How about Taking the Wrap Rage out of Toy Packaging this Holiday Season?

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By Ted Mininni

Consumers: “less is more when it comes to packaging.” Doesn’t sound reassuring to package design professionals, does it? Less real estate to work with and a long list of branding and design issues to be considered when packaging products. Talk about adding challenge to complexity!

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NMI Solutions, a global market research firm that specializes in health, well-being and sustainability issues recently shared some interesting insights from its annual U.S. LOHAS Consumer Trends Study. When surveyed, 75% of respondents felt that many consumer products are over-packaged. When it comes to sustainability, those surveyed preferred minimal packaging first. This was followed by recyclable packaging and then packaging made from environmentally-friendly materials.

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It’s no secret that consumer packaging has been shrinking. Especially in food and personal care categories. With manufacturers like Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s and Heinz making commitments to significant package reduction, as well as smaller companies, the process of package reduction is accelerating.

Brands in the toy category benefit immensely from reduced packaging. Often the object of wrap rage, removing toys from layers of packaging has been known to be hazardous! Parents who have borne cuts and scrapes during the process can attest to that. And the holiday gift season brings all of that dread to the fore. The largest toy makers, Mattel and Hasbro, aware of this, have been working to eliminate twist ties and excess packaging in a concerted manner. But some smaller, niche toy companies are doing extraordinary reduced package designs that deserve notice.

As added bonuses, fewer materials mean less waste, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and lower costs of production and shipping. This is significant. But it doesn’t come without challenges. While consumers say they want to see less packaging, when they actually do they usually think they’re getting less product for their money, which is often the case. That has negative connotations unless companies transparently explain the reduction in package size and materials.

For consumer product marketer and package designer, the challenge is to assess every square inch of real estate and determine how best to deliver brand and product assets in that space. Regardless, this doesn’t have to be a negative. There are ways to capitalize by making minimalist packaging a game changer. It forces everyone involved to be more creative and to make brand communication more focused and deliberate.

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HEXBUG offers a great example. There’s nothing else like it in the toy industry so it stands out and stands alone. HEXBUG is a line of cool micro robotic toys that are getting raves. They’re ingeniously designed in the form of bugs, crabs and inchworms. All of its packaging is unique but the Nano Hive Habitat Set goes one better. The playset folds up for easy transport and storage with a simple paperboard sleeve serving as its packaging.

The interactive playscape opens up to let boys customize the multi-level “habitat” any way they choose. They can then add their favorite micro-robotic creatures to the habitat for hours of imaginative play. The set is beautifully designed so that when it closes, a “handle” appears at the top to carry the toy. Simple plastic ties fit neatly through the closed habitat and help keep it closed. A simple billboard shaped like the product depicts imagery of the open play set and delivers simple, carefully chosen brand communication. The beauty of this, of course is that product and package concept work in concert.

Has the minimalist packaging for this product impeded it in any way? No. The Hive Habitat Set was nominated for Toy of the Year awards in four key categories during the annual Toy Fair week in New York City in February 2012.

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Green Toys, Inc. is breaking new ground with its toys and its packaging. American-made, retro-styled mini vehicles and mini fastback coupes in primary colors entice young children. All of these toys are made from safe, 100% recycled milk containers that are BPA free. They can be cleaned in the dishwasher. Packaging is made from 100% recyclable corrugated box material and printed with soy inks. It’s minimal, hones to the shape of the toys and shows them off to full advantage. This is clever packaging that allows the inside of the car and its tires to be fully exposed which kids love. No twist ties, plastic or cellophane films are included in this packaging. Every concept is deliberate and tells the brand story.

B. Toys is focused on sustainability with its line of toys for young children, as well. The toys are whimsical, colorful and entirely unique: childhood delights. So is the packaging. The first thing the company seeks to do is minimize packaging. Recyclable materials are used. Minimal plastic is used but it’s recyclable. All inks are soy based and varnishes water based for biodegradability. Toys are packaged in reusable bags. Some packaging reverses to become gift wrap. Boxes are designed to turn into pretty trays “to hold tiny treasures”. All of this makes us wonder why more consumer product companies haven’t taken this approach of product and package integration.

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These package design choices could be called new toy success stories. Kids obviously gravitate to toys like these. Parents can easily endorse these choices when toys and packaging are presented this thoughtfully.

How many more products/packaging can borrow these ideas and innovate even further?

Ted Mininni is President of Design Force, Inc., the leading package and licensing program design consultancy to the consumer product and entertainment industries. He can be reached at 856-810-2277. Check out his weekly blog posts at www.designforceinc.com.