pepsi demonstrated how their bottles could help light up places where communities had no access to power. A more recent initiative by Colgate toothpaste taught children the wonders of space by printing cut-out, space-related objects in the pack inside. Children were encouraged to cut out the figures, create stories and send them to the company. While the utilitarian and educational uses of packaging are yet to be fully tapped, some companies are taking the lead in showing that a pack can be more than a pretty face.

Zohra Yusuf is Executive Creative Director, Spectrum Y&R.