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The personal touch

27 May 2015

With food and drink companies looking to get the edge on their rivals, is customised or personalised packaging the way forward? Coca-Cola’s campaign to ‘Share a Coke’ in 2013 was a huge success for the company and led to an increased interest in personalised packaging. But how cost-effective and feasible is it for food and drink manufacturers?

In 2013, Coca-Cola printed the 50 most popular girls and boys names onto its iconic bottles and cans, replacing their famous logo with the tagline “Share a Coke/Diet Coke/Coke Zero with”. By 2014, the company had printed over a thousand names on their bottles and sold over 150 million personalised bottles. And without marketing promotion, the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign received 235,000 tweets from fans using the #ShareaCoke hashtag with more than 998 million impressions on Twitter.  They also released 1,000 names in 2014 and used generic names such as Mum, Dad, Bestie and Mate. 

“The trailblazing project ‘Share a Coke’ changed the face of promotional marketing,” explains Richard Gellar, Technical Manager at Amberley Labels. “It involved over 800 million labels being printed with customised data using HP Indigo label presses. The labels were printed with a combination of conventional (Cl flexo and gravure) and digital print processes. And in a compelling article supporting the feasibility of future personalised and customised packaging published in Marketing Week (18 February 2014), Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent revealed that the business plans to invest up to $1 billion in marketing campaigns like ‘Share a Coke’ by 2016 to stimulate its future growth. Kent said that the activity was much more than a marketing campaign, but rather a ‘system wide collaborative effort to engage with consumers in a meaningful and effective way’. Coca-Cola says the effort helped increase volume sales, household penetration and brand love scores over the 20-plus markets it has appeared in to date.”

Gavin Ashe, Managing Partner at Kite Packaging, argues that there are three sectors where customisation is commercially viable. The first is for large brands like Coca-Cola. “Although Coca-Cola is always held up as a classic example of personalisation, it actually isn’t in the purest sense of the word as each customer wasn’t targeted specifically with their name,” says Ashe. “But Coca-Cola is one of the few companies who have the buying power and global presence to be able to produce their product thousands of times with ‘personalisation’ on it, and manage to appear personal to a good number of the population.”

The second sector is small boutiques and niche food production companies, where personalisation can be deployed to significantly improve a customer’s experience. “In terms of cost-effectiveness, there has come a point where it is just as easy and economical to print directly onto a box rather than on a personal address label and letter,” says Ashe. “Small businesses also have the flexibility to print in extremely high quality and in very small volumes, and can therefore make each box or parcel personal to their customers. And as internet fulfilment continues to grow, there is a great opportunity being offered to create a personal relationship with the customer.” It’s also a great opportunity for niche, luxury brands that can pack and dispatch a few hundred parcels a week looking to make relatively large margins on their products. Taking the time to personalise and make a parcel unique for a customer can be a wise move, as global brand Burberry proved with their ‘My Burberry’ campaign which allowed customers to choose to have their Burberry perfume bottle monogrammed. 

The third, and probably biggest sector, is businesses that fulfil orders for many different brands through a single operation.  While it is almost nearly impossible to carry different printed packaging for each brand, with late stage finalisation it is possible to customise the packaging for the brand or language at the point of dispatch. 

“Take the example of an after-market sports car business that operates at a pan-European level,” Ashe says. “They may well stock spares for several dozen different manufacturers, for several hundred different vehicles, in 10 or more languages. Every box could be printed with a picture of the part and vehicle in the customers own language, at the point of dispatch. Printing processes have advanced so much now that it’s economical and logistically viable to put your marketing messages directly onto your packaging and do away with promotional literature. It’s also environmentally-friendly, so why wouldn’t companies start doing it?”

Improving technologies
The demand for personalised packaging is growing, and therefore the need for innovative technologies to ensure manufacturing systems are in place to accommodate the latest design requirements. “The beverage can category is a crowded market with brands continually fighting for stand out on shelf,” says Kym Hamer, Manager – Global Products at Rexam. “In order to keep up with this demand, manufacturers must constantly update and improve technologies to ensure they can offer customers a competitive edge. Current technology is highly cost-effective and time efficient, and personalised offering have been hugely successful globally, particularly over celebratory seasons.”

Growth of online purchasing
But the rise of digital printing isn’t the only factor that’s driving customisation in the packaging market. The growth of internet shopping is rising, opening up new opportunities for companies both large and small. “In digital printing, we’re seeing a growing trend for ‘personalising’ or as the key food and drink brands are calling it, ‘Versioning’,” explains Neil Osment, Managing Director at NOA PRISM. “Food and drink brands can produce this type of customised packaging in one of two ways: use of in-line labellers in their own plants or engaging an offsite co-packer.” 

