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It’s Time for FMCG Packaging To Go Kitsch; Here’s Why

by The Dieline on 11/27/2023 | 4 Minute Read

By Emily Vernon, brand experience lead and consultant for Reckitt 

FMCG brand design is not renowned for its humor. It’s good, solid, all "benefits and functionality," and predominantly created for shelf standout. 

But in the current global environment of uncertainty and frantic pace of daily life, consumers increasingly appreciate a brand that can bring a bit of joy or turn an everyday task into an uplifting moment. Good design doesn’t have to be clean, tidy, and functional. Sometimes brands can afford to be a bit more messy, more ridiculous—more kitsch, perhaps?

Not to be confused with using retro or vintage visuals for the sake of it, kitsch—for me—is marked by a trio of characteristics. It contains cultural references, is often exaggerated, and displays an unrelated or unexpected combination of elements.  

Breaking Free of Preconceptions

So many FMCG categories are unremarkable to the user. They blend into each other and the products sitting beside them. Considering a more kitsch approach can make users reconsider those products and their previous preconceptions.

The collaboration between paint manufacturer Backdrop and Dunkin' showed how humor, an unexpected pairing, and heightened packaging can elevate a brand, connecting the tedium of decorating with a culturally relevant partner. 

Using kitsch in this way can also help to bring awareness to uncomfortable subjects, turning the stigma associated with them into a more positive statement. Starface does so through its humorous, joyous take on acne treatment—on pack, product, and overall brand experience—to combat Gen Z's anxiety about the topic.


Other brands use it to raise awareness of a more sustainable proposition in a way that stands out from competitors (such as Snob Duck and its witty candy wrapper soap bars). Sometimes, kitsch brings joy to the mundane—as cleansing wipes brand Touch What You Love does with the everyday quest to keep sticky fingers and surfaces clean.

Keeping it Subtle

Kitsch, however, doesn’t always mean heightened stimulation from a visual point of view—it doesn’t necessarily have to veer into ugly or ridiculous to land. Especially on pack it can come in more understated executions. Korean toilet fragrance Tamburins, for example, offers an unexpected combination of an aesthetically pleasing toilet product; it hits the cultural zeitgeist through its social media presence and visual expression, and it goes all-in on aspiration, exaggerating it to the point of the surreal.

It also highlights that focusing on its visual execution isn’t enough. If used as a storytelling device, you need a good reason. Ask yourself, "Why do you want to make a certain subject more light-hearted?" Is it because people are self-conscious? Or maybe because they want their dietary choices to be joyful, too? Perhaps because a cleaning task is too onerous? 

Many brands using kitsch well are disruptors, newcomers that can afford bravery and push comfort levels of taste. Sometimes it can be lightly offensive in its humor, and start-up brands can afford to play with that risk. Sustainable toilet paper brand Who Gives A Crap, for example, challenges such boundaries with its POV.

Changing the FMCG Mindset

There is no reason established global brands can’t be a little bit more kitsch, and thinking about your packaging and brand expressions through this lens can be handy. It helps you look at the evolution of pack and brand story as more than a practical fix to raise standards or become more premium. It puts you in a different mind with storytelling, allowing you to try something new. It can help you take a brand into another space rather than just trying to make it "better in the same space."

For those keen to embrace its possibilities, they have to find their own comfort level. For example, as with visual execution, humor can be pitched at many levels. It doesn’t need to be LOL funny, ridiculous, or outrageous. It can also be subtly delightful and conjure a small smile in the mind. 

As our users crave a little bit more joy, every FMCG brand can afford to let in a little bit more kitsch. It doesn’t necessarily mean change at scale, but it could throw up intriguing new ways to stand out. 

Emily Vernon guides the end-to-end experience for Reckitt’s B2B hygiene solutions. For more than ten years, both agency- and client-side, she has enabled brands to better engage their audiences through experience, ranging from products to service rituals, physical environments and digital platforms.

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