So small has our world become that we barely blink at the thought of African tribesmen quaffing Coca-Cola, Japanese businessmen shaving with Gillette razors or Moscow teens snacking on Hershey chocolate bars.
The globalization of the media through satellite technology has made the world a place in which trends and ideas travel everywhere in a matter of hours. From a packaging perspective, this means that companies can no longer think only in terms of their own country. Rather, to build global brands, they need to develop product identities and package designs that can travel worldwide with no changes other than verbal messages as necessary in advertising, and taste changes for different cultures as needed. I strongly recommend consistency of trade name, trademark and trade dress whenever possible. Monolithic or strong corporate endorsement and packaging strategies give companies economies of scale while building corporate and brand recognition more quickly.
Mitsubishi, a multinational conglomerate, has achieved success with a uniform identity strategy across most of its product lines, from the Three-Diamond mackerel and mushrooms to Mitsubishi televisions, tractors and motor vehicles. All bear the same distinctive three diamonds logo. The English translation for Mitsubishi is three diamonds.
The global marketplace has enormous potential -- so much that even companies now selling their products only in the United States need to consider plans for international marketing when developing packaging design strategies. Among the issues to consider in developing a global packaging strategy are:
Name: When it comes to trade names, universality is the ideal. However, while the fewer changes made to trade names the better, some tinkering may be unavoidable. Names may have different meanings in different cultures. In parts of Latin America, for example, Colgate is pronounced Col-gah-TAY, meaning "Go hang yourself." In the People's Republic of China, Coca-Cola Co. had to rename its top-selling soft drink when it discovered that "Coca-Cola" read "Bite the way tadpole" when written in Chinese. The product's new name is the more palatable "May the mouth rejoice."
Size: In America, jumbo -- or family-size -- products are standard, but in Japan, the orientation is toward midget sizes. Companies need to consider the issue of size -- of foreign supermarkets, of consumer refrigerators, of household storage space -- before determining the type and number of product sizes they want to introduce in a foreign country. In some cases, size may even determine whether a company decides to enter a particular market.
Color: It is essential to think of color as an integral part of trade dress. Once a company becomes known for its trade dress color, i.e. Kodak "yellow," Hershey "brown" or Coca-Cola "red," it can transcend any cultural taboos that a particular country may have around that color.
Language: Some companies are developing bilingual or unilingual packaging to enhance product appeal in niche markets. New Morning Cereals, an Acton, Mass.-based company, developed a two-faced package (one side in English, one side in French) for its Oatios brand, to sell the product in both the United States and in Canadian supermarkets.
Symbolic Graphics: Universally understood symbols and pictures -- such as those used in airports -- are an excellent way to communicate product benefits the world over. We'll be seeing more of them in the future.
Trade Dress Protectability: Companies must be vigilant in protecting their trade dress against infringement. This means designing trade dress that contains one-of-a-kind elements and registering the trade dress in each country in which products are marketed.
Environmental Regulations: Many companies have stricter environmental standards than the United States. In the absence of a worldwide environmental policy, smart packagers will follow environmental trends and policies in all the countries in which they do business. A rule of thumb is to design a global package so that it conforms to the country with the most rigid laws. By developing a single package design that meets basic requirements in as many countries as possible, companies will be one step ahead when a global policy is unveiled.
Elinor Selame is the president of Package Design Council International and president of BrandEquity International, a visual communications and brand identity consulting firm based in Newton, Mass.