Opinion Series: Are Labels Packaging?

by Elizabeth Freeman on 01/19/2016 | 4 Minute Read

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Is it simply the clean lines, contrast of textures, and the user’s experience that defines beautiful packaging? What about the label on the package?

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Some consider labels simply as an adornment to packaging, others feel labels fail to protect & preserve the product, or create interactive points in the unveiling process. Are labels just a sticker slapped on the package at the end of the manufacturing line?

No! Labels are so much greater than just a slap and a stick!

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Let’s take a moment for a brief history on labels. In 1935, Ray Stanton “Stan” Avery, a struggling clerk in Los Angeles, invented a smarter way for stores to price their products. With a $100 investment from his future wife, he created and patented the first self-adhesive, die-cut labeling machine. Without glue or a need to moisten, Avery’s invention revolutionized the way labels are applied to products. Since then, the label industry hasn’t stopped evolving. Labels now have the ability to track time and temperature, becoming a game changer for any business needing to insure they are always delivering the freshest product. Labels can also enhance the consumer experience by delivering information directly to smartphone. Labels are everywhere you look. They are the details that make your favorite clothing your favorite; they are what keeps your coffee fresh within the foil bag.

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If packaging simply remains a container, regardless whether it is clean and simple or complex and origami-like. Then what is a label? A label is an adhesive backed material attached to a surface revealing valuable information. It brings importance to the brand and connects directly with consumers. You often hear about packaging and labeling as 2 separate entities, but they are not. Whether the label wraps a container or is directly applied to a product, it is completely integrated into package design. Label and package become one. They are best buds.

Blue Frog’s Breakfast Packs are a great example of this synthesis, the label makes this brand “sing” on the shelf. Bold colors, geometric shapes, and botanical illustrations printed on matte labels contrast the gloss white packaging and create an immediately recognizable focal point.

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Why do you hold on to a wine or spirits bottle? Sometimes it’s just too stunning to get rid of. Look at Kraken’s Black Spiced Rum ceramic bottle by Stranger & Stranger, the Kraken, a giant sea monster, is actually sculpted into the ceramic bottle. It's no longer just a bottle of rum. It’s a collector piece, a work of finely crafted art. Not every brand having the means to create custom ceramic bottles, most showcase their design on labels and many are collected because of the labels. The label carries the design, and connects the brand to the actual product.

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The Coca-Cola label is unmistakable on the shelf, and when the limited edition decorative bow bottles are released, it transformed the label into a share-worthy interactive experience.

With the innovation of labels, it is no longer white material slapped on a surface. Materials range from clear substrates to wood veneers. Labels today provide designers a diving board to showcase their design, and connect with consumers in new innovative ways.

Do you consider labels packaging or decorative stickers?

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Written by Alex Kidd

Alex Kidd is the Creative Design Manager for Avery Dennison’s label and packaging materials. Alex provides creative direction to the design process and builds concepts that lead to new products. As leader of Avery Dennison's Concept Lab, Alex fuels the innovation process by inspiring his team to push the boundaries of the materials. As a result, The Concept Lab becomes a creative hub that connects R&D to the creative packaging world.


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