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Like Everything Else, Marketing Violators Must Move Online

by John Glasgow on 05/01/2020 | 5 Minute Read

My weekly trip to the supermarket used to look like a lot like this.

I’d walk into the store and ignore my shopping list, hunting for bargains by seeking out marketing violators on the packaging. You know the ones, bright yellow and red color codes that scream VALUE, WIN A FREE TRIP, 2 FOR 1, and 20% BIGGER. The more they used red and yellow, the larger the offer. 

The payoff was never gratifying. I was always sacrificing quality for a bargain, or spending far too long trying to calculate the best deal by comparing quality, value, and volume. I imagine we’ve all been there in the aisle with two or three brands of toilet paper, running over the numbers in our minds.

Of course, my trips to the supermarket look a little bit different today.

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When I sat down to write this article, I wanted to talk about how violators were lengthening shopping trips and making what should be an in-and-out situation a two-hour affair. I wanted to offer solutions that would take violators to the next level—to encourage brand design and marketing teams to be daring in the way they spoke to consumers on and off pack by thinking differently about them.

But in recent weeks, our shopping experiences have changed drastically as current shelter-in-place orders have taken effect, making the basics of shopping feel increasingly stressful, frustrating, and overwhelming. It’s given me even more to think about when it comes to innovating the way we design and communicate through violators. While nobody’s complaining about added value, who wants to be inundated by WIN A TRIP offers now?

Anyone who has made it out to the supermarket recently knows that it’s not uncommon to see packaging with up to five violators—but this isn’t helping us communicate quickly and succinctly how the product will bring value to the customer’s life right at this minute. 

Apart From The Crowd

Packaging isn’t going anywhere, so it remains essential to be eye-catching on pack as a vital call to action for consumers. But to weather the storm of evolving customer interactions and fewer trips to the supermarket, it’s time to think more creatively about how to use a pack to appeal to customers, even if they’re not physically in the grocery store. 

A holistic design approach for a violator strategy can help—supermarket brands have been getting this right for years with custom color schemes, textured packaging, and minimalism over noisy hype. Limited-time-only packs are another way of catching eyes, adding value, and communicating new information with style. A more premium violator style may be subtler in some ways, but it’s more attractive and aspirational overall. 

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And what about the kind of value the violator is offering? If the look and feel are more premium, can brands up the ante on what they make available by using customization and personalization? "WIN A TRIP" may not be a useful way to add desirability right now, but maybe "15% of this purchase goes to supporting nurses and doctors" is. Brand collaborations could be another effective way to add meaning – more work like the KFC Crocs and Supreme Oreos could be a welcome distraction these days.

But any way you cut it standing out on the shelf isn't enough, and now more than ever, we need to cut the noise of constant and clichéd violators – this is no longer an adequate marketing strategy. We need to change the way we think about how we help brands communicate with, comfort, and support concerned and anxious shoppers. What started as an emergency change in shopping habits is going to alter the way brands deliver through packaging and other touchpoints in the future. 

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Beyond The Pack

Right now, it’s fundamental for designers and marketing teams to think beyond the pack. Violators should not relegate themselves to on-pack messaging, especially as online and delivery services become the primary mode of contact between brands and customers. Our focus should be on digital innovation that brings thoughtful design and marketing together to get traction on customer screens rather than in the shopping aisles.

The first port of call is how we transfer violators into online shopping services. Think push notifications, motion, and in-app specials. Rather than relying on the same bright colors to make customers aware of extra value, we should be focusing on innovating for the digital tools available to us.

Loyalty brand Nectar is using motion and playful tone of voice to create in-app experiences that drive customers toward value. Their scratch-lotto savings game adds value instantly through points and coupons, in addition to being fun and easy to play.

Last year, British supermarket Sainsbury's introduced a Smart Shop app that is leaning into VR, helping customers check out faster by allowing them to scan their groceries with their phones. It's possible to create pop-up graphics to highlight promotions when you scan your favorite cereal, and wouldn't that be more practical than a big red sticker anyway? Plus, it's Pokémon Go meets grocery shopping.

For more inspiration, we can look to digital entertainment brands like Netflix and Spotify, which are solving their promotional problems about how to get specific content to stand out on their digital shelves. Spotify’s extended album feature, which plays exclusive music videos on some artists’ pages, is a new-wave digital violator, and Netflix’s automatically playing trailers within sections are, without a doubt, attention-grabbing.

Social media integration is another way of thinking about it—can we use motion and design to highlight the value and sell through socials? Or could we incorporate sensory branding into social as a way of accentuating extra value and promotions—think KFC’s ASMR and mindfulness campaign. 

Can we show the follow-through on promised value through social video and images—imagine a pet food delivery arrives at your door based on a marketing promotion, and you can get further savings by sending the brand a video of your dog “unboxing” his new munchies.

However you think about it, our screens are the window to the world, now more than ever. As brand designers and marketers, it would be smart to change the game when it comes time to promote to customers. 

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Harmony Between Promo and Pack

The key is to tie violators back into the brand in an authentic, thoughtful way that opens up a conversation and draws users in. 

Violators are marketing tools, but they are also extensions of brands, and they deserve more respect and attention from a branding perspective. Through digital innovation, we can expand what violators are capable of, and how we draw the attention of consumers to the product in new ways—and there’s never been a better time to try it out.

Done right, violators offer the chance to tell engaging brand stories and reach new audiences. While communicating value as shoppers navigate their purchases is a more timely design concern than ever, so too is figuring out how to do it beyond shelves through creating better harmony between pack and promo, and making the most of all the tools at our disposal to innovate and build new connections to customers.