There are of course benefits and challenges to both options, and companies should consider these carefully before making the investment, including the capital costs, levels of experience and space, to loss of control over the process and schedule, and leasing costs.

“And with regards to click and collect, ‘confirmation packaging’ is the latest trend,” adds Osment, which encompasses the satisfaction of ordering online and receiving the package, rather than buying in-store for instant gratification. “Confirmation packaging not only offers physical evidence for an electronic purchase, but also creates a real ‘wow’ factor when the anonymous brown box is opened to reveal its highly decorated and branded inner.”

With the growth of digital printing and internet shopping, there has been a rise in ‘engaging packaging’, which is a term being used to describe how digitally printed packaging is being used to create a new online shopping experience. “A great example of this is the Cadbury Joymaker project, which offers people the opportunity to personalise their Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate bars for a premium price,” says Osment. “Purchasers are simply asked to upload a photo of the person they’re ordering for and write a personalised note to them. An inline system then handles the order and the bar is wrapped according to the purchaser’s individual specifications. And there are other applications for engaging packaging, including specific promotions around events such as Glastonbury, Wimbledon and Cowes Week, for example, or for promotions that are run at core times of the year.”

Customisation in the marketplace
Coca-Cola is not the only company who have led a customised packaging campaign though. In June 2014, during the football World Cup in Brazil, Spanish beer brand Cruzcampo launched their own campaign. “Cruzcampo used HD printing to display different players of the Spanish national football team,” explains Hamer. “And in February 2014, Efes launched a range of cans to celebrate their sponsorship of the Euroleague Basketball using eight colour HD printing.” Efes are a Turkish brewery who also sponsor the successful Turkish basketball team Andadolu Efes S.K. Their choice of images, however, were female cheerleaders rather than the basketball players.

Irn-Bru, the Scottish carbonated soft drink manufactured by A.G. Barr, celebrated its national heritage by launching their ‘Bru’s Your Clan’ campaign. “Designed to coincide with Burns Night celebrations on 25 January, the limited edition packs were available in 57 tartan designs covering the top 100 most popular Scottish surnames,” says Gellar. Amberley Labels were involved in the project, using the Irn-Bru artwork to put it through repro and carrying out the personalisation work using Esko Graphics pre-press software. The company then printed the labels onto reels of unsupported polypropylene film. “Digital printing allowed us to use different elements of the customer’s original artwork, as variable data, removing the need to create more than 500 individual artworks, thus creating cost-effective results.”

According to Gellar, the impact of the campaign remained positive into March, when the promotion ended. The latest figures released by A.G. Barr showed a five per cent growth with its trading performance in the final quarter of its financial year, which ended on 25 January 2015.

Rexam, meanwhile, have also used cut-out tabs to help customers to customise their products with branding or to support marketing campaigns. “Carlsberg used Rexam’s cut-out tab technology to highlight their ‘Hop Leaf’ symbol to reflect their dedication to high quality,” says Hamer.

The other trend in personalised packaging is the creation of specially designed QR codes. “These codes or tags are disguised as part of the print,” says Osment. “They often look like part of the product image or logo but have exactly the same functionality as basic QR codes when scanned by a phone.”

The future
“Ground breaking campaigns such as the Coca-Cola ‘Share a Coke’ and A.G. Barr’s ‘Bru’s Your Clan’ has helped brand owners to think differently,” says Gellar. “This technology compliments marketing projects with attractive, flexible and potentially unique designs to product digitally printed, mass customised, personalised or versioned packaging in a quick moving supply chain. The result is the positive benefit of less inventory, additional replenishments and the environmental benefit of less waste.” 

Ashe errs on the side of caution as to personalisation as a long-term strategy: “Personalisation and customisation in packaging is most definitely here to stay. Will it be a large proportion of the market? Most likely not, but for marketing campaigns and niche businesses it is very attractive and economically viable already.”

There’s a similar message from Hamer: “There has already been a huge development in printing technologies and we are now at a stage where our customers can print complex images in HD using our special services. As long as demand is there, we will continue to develop, innovate and work with customers to meet their needs to provide cutting edge solutions and beverage can designs.”

It’s not that the idea of personalised or customised packaging is new. But now technology has advanced and is offering real opportunities for brands and companies to explore the possibilities. 

“As you look around the marketplace, more and more companies are harnessing the knowledge to create simple and effective ways to interact with consumers,” says Gellar. “Most brands have a global presence and packaging enables them to enhance engagement with the consumer. Digitally printed labels and packaging have been improving workflow, enabling innovative marketing and getting products to market faster for years now, although other substrates have been slower to take off. But as the capacities and special techniques of digital and conventional presses increase, so will their ability to produce powerful marketing projects using personalisation or customisation.”

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