Pulp Magic

DECEMBER 7, 2015

Packaging and the Brand

This time of year, perhaps more than any other, I am acutely aware of how paper and paper-based packaging is charged with the important responsibility of continuing the brand experience after the customer is no longer in the store. That’s because packaging is one of the few touchpoints that brands of all kinds can directly control outside of their stores and websites, especially upscale or luxury brands, that cannot afford to skimp on extending the luxury experience after their customers step out of the store.

Perhaps the best example of this is a robin’s egg blue box from Tiffany & Co. The color – Pantone #1837, by the way – is not commercially available because the company trademarked it in 1998. But even as far back as 1906, the New York Sun noted, you can only get the box if you buy an item from the Tiffany store. The same is true today but that hasn’t stopped people from creating a lively secondary market for the boxes on eBay.

Tiffanny Box The top luxury brands have followed suit with their own iconic packaging in instantly recognizable colors. Think of Chanel and you picture black and white; Harrods hunter green; Bergdorf Goodman lavender; Hermes orange and black.

Apple is one of the few technology companies that understands the power of packaging. Apple prides itself on products designed simply and elegantly from the inside out. And that ethos is expressed most tangibly in the boxes that contain your MacBook, iPad, and iPhone. They’re unobtrusive and practical with great attention to detail – just like the products themselves. They’re designed to protect your new devices and make it easy to start using them. They make the arrival of a new product an unveiling.

And consider how exciting it is to see a box from Amazon on your doorstep. The possibilities are nearly endless. It could be a book, a blender, a saxophone. Usually you’ve forgotten what you ordered so it could be anything . . . and the iconic Amazon box heightens the anticipation of opening it. It’s so loved that some have even made birthday cakes to look like them.

But perhaps the most successful paper branding is also the most humble. The Brown Bag from Bloomingdale’s first appeared in 1973. In simple kraft paper with a twist cord handle, it is inherently honest. It says what it is – Big Brown Bag, Medium Brown Bag, or Small Brown Bag. But the one thing it doesn’t say – at least on the front or back – is Bloomingdale’s. Yet, everyone knows where it comes from.

How did Bloomingdale’s manage this magic? According to AdWeek, “the bag piqued so much curiosity, the Bloomingdales name attached itself in a more enduring way. It was known to those in the know, which made the bags chic, which makes the bags endure.”