How Product Packaging Helps Market Your Brand on Social Media

Smart marketers put a lot of time, energy and budget into carefully controlling how their products are visually presented to consumers, but what happens in the real world?

Smart marketers put a lot of time, energy and budget into carefully controlling how their products are visually presented to consumers. Designers, for instance, labor endlessly over any changes to product packaging and the product itself, focus-grouping even the tiniest of tweaks. And ad production can involve sprawling teams of directors, photographers, lighting experts, stylists and prop designers who all labor to put the product in the best possible light.

But what happens when your product is seen in the real world, far from the best possible light? Specifically, muddy indoor light—average household light—and in an authentic context lacking the awesome perfectionism and state-of-the-art equipment deployed by pros?

Does your product still pop? Does it stand out? Does it still seem special?

As visually driven social platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr continue to grow, one thing is certain: Consumers, rather than marketers, are increasingly at the forefront of the visual presentation and dissemination of product images.

To give you a sense of just how prolific consumer-photographers have become, consider the fact that Canon, in its recently released 2016 Photography Trends Study, revealed that nearly one in four consumers (24 percent) are taking up to 300 photos per month.

Consumers are creating and sharing images of everything, constantly, which means that your brand is likely taking on a visual/social life of its own.

Until recently, to get a sense of how their brands appear in the real world, marketers had to use traditional social media listening tools to attempt to pick up on text mentions—captions and hashtags—referencing their products that might appear alongside consumer photos of those products on Instagram, et al.

But over the past several years, image-recognition technology has been growing in power and sophistication, and now marketers can easily find and analyze consumer images of their brands “in the wild”—even if consumers make no mention of the brand name in accompanying captions or hashtags. Image-recognition technology can detect even partially obscured logos, even in less-than-ideal images.

What can marketers learn from finding and studying such less-than-ideal social media images of their products? Some of the most essential lessons relate to the core, first-line messaging done by brands via product packaging and logo design and placement.

For starters, typography used on packaging to tout product benefits and ingredients might not be as readable in real-world contexts as it is in advertisements and in well-lit retail settings. A description—for instance, “body lotion with self-tanners for a natural bronze glow” on this consumer’s Twitter image of a Dove product—that looks elegant and is easily legible under a store’s bright fluorescent lights might be harder to make out in household lighting (and in consumer images).

For information that’s considered essential to quickly convey, product packaging designers would do well to consider font sizes and weights that maximize readability not only in social-media contexts, but in mobile-sized images (which is where most social-media activity takes place).

For an example of a product that is instantly “readable,” consider this photo of a box of Cheerios Protein from Instagram user bigup_sports, who added a caption that reads, “Look what wifey got. Awesome,” along with plenty of hashtags including “#gymlife,” “#motivation” and “#happy,” but no mention of Cheerios itself. (The post was surfaced using image-recognition technology.)

The photo isn’t perfect—there’s glare on the cereal box—but the logo and product details (“11g protein with milk,” “Oats & Honey”) stand out of brilliantly.

Likewise, the distinctive, clean Chobani logo and the stark use of coffee beans to illustrate the product flavor in this image from Instagram user 83leeleeBrian (who also cross-posted the image to Tumblr) works as a clear, enthusiastic product endorsement, even though no mention is made of the brand in the caption (“Brian bought me coffee yogurt. If that’s not love I don’t know what is”).

Brian bought me coffee yogurt. If that’s not love I don’t know what is.

A photo posted by Leah (@83leelee) on

Subway has a great, instantly recognizable logo, but consider how it’s deployed on the sandwich wrappers and beverage cup detected by image-recognition technology in this mom’s recent photo of her son’s birthday lunch at Subway.

Subway lunch with my bday boy who doesn’t love subway 😍#favoriteplacetoeat #subway #loveit

A photo posted by Jessica Hitchcock (@jessicam.hitchcock) on

It’s not that brands need more encouragement to slap their logos everywhere they can, but consumer images of logos that appear across social media can offer a reality check about just how effective existing logo-use strategies really are.

Brands may want to carefully evaluate the size, positioning and repetition of their logos across packaging iterations in the age of visually-driven social sharing.

The bottom line is that social media is not only a place for branding, it’s a retail setting, too—a place where consumers become aware of, discuss, research and shop for products and services.

Marketers obviously can’t control how consumers photograph and present their products. But now that we have the tools to assess, at scale, exactly how products appear in actual use cases, it’s time for marketers to learn from this new way of seeing.

Ben Plomion is chief marketing officer of in-image advertising platform GumGum.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.