Color is a critical part of branding—and that especially includes your product’s packaging colors.
These colors make your product stand out on store shelves. When products arrive and buyers tear open the shipping envelope or cardboard box, they’re the first glimpse at what’s inside. As part of your brand, your colors tell the story of who your product is intended for and what buyers can expect from it.
If you’re considering changing your product’s packaging colors, you’ve got a lot to think about. Changing your color scheme can be exactly what your product needs to reach a new or wider audience. Or it can destroy everything you’ve built so far. Even a minor color change can dramatically change the public’s view of your brand.
Today, we’re going to make it easy. Use the guidelines below to create a pros and cons list and see if changing packaging colors is in your future. Consider how long your brand’s been around, its current image and the image you’re shooting for, your competitors’ packaging colors and the reason behind the change. These will all play a role in determining whether you should make the move.
When to change your packaging colors
No matter how you decided on your original packaging colors, a lot of thought went into it.
Maybe you used color psychology to design the perfect package for a hyper-targeted audience. Or you asked your friends what they thought would look good. Perhaps you chose a color scheme that means something important to you. Or you just didn’t give it a ton of thought and went with a random color.
But now that you’re thinking about changing your packaging colors, remember that you’re not creating something new. You’re tampering with an established thing.
Before you start, ask yourself why you’re considering a change.
Are you launching a new product or differentiating one product from the others you sell? Maybe this product should draw a different audience than one you’ve already established.
- Do you want to move away from certain connotations? A change in your industry or a controversy involving your brand might push you to reinvent how you present your product.
- Did your company merge with another? You’ll need a way to integrate both brands without losing your own identity.
- Has your brand taken on a personality other than the one you originally imagined? It happens. Savvy entrepreneurs will change to fit the niche that chose their product.
- Are you just ready for an update? If you’ve been around a long time, your packaging might belong to another era. Sometimes colors and patterns get stuck in a certain time period. Think of that iconic 90s paper cup design. One day, what’s trendy now will look just as dated as the Solo jazz cup.
Your most important job is to make sure that the change isn’t arbitrary. You’re transforming how your consumers feel your brand, so if you’re thinking about making your packaging blue, you need a better reason than “because I like blue.”
Benefits of changing your packaging colors
You can attract a new audience
The colors you choose influence how your audience feels and thinks about your product. Think of them as a shorthand for who you’re targeting and why.
Your product and its plain white packaging attracts consumers with a minimalist, clean aesthetic. If you want to emphasize your company’s commitment to sustainability, consider adding green accents to your packaging. This can draw in a younger, eco-focused consumer who cares about what goes into the products they buy.
Be as exact as possible with who you’re trying to attract to your brand. Your young, eco-focused consumer might also be politically progressive and enjoy spending time outside. Now you’ve got a few factors to consider when you build your packaging’s new color palette.
You can drop old connotations
Colors have connotations. Consumers expect products in black packaging to be high-end. Like we said, green says, “hey, we’re eco-friendly!” Stuff for guys is usually packaged in cool tones and stuff for girls generally gets warmer, softer colors.
Maybe when your company launched, you exclusively sold women’s products but now, you have products for all genders. The pink packaging you designed at first isn’t a good fit for your company any more, so you need to switch to a more gender-neutral palette.
Think about the changes you want to show with your new packaging colors. Bold, warm colors like orange and yellow illustrate an exciting, playful new persona. Adding black or purple to your packaging palette can show that you’ve gone upscale. If you want to highlight both of these aspects of your new brand, your colors might end up looking something like this:
You’ll adapt to current trends
Color schemes don’t live forever. Unless you have an extremely simple color palette, what looked great 10 years ago looks dated now. Sometimes, this can even happen with simple and single-color designs. Think of the earthy, avocado 70s or the neon 80s for examples of color schemes tied to specific eras. Looking back a bit more recently, think of how neutrals, blues and minimalist design defined the 00s.
Changing your packaging colors is part of reinventing your brand to stay relevant as times and tastes evolve. And don’t tell yourself that trends come back around as an excuse not to update your packaging. They do, but you have no idea which trends will come back, when they’ll come back, or how they’ll be back. You also don’t have the luxury of letting your brand become bland in the interim.
So, find a way to mesh your branding goals with today’s color palette. A good place to start is Pantone’s color of the year. Going full-on trendy colors can be effective in the short-term, though it might put you right back in the same position in a couple of years. If you’re changing your packaging colors to modernize your brand, make moving away from outdated designs the goal.
Drawbacks of changing your packaging colors
Your product becomes unrecognizable
If your product is known for its brown box, don’t switch to a blue box overnight.
To consumers, changes that seem random are confusing and can potentially hurt your image. Even though your logo will still be on the package after changing the packaging, your unique color scheme is a way to immediately announce your product’s presence. When your product is on a shelf next to competitor’s products, you need this.
Remember Tropicana’s packaging redesign fail?
The simplified package design kept similar colors, but lost what made them stood out from store brand orange juice.
Your colors are too similar to another company’s
There are only so many colors out there. Sure, different shades and palette combinations make it exponentially easier to find something that can be uniquely yours, but it can be difficult to create a palette that suits your brand without looking too much like another company’s.
As you decide on your new colors, ask yourself two things:
- How does your competitors package their products?
- Are other companies using the combination you’re considering?
If another company that uses this palette is small, niche, and in a completely different industry, this isn’t a problem. But if the colors you want are an iconic part of a national brand, choose a different palette so you don’t look like you’re copying them or trying to be that brand. For example, choosing a palette of pink, orange and white will make your packaging look like it came from Dunkin’ Donuts.
Rebranding is expensive
Designers cost money. Research costs money. Branding isn’t cheap.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t change your packaging colors, but that you need to think about the change in investment terms. If your research finds that changing your colors won’t make an impact on your profit, now isn’t the time to change your packaging colors. If a large-scale redesign will be too expensive for you to see a worthwhile return, find a way to make a smaller, less expensive update.
Changing your packaging colors is always a risk, but it should be a calculated risk. Spotify considered more than 5,000 shades of green before choosing the perfect shade for its new logo.
Keep it simple and just modify your colors
If you’re changing your packaging after a merger, this can be the most effective way to preserve your identity while meshing it with the other. For example, when Google acquired Motorola, Motorola altered its logo to reflect its new position as a Google company.
If you want to stay within your established niche but give your packaging an updated look, consider keeping your color scheme but making it just a few shades brighter or darker. Even a small change can make your image bolder, softer or more modern without straying from your established palette. Play around with different shades of the colors you’re already using to see just how different a few adjustments can make your packaging look.
Don’t forget to test!
Changing your packaging’s color scheme isn’t a black and white issue. It could be a red, gray, yellow or green issue, or even all of these colors together. There’s no magic formula for figuring out whether you should change your product’s packaging or how. Determine what the potential result of a color change would be for your product and then test your ideas with mock ups, surveys, and A/B testing. Instead of looking for a universal right answer, work to discover the right answer for your product.