How Reactive Packaging Can Give Your Brand An Edge

How Reactive Packaging Can Give Your Brand An Edge

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Skittles Marshawn's Pack Design File-main.jpg

The odds are pretty good that at least one out of every ten products you see in an average supermarket has a picture of a superhero, Star Wars character, or other popular pop culture icon plastered on the front. Many of those promotional images are the result of strategic partnerships between the entertainment industry and other business verticals, and are planned out far in advance of when these TV shows and movies are typically released.

However, our culture moves much faster than it did even ten years ago; these days, a viral meme can rise and fall over the course of a single 24-hour period. There now exists a unique opportunity for brands to capitalize on organic, unscripted connections between products and consumers – and to do that, they need to act fast and utilize the right tools to find out which trends are worth pursuing.

Here are a few success stories to consider:

  • When football superstar Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch was filmed eating Skittles on the sidelines of a 2011 Seattle Seahawks game, his lifelong love for the candy became a viral phenomenon. Identifying an opportunity to capitalize on the sensation, the Wrigley Company made two limited-edition packs – the "Seattle Mix" in 2014. and "Marshawn's Pack" in 2018 – and produced a Skittles-specific “press conference” with the notoriously tight-lipped Lynch. The good publicity ultimately generated a 19.2% increase in sales following the 2015 Super Bowl.

  • If you've ever heard a man referred to as a "Human Dorito," you have the Avengers fandom to thank for it. Shortly after the release of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014), fans online began using the term to describe the triangular, athletic physique of actor Chris Evans. So when Frito Lay collaborated with Marvel on "Avengers: Age of Ultron"-branded Doritos in 2015, you can bet they made sure Captain America was prominently featured on a bag – which all but guaranteed that someone in the press (specifically, MTV News) would get footage of Evans himself eating them.

  • No one involved with Netflix's "Stranger Things expected the supernatural series to be such an overnight success – least of all Kellogg's, which permitted the production to use Eggo Waffles prominently in the first season. After the show exploded, Eggo found clever ways to leverage their newfound spotlight, including offering free downloadable replicas of their ‘80s package design for cosplayers online (and, presumably, for nostalgic food packaging enthusiasts). Altogether, their efforts reportedly earned them over $200k in paid media value, and sales rise noticeably every time a new season premieres.

It's clear that understanding how your brand fits into the larger culture is more than just a clever internet marketing ploy – it can translate to real, tangible growth for your company.

But is it truly worth diverting your attention from the day-to-day marketing strategies you need to implement for your business, and risking potential backlash if you miss the mark?

Just how interested are consumers in packaging that reflects trending cultural conversations, and can packaging enable brands to keep pace with the speed of culture?

What We Found

We tapped into Suzy™’s panel of one million consumers and asked 500 of them what they thought about the intersection of product packaging design and pop culture.

On average, 60% of the men and women we surveyed said that they approve of brands that make references when selling their products, compared to only 4% who disapproved. (The rest were neutral).

What do you generally think of brands that demonstrate knowledge of pop culture, news, and other trends when marketing their products?

N=489, 100F, ages 13-73, United States

N=489, 100F, ages 13-73, United States


As to be expected, most people like to imagine that they aren’t susceptible to marketing gimmicks, so a plurality of our survey-takers said that packages with references on them didn't make a difference to them.  However, about 7% more people said they felt inclined to buy them than people who said they wouldn't.

When faced with a choice between a normal package design and one that features a timely reference to something you already enjoy (ie: a TV show, movie, athlete, meme, etc), which are you more likely to buy?

N=500, 100F, ages 13-73, United States

N=500, 100F, ages 13-73, United States


Next, we asked our panel what types of trend-makers are most likely to catch their eye. Not surprisingly, the entertainment industry came out on top – but just underneath them at 21% was internet personalities like YouTubers, Twitch streamers, bloggers, and other online influencers,

Which of the following do you think has the most impact on what you choose to buy?

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Finally, just for fun, we wanted to see what cultural trends people are currently excited about and asked everyone to pick their favorite three from a list. It makes a lot of sense that “Avengers” and “Game of Thrones” ranked pretty high. More interestingly, "Stranger Things" – and "Fortnite," which became one of the world's biggest gaming brands in 2018 (and which currently has its own "Avengers" tie-in going on) – didn’t register all that much in comparison.

Which current or upcoming cultural trend appeals the most to you right now?


Suzy Says

Business owners need every advantage they can get in the competitive world of agile marketing, and making sure you know what your potential customers care about beyond your industry is a great way not just to seem relevant and exciting, but to get your product out in front of them. However, ultimately the best method is to capitalize on trends just as they're really blooming, or maybe even before they start. Creating a "Stranger" things or "Fortnite"-related package design, for example, just isn't going to have the same effect on consumers as it would have when both properties were first making headlines.

Of course, not every company has the cash to react quickly to memes, which is why it's so important for businesses to get smarter about how they find and identify gestating trends before they become fully-grown phenomena. That's where Suzy™ can help connect you directly to your target audience to test exactly what they're thinking about, and how they might react to the next big thing.

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To learn more about how Suzy can help you with everything from emerging trends to new design ideas,
contact us for a demo.

Meet Suzy

A consumer intelligence platform that helps you gather information on what your potential customers care about, so you can make the right decisions for your business, product, or service.

Suzy™ is a better, faster way to conduct market research at the click of a button – like having a focus group right in your pocket.