6 Tips for Developing Effective Limited Editions

By: Mathijs Aliet

Limited Editions are Hotter than Ever!

Recently Ferrero launched Nutella Unica, making use of a fancy algorithm that helped them develop seven million jars, each with a unique and colorful label. A great example of one of the hottest trend in packaging land at the moment: The Limited Edition!

As a Brand and Packaging Design Agency operating across 17 markets in Asia, we at Square44 really have noticed the interest in limited editions in our part of the world. Pretty much all year-round there’s always at least one designer working on a limited edition for a client in one of the markets we work for. It might start with a typical Christmas or New Year’s Pack, before we move onto some Valentine’s day editions, then there are of course the myriad of local New Year Celebrations taking place across Asia (Tet in Vietnam, Chinese Lunar New Year, the Thai Songkran Festival etcetera). Once done with those, it’s time to celebrate Spring! The colorful Holi festival in India or the Sakura season in Japan are especially popular and in between things we might have to make room for a quick Euro or World Cup edition. Towards the latter half of the year you’ll have the Dashain festival shortly after followed by the Mooncake season or the Mid-Autumn celebration, before everything starts all over again.

The Power of Packaging Design = Time

As media habits change marketing teams are trying to re-evaluate how to most effectively allocate budgets. Besides just tracking reach and frequency, marketing is evolving to a science where even neuroscientists are getting involved measuring the degree of pleasure or pain people experience when exposed to an ad or a new design.

As the dust settles, however, in between these big media consumption shifts, packaging remains a consistent winner and an essential driver for sales. Besides being probably the most important touchpoint at the point of sale, what brands are increasingly starting to realize is that of all marketing tools at their disposal, packaging probably spends most time with a consumer—and guess what is needed to form those much sought-after relationships? Spending time together!

Developing limited editions that spend time with your consumers is fun for most creatives. Clients are often a lot more relaxed with what can and cannot be done and for the brands they manage it is a constant opportunity to explore new ways to create experiences. In trying to create real engagement with an audience or creating some excitement and entertainment for consumers—brands are going extremely far with their executions, sometimes however, with rather limited results.

So, What Makes an Effective Limited Edition Pack?

Globally, one of the more impactful limited edition executions we’ve seen recently was Coca Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign that featured people’s names printed on a can. A great example of blending in the principles of customization and personalization into a successful limited edition concept that became a tremendous commercial success and has now been rolled out into over 77 markets worldwide. A lot of social media buzz gives Coke lots of shares and social impressions and invaluable free PR. Most importantly at the end of the day: a big uplift in sales, helps to turn around decades of slow but certain sales declines.

Since there’s so much interest in the topic and to help make your limited editions deliver maximum result, we thought it would be interesting to share some thoughts from an agency perspective on how to develop and use limited editions more effectively. Here are our 6 tips on getting limited edition packaging right:

1. Start with a Strong Brand Foundation

Limited editions are more effective when your brand makes use of a strong packaging design base. What does that mean? Your brands needs to have a well-established, robust visual identity that consists of a few strong visual assets (signature style elements) that are blindly recognized by your audience, before you start to play with your design. Without a few strong distinctive assets your limited edition designs might not be recognized as belonging to your brand, which then kind of defeats the purpose of doing a limited edition in the first place. Does your brand own a color, a font type, a certain pattern, a brand icon, a distinctive shape or ideally a combination of a few of these elements that your creative team can play with and re-interpret?

Heineken’s Red Star Element is recognized almost blindly.

2. Put the Audience First

You are creating a limited edition for your audience. So, try to focus on what they would love and try to de-emphasize what you (as marketeers) would like to show. Get rid of the clutter and the marketing speak on your limited edition packs. No, we don’t need to have a big logo. No, we don’t need to carry a hundred branding claims and No, we don’t need to tell an elaborate product story. Experiment! Make it fun. Make it unique. Make it Outstanding. Make it something your users would love, so it becomes something that is worth buying.

3. Think about the “Afterlife”

If packaging is becoming a more and more relevant branding touch point because it spends most time with consumers, why not capitalize on the time factor, and try to make your limited edition design into a collectible that you keep after a product is used. In other words: create an afterlife for your limited edition. What else spends more time with a consumer than something they want to collect? McDonald’s Happy Meals are a great example for using collectibles to create brand loyalty, leveraging the time factor to constantly come up with new reasons to buy a Happy Meal. Could your limited edition pack be part of a recurring series of collectibles that people will buy just to collect them all? Could your limited edition pack have a different function after the product is consumed, to give your consumers a reason to keep it around allowing your brand continue to connect for a long time after use?

Another good “Afterlife” example are the Evian Paul Smith bottles...you wanna collect and keep those, no?

4. Make it Social & Shareable!

We’re living in a digital age and brands that get how to be relevant on social media are steps ahead of their counter parts that don’t. Use your limited edition to give people some content to dress up their Facebook Wall, Twitter Feed or Instagram Timeline. Optimize your packs so they photography nicely. Suggest the #hashtag, so any images are easily shared on social media. Encourage them to like, follow and share maybe with a small contest behind it as an extra stimulus, to allow you to get an even bigger “reach” for free!

Square44’s Milkuat “Around-the-world Edition” for Danone was loved by Indonesian kids and became a true collectible that people loved to share!

5. Do it when others Don’t

“Oh it’s Christmas, Chinese New Year or the end of Ramadan, let’s do a limited edition.” If you want impact, perhaps those periods when everyone else is doing the same thing are not the best moment to launch a limited edition. Look beyond the obvious moments, look for unique moments and occasions that are perhaps relevant only to your audience. Look for newsworthy connections like the way Pepsi launched “Pepsi Perfect” on October 21st 2015, to commemorate the movie Back to the Future, where Marty McFly arrived in the future tried to order a Pepsi, instead got a Pepsi Perfect. If you google “Pepsi Perfect” you can see how much free PR they got out of it, and they’re only doing a few thousand of these packs.

6. Be Strategic, not Tactical

Too often still, limited editions are treated as an afterthought. An opportunity for a brand manager to finally have some fun with a global design they’re usually never allowed to touch. That’s all fine—but the moment you start to consider limited editions as an integral part of your branding strategy and a way to develop loyal relations and connections with your consumers, then ask how it would change your strategy and approach. Could a limited edition tell your brand’s story? How can it connect better with your audience? How do we create real engagements that make people feel good about your brand? What occasions would be most relevant for our brand and how do we win new people by focusing on them, not ourselves.

Maybe facing a bit more backlash than expected—Dove’s attempt to link it’s real beauty concept into a series of limited edition “real beauty” bottle shapes certainly generates buzz!

Limited edition packaging may be a big trend, but it will really only be successful when done well. Hopefully this gave you a bit of inspiration of what you can do to make your next limited editions inspiring, creative and engaging—but still commercially effective!


Mathijs Aliet
Mathijs Aliet is the founder and owner of Square44, one of Asia’s most commercially focused branding and packaging design agencies. With a background in marketing and an ability to think creatively, Mathijs reinvented the agency model always trying to do things more effectively! With a passion for design solutions that not only look amazing but also perform commercially, the agency’s motto of “Effectiveness” decorates the walls, reminding all Square44-ians of what makes great brand design.