I’ve gotten on the Mad Men train and have been powering through the reruns to get caught up. Despite Don Draper’s condescension of public relations in comparison to his chosen profession of advertising, I’ve developed a true love for this show, its complicated layers, well-written characters and plot arcs (check it out!).
Anyway, during this process, I ran across an episode where the 10-year-old daughter of the main character received a gift from her mother, who claimed it was from Sally’s newborn baby brother, to help her feel more at ease with the new addition to the family. When Betty Draper pulled the gift-wrapped long, rectangular box out from under a pillow, I immediately knew the contents of the box. I caught myself saying out loud, “It’s a Barbie.” When Sally unwrapped it, she found that she was indeed the owner of a new Barbie doll.
There are some brand images that go beyond logos, color palettes and fonts. Barbie is definitely one of them. The simple size and shape of the box was all I needed to see to think back to my own girlhood years and the countless Christmas and birthday gifts I received in boxes exactly like the one Sally received. What I think is most fascinating is the fact that this episode of a fictional television show took place around 1964. I started collecting Barbies roughly 20 years later, and even though the colors and design–even Barbie herself–went through several revisions, the size and shape of that box never changed. Go to any WalMart or Target toy aisle, and there you will find Barbie, another 20+ years later, nestled in the same style box that she started in. I wasn’t even alive in 1964, but all I had to do was see that tidily wrapped box to start thinking back fondly to my own childhood and the various adventures I would invent for Barbie and her friends.
Think of a box from Tiffany’s. The size and shape of the box might vary depending on what gift is inside, but the Tiffany blue, the texture of the box, the little white ribbon…it’s all enough to make a girl’s heart skip a beat and know that someone thinks she is special enough to give the very best. The gift inside is icing on the cake, but the fact that it came from Tiffany’s…well, that sets it apart as special and elite.
Sometimes packaging is just as important as the graphics and tag lines on the box and is inseparable from the contents of the package. When I took my nephew to McDonald’s years ago and discovered for the first time that the Happy Meal no longer came in the cardboard box with the little golden arches handles and activities on the sides, I admit I was disappointed. It contained the same food, the same kind of novelty toy for him to enjoy, and it even had activities printed on the paper bag, but it just wasn’t the same. His mean looked very similar to my meal, which also came in a paper bag. It felt as though it was no longer special, even though my nephew never knew the difference.
These examples are all of very iconic products, but I think recognizable packaging had a part in making their product images iconic. Updates and redesigns are nice when attempting to evolve with the times, but know what sentiments your customers might have for different aspects of your product–even something as simple as the box it comes in.
I don’t know if the flirtation with the paper bag was only at that particular McDonald’s location or if it was only for a brief time, but I’m happy to report that the Happy Meal box is back. In fact, check this out to see proposed plans for a Happy Meal box that promotes childhood literacy.