Going Global

Bonnie Howard August 14, 2014


In an increasingly connected and competitive world, food and drink marketers are striving for the efficiencies associated with establishing one-look globally. However, whilst global design can be elegant in theory, we’ve found that it’s quite difficult in practice, due to:

  •  Varying Retail Formats & Packaging Structures 

For the shopper the brand begins in the store. And globally packaging must work in a wide range of retail contexts, from the wide aisles of modern trade to the cluttered kiosks and smaller pack formats in Traditional Trade.

Packaging structure can also be quite different in developing markets from those most common in North America and Europe. Typically, they are much smaller, to allow for lower price points. This smaller pack obviously leaves far less ‘real estate’
than larger formats found in your local Tesco. This reality, along with lower literacy rates in the developing world, means that copy/claims are less likely to be effective (or legible!). As a result, colour and primary visuals need to work harder to delineate varieties (such as different flavours).

  • Varying Design Aesthetics & Information Needs 

Because perceptions of beauty, health and/or appetite appeal vary by region, designs don’t always travel well across borders. In our experience, we’ve rarely found that a single ‘look’ or visual image is equally compelling on a global level.

In addition, product familiarity is often limited in developing markets, which drives a greater need to be literal in conveying product information and usage occasions.

Similarly there can be locally imposed information constraints, such as manufacturers being bound to identify nutritional information (fat content, salt levels etc.) on front of pack, which can impact upon where benefit messaging resides on pack and effectively breaks through versus less persuasive messaging.

  • Varying Marketing Challenges 

In globalising, marketers typically start from very different looks and business challenges across countries – a well-established brand in the UK may be a newcomer in China. If this context is ignored, marketers may design to the lowest-common denominator and end up with ‘global mediocrity.’

Cereal thriller: getting  global branding right  relies on local taste.

Cereal thriller: getting global branding right
relies on local taste.


So what can marketers do to drive successful global packaging? The key is using consumer research wisely to incorporate local insight at both the beginning and end of the design process.

At the pre-design stage research must inform the design brief with an understanding of the local markets, including ‘retail realities’ (of store context), ‘in-home realities’ (of storage and usage) and ‘visual equities’ (that shoppers use to recognise the brand).  These core-equities can then be leveraged and evolved, as the foundation for a new global design system.

It’s vital to stand out on shelves awash with similar products.

It’s vital to stand out on shelves awash with similar products.

At the evaluation stage research should guide the decision-making process, both to ensure effectiveness and to guide marketers beyond regional agendas and/or individual opinions. To do so, it’s important to marry the use of a consistent global methodology (to provide consistent metrics) with local analysis (to measure success within each market). Specifically, in a packaging context, we’ve found that:

  • Behavioural measures of shelf presence (visibility, shop-ability and purchase from shelf) are most predictive of in-market performance Setting realistic global Action Standards is critical, as it is nearly impossible to drive ‘wins’ in all countries  Diagnostic insights (from eye-tracking of pack viewing patterns) are valuable in uncovering the ‘why’ and guiding refinements


In addition to incorporating the consumer’s voice, our advice is to avoid defining ‘global packaging’ in terms of global uniformity. Instead, the most successful global packaging systems mandate a few core-constants (a logo, a colour, etc.) and give regions the freedom to use their local knowledge to customise appropriately. This may involve modifying claims or a visual to speak to local priorities or sensitivities, or changing the packaging structure to work more effectively in store or in-home.

Global design (and, indeed, global marketing) is ultimately a balancing act, between global continuity and local customization; and in some cases, between long-term brand strategy and day-to-day execution. Marketers and designers that respect this balance –
and are guided by a true understanding of local shoppers – are far more likely to win their battles at retail.

E: grant.montague@prsresearch.com