Breaking Through at Retail with “Pizzazz”
by Gary Grossman

At retail, consumers shopping for deodorant, cereal, snacks, soft drinks or other consumable products come up against a virtually impenetrable wall of bottles, boxes and bags. This gaudy blur of packaging makes it increasingly difficult to tell one product from another.

Shoppers are faced with a seemingly infinite selection of look-alike products at precisely the point where they make seven out of ten purchase decisions. And, retailers, forced by “everyday low price” category killers, must look beyond pricing if they hope to find ways to stand out to shoppers. The answer? Eye-catching products that connect with consumers – products with pizzazz, a stylish, high-aesthetic look and feel that will magnetize shopper’s attention, no matter how cluttered the environment, without obscuring information shoppers want to find quickly and easily.

But there must be substance to pizzazz. The “wow factor” must be integral to the core values of the product, its essence, something consumers want, need and simply cannot get from other products. In this context “product” also means “package.” At the shelf, product and package converge into one and the same for the consumer. Whatever consumers see must create the impulse to buy. Advertising and sales promotion may influence consumer perceptions of image, but what consumers see in the store drives the purchase decision.

Smart marketers are learning to start the product development process with the consumer’s viewpoint. They use their understanding of what consumers need and want but can’t get, to help guide design strategies. Five key strategies are: structural innovation, functional innovation, combining structural and functional innovation, telling the product story through packaging graphics, and using the product to sell itself.

Structural Innovation

Structural innovation means rethinking the total structure of a package – especially its shape. One of the most famous examples is the Coca-Cola bottle, designed in 1915 and introduced in 1916, which famed designer Raymond Loewy called “the most perfectly designed package in the world.”

Then as today, the purpose was differentiation. In those days soft drinks were typically chilled in tubs of ice water. The paper labels slid off when wet and customers had to fish around in cold water for the brands they wanted. The solution was a distinctive shape that could be easily identified even underwater. And so the world’s best-known package was born.

Functional Innovation

Functional innovation means designing packages that introduce new value for users in terms of convenience. A classic example is the “Serv-a-Tissue” box introduced by Kleenex Tissues in 1929. It was made possible by packaging engineers, who developed a method for mechanically interfolding two separate rolls of tissue in such a way as to invent the unique dispensing package with which we are all familiar. The new POP-UP® box opened up a new range of uses for the product, taking it from a basic handkerchief function to such other uses as wiping windshields, cleaning kitchen pans and draining fried foods. By the mid-1930s, package inserts listed forty-eight “typical” uses.

Combining Structural and Functional Innovation

More recently, Kraft combined structural and functional innovation in order to add value to its mayonnaise products and take market share with something distinctive. Structurally, the old round glass jar was replaced with a “big-mouth” plastic jar in a race-track shape, and the screw-on metal lid was replaced with a flip-top plastic lid. Functionally, the wide opening reduces mess on hands and utensils, the oblong cross section makes it easy to grip, and the plastic lid is easy to open.

Telling the Product Story through Packaging Graphics

Dramatizing the product story on the package in colorful graphics carries the sales message to the point of sale and makes it an integral part of the product. This was the strategy Kellogg’s chose for its Eggo Filled WafFulls, a new product it created for kids -- the “waffles for children on the go who love waffles but don’t like the mess without a plate.”

While a toaster waffle was quick to cook it wouldn’t work on the go because the jelly slides out. But what if the waffle were pre-filled with jelly? And so Waf-Fulls were born. That’s the story Kellogg tells on the box by showing a half-eaten Waf-Full and its filling.

Freeing the Product to Sell Itself

A bold strategy was adopted by the entrepreneurs who revolutionized the electric toothbrush industry by developing a $5 product when competitors charged $50. It was a strategy born of necessity because they could not afford national advertising. The solution was packaging that invited trial by allowing the consumer to turn on the brush right in the store. In year one, the entrepreneurs sold 10 million SpinBrush units, more than three times the then-US electric toothbrush market. That got the attention of P&G, which now sells the product worldwide and has made it the No. 1 selling electric toothbrush.


Breaking through at retail today takes the R&D team out of their natural environment and throws it into the customer’s reality – at home, at work, in the store, wherever the product touches the customer’s life. That’s the real source of effective design strategies for products with pizzazz - products that stand out on the shelf and compel purchase.

Gary Grossman is the President of IDI. IDI has helped both Fortune 500 and middle market companies to discover innovation strategies and to translate these strategies into viable products and packaging. Visit for additional information.

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Copyright 2005 by Gary Grossman. All rights reserved.

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