Not necessarily. Basics are basic because they are important. Neglecting it in favour of something ‘sexier’ is a risky thing to do.
Packaging now finds itself at the intersection of a disparate array of marketing trends and challenges. Handled badly, these forces will collide, creating packaging chaos, or paralysis. The challenge is to bring them together to deliver even greater innovation. Welcome to the newest, oldest, marketing hot-spot.
Consumer and retail trends, technology and regulation are all combining to raise the temperature in packaging (sometimes literally, with new 'open to heat' packs for example). The challenge: to pay due attention to all of these issues - overlooking none - without being overwhelmed by their detail: the basics of consumer value and marketing effectiveness need to shine through ever more vibrantly.
What then, are these trends? Some of them are slow-burn but nevertheless crucial. Demographic changes such as the rise of the 'grey' consumer and of single person households translate directly into packaging issues such as portion size and the use of graphics. Runaway SKU (stock keeping unit) proliferation in stores means that simply cutting through the clutter requires endless innovation. Rising concerns about health and safety mean ever growing consumer and regulatory pressure, forever more detailed information: ingredients and processes, health warnings, and so on.
Other trends like environmental sensitivity are rising rapidly up the agenda. Recyclable is still a relatively new consideration in packaging: who would have thought, even 10 years ago, that collecting packaging waste data was a key part of a designer's job?
Meanwhile, new technologies open up new opportunities and challenges. Self-chilling and self-heating packs are just one example. New materials offer new looks, new functions, and new cost structures. How will the rise of RFID (radio frequency identity tagging) affect the designer's art?
Shifting consumer trends add yet another layer. The phenomenon of everyday treating is creating the demand for a tinge of luxury, while a trend towards 'the big night in' - special evenings at home - is taking alcohol marketers back to their drawing boards. Why sell beer in 500 litre cans if the real demand is for 10 litre kegs?
Meanwhile, of course, there is the endless challenge of brand communication and differentiation where, quite simply, we can never have enough creative flair. Some brands can be identifiable by their key visual equities alone. When Kimberly-Clark in the United Kingdom removed the Andrex name at point-of-sale and replaced it with the phrases 'touch me, hold me, feel me' the brand was still highly recognisable as Andrex, even with the name missing. When selling sliced bread, why not depict what you put on it in a colourful, playful way. That is what UK sliced bread brand Hovis did, creating a riot of colour - and spectacular stand-out and brand recognition - by plastering baked beans and cucumbers all over its packs.
Such multifarious challenges and opportunities also have to work through both the structural and graphical side of the pack.
On the structural side, stand-out aesthetics and communication need to be combined with environmental friendliness, minimum materials and production costs, and fitness for use both in-store (transportation, display) and in use (easy-to-open, re-use, resealable, etc).
Likewise, graphics need to combine clutter-busting communication in store and strong brand values with labelling requirements and the provision of useful information, the needs of special user groups such as children or older people, and so on.
Breakthrough packaging excellence fuses three core principles - communicate the brand, sell in the trade, and add value to the product - within the increasingly stringent demands of environmental sensitivity and the need to add more value than cost. Addressing all five considerations in a way that creates synergy rather than awkward compromise remains a real challenge for most companies. In fact, come to think of it, it is far from basic at all.