Store aisles and eCommerce pages are packed with products sold in limited-edition packages that are intended to drive increased sales. However, industry data publicized by Nielsen indicates that as much as 90 percent of new limited edition packaging designs don’t have the desired effect—and in some cases, may even hurt brand equity.
On the other hand, to a faithful collector of a favourite DVD series or dedicated brand loyalist, limited-edition packaging can be a compelling reason to purchase a new or alternative version of a much desired product as soon as possible. Indeed, it could be argued that the entire concept of limited-edition packaging is meant to urge consumers to open their wallets on the spot. Waiting too long could result in disappointment.
Below, we’ll look at several case studies, along with the associated benefits and downsides. This information could help you decide whether limited-edition packaging is a great brand strategy decision that will lead to outstanding results—or whether it’s likely to incur more costs than benefits.
Limited Edition Packaging that Promotes the Concept of Scarcity: Special Monopoly Sets Offer Real Money
Sometimes indicating that a product is a limited-edition item only available for a short period of time is enough to stimulate sales. Interested buyers can quickly recognize that there’s a relatively small number being made, and that fact makes them want it more.
Those items are frequently prized by collectors, and in other cases, people just desire them for the novelty value. Hasbro, manufacturer of the popular game Monopoly, successfully used this concept of scarcity to market the game via a specially packaged limited edition version.
To celebrate the game’s 80th anniversary, 80 versions of the game that were sold in France came with real money. In most cases, the genuine currency was mixed in with fake bills. However, one of the packages came entirely with spendable real euros. The benefit of this approach is that it appeals to people who might already want to buy the game for nostalgic reasons to reminisce about their childhoods by playing this classic game. Plus, since only 80 game sets of this sort were made, the scarcity factor drives up the perceived brand value.
For many hopeful customers, the act of opening a Monopoly box to see if it came stocked with real spendable money was probably something akin to when Charlie Bucket of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory anxiously ripped open the candy bar wrapper to see if it contained the coveted golden ticket that allowed him and a select group of others admittance into Willy Wonka’s magical candy-making site.
Limited Edition Packaging Designed to Leverage Core Brand Messages: Scotch Magic Tape
Scotch’s Magic Tape is very popular because of the way it seems to disappear onto paper after applied. The brand has even developed a dispenser so people can only use one hand to put the tape in place.
A few years ago, German company Kolle-Rebbe designed packaging that contained mirrored panels inside to create the illusion that the Magic Tape package was empty, even though it was holding five rolls of the adhesive. The special tape package even won a CLIO Award, which is the equivalent of an Academy Award in the film industry, but instead honours design, advertising, and communication professionals.
The box design promotes the brand’s “invisibility” benefit, and is an unconventional idea that makes people take notice when surveying available adhesive choices. That’s true even if they are not already familiar with what makes the tape stand out from competitors. The branding message indicates that Magic Tape makes paper tears “disappear”, because it patches them up so clearly. Plus, as already mentioned, the tape’s material is made to blend into the paper after it’s applied.
Image via www.packworld.com and ©3M
Furthermore, it was said that the decision to include green as the primary colour in the box’s design was a nod to a commitment to environmental sustainability. While that may be the case, it can also be strongly argued that the vivid green shade is already well-known to consumers.
There are many varieties of Scotch products, but the Magic Tape always has a green packaging design. Choosing to use any other colour when designing the “invisible” box could possibly have caused unnecessary confusion, and perhaps meant shoppers would have mistakenly overlooked the product when visually scanning store shelves.
This is a great example of how a limited-edition package can reinforce the brand message in a way which is both aesethetically ‘on brand’ and functional in its delivery, and we’ve had similarly favourable results when helping our clients combine aesthetics with functional benefits and practicality.
Limited Edition Packaging that Relies on Star Power: Michael Jackson Pepsi Cans and “Bad” Album 25th Anniversary Campaign
People around the world were devastated when Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop,” passed away. Pepsi had been a long-time partner of Michael Jackson, and that loyalty continued after the pop star’s death.
In 2012, the beverage brand launched its first global campaign to honour the artist, releasing limited edition Pepsi cans in over 20 countries. The packaging retained the brand’s usual blue background, but featured Jackson in a range of typically dramatic poses that were highly recognizable, consequently drawing instant attention from consumers.
Image via www.marketingmagazine.co.uk ©Pepsi
To further stimulate demand, Pepsi also tapped top music stars of today to pay tribute to the artist in relation to the 25th anniversary of the Bad album. That piece of work was the seventh studio release from Jackson, and is repeatedly cited as a major influence on today’s artists. The performances were heavily viewed online and served to reinforce the concept that Jackson is one of the few artists who can boast timeless appeal across generations.
This campaign had value to music collectors, and also helped stimulate the desire in diehard fans to buy products relating to the deceased artist. Because Pepsi had to strike a deal with the managers of the late artist’s estate, the campaign undoubtedly required a significant amount of logistics. However, the challenges paid off, especially in terms of brand visibility.
