Package designers: Embrace irreverence

Irreverent brand packaging designs—ones that are edgy, evoke energy, reflect a social agenda, or take a design risk—represent a small minority in the world of predictable marketing solutions.

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These rebels of mainstream packaging design may not always have long life spans or broad market appeal, but they stick in the minds of consumers like the iconic bad boy that signals power and confidence. The strength and conviction of the marketers that chose to take a risk and be provocative should be applauded.

In the early 80s, Ben and Jerry’s was the bold leader in this arena. The brand’s packaging design imagery read pastoral Vermont on the one hand, while the typography and product names read quirky, independent activism. Heinz, the classic leader of safe mass branding, took a step out of their comfort zone with the launch of the “ketchupy quips.” Ketchup packaging designs that literally spoke to the consumer were inventive and broadly appealing.

Wired magazine featured AriZona brand All City NRG in this past holiday season’s Fifth Annual Wired Store, their pop-up store located in the meatpacking district of New York. The shrink-sleeve-labeled cans were positioned among the latest examples of cutting-edge technology and design, placing them among the annual ‘must have’ brands.

All City NRG struck a chord when Vincent Ficarra’s graffiti covered cans were used to evoke the gritty, street art energy of New York. The contradictions of this product’s packaging design are provocative. It’s where colorful shrink sleeve technology intersects with spray cans and gritty urban surfaces. Where personalized, illegal tagging meets mass consumer brand marketing. Across this country, gang-related municipal codes define the offenses and the provisions for graffiti from possession of materials to the execution on public or non-approved property. The rogue danger emitting from this maverick brand is a brilliant success.

With the value of ‘simplicity’ getting tiresome in the packaging design arena, it’s a shame this brand was a limited edition. There was a perfect opportunity to expand the line and create broader marketing impact (not unlike Jones Soda). Consumers are seeking spice in their lives, to be shocked out of the mass-market humdrum. They want experiential brands. This outstanding packaging design is even museum-worthy as it serves to capture and reflect the energy and spirit of the urban life in a mass brand. Marianne Rosner Klimchuk ( is Associate Chairperson, Associate Professor, Packaging Design Dept., Fashion Institute of Technology.

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