Year after year, shop windows begin to sparkle with the spirit of Christmas, and it’s not uncommon to see shelves filled with Christmas decorations as early as October. Regardless of when this festive atmosphere begins, the first harbingers of Christmas – nutcrackers, dwarfs, snowflakes, Santa Clauses, elves, reindeer, and colorful lights – have a fascinating impact on everyone. The mere thought of approaching beautiful moments lights up faces, with few exceptions, even if it involves some grumbling. What follows is an unrelenting onslaught of colors and the well-known spectrum of emotions, ranging from excitement to saturation, from the moment the first decorations appear until the end of December when everything we see is bathed in red, green, gold, and silver.
Packaging plays a significant role in all of this. It’s hard to find a product during this time that isn’t adorned with familiar symbolism and doesn’t invite a special, festive, or limited-time purchase. Holiday packaging has the power to enhance brand recognition and strengthen the emotional connection with consumers. Christmas themes evoke nostalgic feelings and prompt consumers to make impulse purchases. Failing to capitalize on the holiday mood and add extra value to products would be a considerable miss for many.
But why is that, and where does the idea come from that chocolate tastes sweeter in decorative packaging than in ordinary packaging?
The industry often resorts to tradition when it comes to marketing tools, and decorative packaging seems to be a kind of interpretation of festive gift wrap. The tradition of wrapping gifts is not a modern invention; it dates back to 1600 in Japan when gifts were wrapped in Furoshiki, a traditional cloth. In the early 20th century, silk paper became popular, and people began wrapping gifts with it. Once apon a time, in a Kansas City store in 1917, they ran out of standard paper, so they used fine paper intended for the inner side of envelopes. People liked it, and the business of wrapping paper flourished. Today, we still spend a considerable amount on gift wrapping. The market for wrapping paper in the United States is estimated at $2.6 billion – a lot of money for something that will be torn and discarded. Britons spend 365,300 kilometers of wrapping paper each year! That’s eight times the length of the Equator! (Environmental protection agencies and authorities would have something to say about that.) However, tradition is tradition, and no one wants to give it up, no matter how illogical it may seem.
The same goes for promotional packaging. There’s no room for rationalization. After the purchase, the packaging may be torn and discarded, it may not contribute to increased sales, it may be “already seen” and linger on the shelves long after the holidays, but festive decor is not to be abandoned. It’s important to appear in Christmas attire on time while people are still excited about it. The challenge is to strike the right balance. Being among the first to enter the market, but not too early, having a Christmas motif that isn’t red and green, offering something truly special, investing but still making a profit – these are just some of the contradictory demands for “Christmas” products. Even the strongest brands sometimes stumble in the delicate area of holiday packaging. If a competitor surpasses them or comes up with a better idea, they might find themselves selling Santa chocolates in Easter bunny wrapping at a bargain price come spring.
The packaging for these activations is prepared early in the year. Those who haven’t planned for the next year by September, designed by February, and sent the prepress to production by March are already considerably behind. Sometimes the prepress and production period will be longer if the product is to be packed in completely different packaging, a different volume, or material. This might require a new production line and often a lot of manual labor.
Still, investing in targeted holiday packaging can prove to be exceptionally profitable. Consumers are more inclined to choose products that look attractive and festive during the holidays. Brands that invest in Christmas packaging not only create additional value for their products but also build a strong connection with consumers, leading to long-term loyalty.
How to be different? How not to miss the mark?
Products with fewer competitors are somewhat better off because if a product is the only one in its category, a red ribbon (or none at all) is enough, but if you’re a chocolate or candy manufacturer during the Christmas season, good luck. Originality is key to making a brand stand out among the multitude of festively decorated products. Manufacturers strive to explore unique holiday motifs, apply innovative packaging shapes, or collaborate with artists to create unique visuals. It’s crucial to think beyond traditional Christmas frames and explore new ideas that will leave a lasting impression. Perhaps some products will stand out precisely because they aren’t festively adorned?
Strategic planning is necessary for holiday packaging, just like in non-holiday times. It’s essential to preserve the brand’s integrity. Brands are like people – a teenager who wears ripped jeans on every occasion will most likely show up at a family Christmas dinner in them (no matter how much grandma and grandpa disapprove), but they might add a new sparkling (festive) eyebrow piercing for the occasion. This is the foundation for a successful holiday packaging design – work with moderation and in line with the brand. If you want to be different, don’t dress in off-the-rack clothing.
Can it be optimized and rationalized?
Redesigning costs, and some brands need a serious budget to redesign the packaging of a specific product category. Whether it’s printing on flexible materials, metal, glass, or plastic, costs multiply rapidly. Holiday packaging has a short lifespan and requires relatively little compared to year-round production. Smaller quantity – higher price. That’s how it is in printing, because the costs of changing printing forms and preparing the printing line are the same for small and large runs, not to mention the material.
The solution could be to redesign the packaging so that it gets a new look for the holiday season and a larger quantity, with only a skillful addition of some Christmas element to emphasize the season. An addition that could possibly be printed in just one color and removed after the holidays by changing only one printing form. An interesting story, instead of overly expensive printing, that communicates some special benefits of the product or makes the purchase fun, can work wonders. Just thinking out loud.
When it all adds up…
Christmas packaging is not just an aesthetic addition; it is a powerful marketing tool that helps brands stand out in the holiday shopping frenzy. Brands’ decision to ‘dress up’ their products in Christmas attire or launch limited holiday lines is based on the desire to create an unforgettable experience for consumers. Through creativity, originality, and/or rational investment in targeted packaging, brands can achieve significant success during the most wonderful time of the year. However, it was high time to break down tradition and start thinking in terms of rationalization.