Limited Edition Packaging That Supports a Charity: Bottle Green’s Stylish Drink Bottles to Fight Breast Cancer
Bottle Green sells unusual flavours of sparkling water and thereby caters to a niche market. In 2011, it developed a set of limited edition bottles that were available in the UK. The containers supported a charity called Fashion Targets Breast Cancer and featured images of stylish women. The bottles had strong onshelf impact, and were atypical to the category, which undoubtably drew the attention of their primary target audience.
Image via www.packagingoftheworld.com ©Bottle Green
More importantly, that effort was part of the brand’s dedication to corporate social responsibility, and reflected a continual effort to support causes that fight breast cancer. Research indicates that when customers are presented with two similar brands in the same category, the one that supports a clear CSR activity, charity or ‘gives back’ in some way for the great good, will typically be the preferred purchase and have higher sales than the one that doesn’t. Similarly the Bottle Green CSR campaign likely helped to strengthen awareness of the brand’s charitable heart. When working with our own clients, we tend to strongly agree that a target audience feels more compelled to buy something if it aligns with a charitable cause.
Interestingly enough, unlike some brands that are sold in connection with fighting breast cancer, the range doesn’t feature a dominant pink hue. However, the arresting design of the women’s faces is very powerful. Presumably, it was more than enough to encourage customers to pick up the containers and read them more closely to get the story behind the aesthetics.
Limited Edition Packaging That Leverages Premiumisation
Luxury brands often use limited-edition packaging as part of their premiumisation strategy for adding perceived value. Oscar de la Renta is one strong example of a brand that has done this successfully—but in this case, so-called “brand evangelism” is just as important, or even more so, than actual sales numbers.
In 2011, Oscar de la Renta launched the first-ever sales initiative that was completely contained within Facebook. The brand offered a solid perfume variety of its scent Esprit d’Oscar, which was packaged inside a wearable ring and sold with a price tag of $65. After a consumer bought a ring, he or she was encouraged to share that news via Facebook. Therefore, in the space of a few seconds, awareness of the product could theoretically spread to thousands of people or more, plus make a person feel special about being among those select few who were able to snag a ring before it was too late.
Image via http://wwd.com, © www.oscardelarenta.com
On the day of its release, one extremely eager evangelist found she was not able to access Facebook while at work, and was so concerned that she contacted the brand to inquire about the likelihood that the rings would be sold out before she could get one. Ultimately, a brand representative agreed to put one aside for her.
Image via http://wwd.com, © www.oscardelarenta.com
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this case study is that people were not able to access the purchase page for the limited-edition product without first liking the brand’s Facebook page. Before offering the limited-edition ring, the brand tested that strategy by offering free samples of the perfume to people who liked the Facebook page. In just one week, the number of likes grew by 40 percent. Furthermore, 5,000 people agreed to fill out feedback surveys.
The limited-edition ring created a win-win situation: customers got the chance to order something that had built-in exclusivity, and the brand’s marketers built their databases of interested consumers.
Limited Edition Packaging Compromises Product: Halo 3 Video Game
Early versions of limited-editions of the Halo 3 had faulty hubs in the packaging that did not consistently hold the discs securely in place. This meant many people opening the packaging with the intention of starting to play the game, found that the discs had become loose during shipping and consequently were scratched, resulting in the brand owner Microsoft having to offer replacements to its customers.
Image via http://www.dailytech.com ©Halo3
Despite this initial issue, Halo 3 ended up being the top-selling title of its time. It sold a total of $170 million on release day, and more than 1.7 fans decided to splurge on the $70 limited-edition version.
This is a good example of how limited-edition packaging must be properly tested to ensure they are fully functional as well as aesthetically eye-catching. The brand’s reputation didn’t really suffer as a result of the packaging problem, and neither did early sales. However, it’s important to remember that many brands don’t have the built-in advantage of such a large and dedicated fan base.
Those players were so eager to become immersed in the latest Halo release that the faulty packaging might have momentarily frustrated them, but it almost certainly wasn’t enough to cause the consumers to think twice about buying another Halo game or recommending them to friends. In this case study, the other inherent benefits of the game outweigh the issues with the packaging.
Packaging That’s too Bulky, Which Makes Storage or Merchandising Difficult: The Simpsons Box Sets
Boxed TV series sets are perpetually popular gifts, and great ways for TV fanatics to indulge themselves by being able to watch favourite episodes at any time. It’s not unusual for boxed sets to have holographic portions, fold-out sections, and other embellishments that aim to add aesthetic brand value. However, in the case of boxed sets for FOX’s animated hit, The Simpsons, the quest to dazzle perhaps went a bit too far.
Image via http://www.tvshowsondvd.com
The DVDs were packaged in boxes with three-dimensional facial features from popular characters. However, this limited edition packaging feature made the DVDs very hard to store because the more bulky packaging required extra shelf space when stored alongside other DVDs. Eventually, the manufacturer announced it would also be possible to buy a version where the three-dimensional parts could be removed, making the front of the box flat for easier storage.
The Simpsons brand has a very strong established fan base so it’s very unlikely that viewers would elect not to buy the DVD sets just because they had a bulky design. However, by making the decision to also offer a version where the three dimensional facial features could be removed, the manufacturers had to incur extra overheads, which potentially cut into increased profits.
We frequently caution our own clients that it’s crucial to perform a brand audit or extensive research around the feasibility of a limited-edition packaging strategy from multiple perspectives before proceeding to brand design or production. A lack of research, proper prototype testing or unchallenged assumptions can incurr unexpected costs which eat into a campaigns profitability, or worse, cause it to run at a loss, so please do your homework before your invest in your limited edition packaging!
Limited Editions Packaging Delayed Shipment of Product: Batman: Arkham Knight Game
A special YouTube channel was created to stimulate demand for the Batman: Arkham Knight serial superhero game. However early adopters didn’t get entirely what they expected when they enthusiastically purchased the game online following a teaser campaign with video clips from scenes of the game.
Gamers who pre-ordered the limited edition of the Batman: Arkham Knight game from Amazon UK received an e-mail saying there was an unspecified problem with the packaging, which meant those shoppers would get their physical goods nearly three weeks later than expected.
Because many people specifically pre-order limited-edition goods to get them on or before the official release date, this announcement undoubtedly caused some disappointment. To compensate, Amazon UK said it would provide download codes so people could play the games on the release date, even without having their physical goods.
Unlike the above instances of packaging issues, this example probably caused more logistical headaches than financial ones. The availability of download codes meant that even though buyers couldn’t immediately enjoy the tangible goods they were promised when pre-ordering the limited edition, they could at least play the game on time—which was probably a sufficient compromise for many customers.
What’s unique about this case study compared to the others we have examined is that the limited-edition packaging not only caused hassles for the manufacturer, but also for a retailer.
What We Can Learn From These Case Studies
- The limited-edition package is produced in extremely small quantities. This helps give items exclusivity and inceases desirability as consumers make dedicated efforts to buy them.
- The packaging leverages and enhances the product’s branding, but still has design elements that are familiar to consumers thereby strengthening brand affinity.
- Unusual packaging design details are integrated, but not at the expense of outweighing functional use or practicality or by becoming excessively costly or difficult to ship, store or merchandise.
- Pop culture references and/or celebrities are leveraged through brand collaboration or joint venture to increase the perceived value of a limited edition package.
- The special edition packaging is designed in support of a charitable cause. It’s especially helpful when endeavours like these align with a company’s already-established commitment to corporate social responsibility.
- Items featuring limited edition packages are sold solely through social media, and people can only make purchases after first interacting with the brand’s social media page in a designated way. This approach can theoretically help a brand gain traction on social media, connect with people who might not ordinarily use social media except to buy the products, and assist with building a database that’s populated with customer feedback and contact details.
However, limited-edition packaging can also be very cost- prohibitive, to the point where profitability is undermined if not properly researched and tested. That scenario is more likely if:
- Proper testing is not carried out in advance to ensure the elements of the limited-edition packaging performs well functionally and aesthetically. That should include taking steps to see if the packaging can withstand the rigors of being shipped around the world.
- The limited-edition packaging is too ‘ordinary’, so it doesn’t resonate strongly enough with its primary audience. In some cases, this may mean the packaging only seems valuable to people who have proven that their brand loyalty is so deep that they’ll buy a limited-edition package even if it’s not really all that special or very eye-catching.
- Packaging details are very complex and overly elaborate. Sometimes, focusing too much on the artistry can mean practical and functional needs get overlooked or undermined.
- It becomes evident that the production time for a limited-edition packaging will be longer than expected, meaning the products won’t be distributed on time to meet customer expectations or launch timelines.
The Final Limited Edition Packaging Brand Strategy Takeaway
If you decide to use limited edition packaging as part of your own brand strategy then its important to ensure you blend all the functional brand essentials with the brand aesthetics, while remaining true to your core brand values and positioning.
You should also ideally conduct research, not only to test your prototype but to ensure there is actually a market for your limited line that will be attracted to your special limited edition packaging, and if you aren’t sure, weigh up the costs of doing a very small batch test of special packages. These precautions can help make your limited-edition packages much more successful instead of turning into marketing decisions that eat up profits, undermine your brand and frustrate customers.
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So what do you think?
- Do you agree with the claim that the Scotch Magic Tape packaging was green to promote environmental sustainability, or was that message just being broadcast to urge eco-minded shoppers to buy the tape?
- Is the approach of offering a limited edition product solely on Facebook, as Oscar de la Renta did, a worthwhile brand strategy, or do you think it might be missing an opportunity with interested customers who’d perhaps like to purchase the items, but don’t use Facebook?
- Do you think it’s more effective to showcase corporate responsibility by using packaging design that’s very obviously made to support a charitable cause, or is the “less is more” tactic used by Green Bottle a clever one?
- In cases where smaller brands want to use pop culture references for broader brand positioning, but don’t have the resources to consider global stars like Michael Jackson, what other possibilities could they explore?
- While developing limited edition packaging, how important is it to get input from consumers about the features they would like to see? What do you think is the best way to acquire that information? Should you reward participants in return for their feedback?