With the recent heatwave and the summer vibes, you might think there's plenty of time before the need to even contemplate Christmas shopping. But for premium brands, there’s not a second’s peace as the planning cycle kicks in for the festive season: how to wow customers and ensure that it’s their brand’s special limited edition sets or gifts that find their way under the most Christmas trees. 

When analysing packaging trends in FMCG, it’s probably worth defining ‘luxury’ first - but there is no homogeneous, simplistic definition! Instead, taking brands from the Cosmetic sector as examples, we can identify various levels of luxury products starting with Basic Luxury­ ­- high quality everyday products eg Coty - then the ‘premiumisation process’ rises through Aspirational eg L’Oreal, to Super Premium eg Shu Uemura, and finally Ultra High End eg Creme de la Mer.

What all these luxury brands have in common is a focus on brand value and equity, niche craftsmanship/expertise and the story to support it, as well as unique marketing and distribution channels to complete the consumer experience. (You’ll be familiar with the on-going trend in luxury spending that puts more focus on the purchasing experience than on the product itself.) What modern brands also focus on more these days are personalisation, exclusivity and value. Luxury brands need to embody Knowledge, Purpose (sometimes more aesthetic than practical), Timelessness (represented both by the history of the brand as well as the timelessness of the piece purchased) and Rarity.

Packaging is an important component of luxury brands. The starting point is often simplicity, with an elegance and finesse of design that focuses attention on the product and the quality of its materials/ingredients. The next stage of successful luxury packaging is the theatrical stage - innovative designs that cannot be missed and provide a thrill when purchased and received. Given the quantity in which packaging is produced and the awareness of the brand that it creates through sheer volume of sales, packaging can both reflect or come to embody a brand’s iconic identity – hence packaging is often featured in ATL advertising.  

Luxury gift packaging is an expanding area for Premium FMCG brands, with an ever-growing need to stand out on shelf and develop more personal connections with their audiences, as well as to provide perceived value for money. Regular consumers will naturally be drawn to their favourite product, but it is the occasional premium buyer that brands are fighting for here: the customer who tends to buy cheaper products, but will ‘splash more cash’ buying a special treat for their dad’s 60th birthday or a Christmas gift for their newly-wed husband.

Let’s take a look at the broad term ‘Premium’ FMCG brands that we mentioned above. Some sectors have a particularly strong influence in the arena of luxury gift packaging designs. For example, as much as people love the actual gifts from Tiffany, it’s the iconic blue box that initially sets the heart racing. Everything purchased from Tiffany comes in ‘standard issue’ packaging rather than cartons specifically designed for individual products or occasions. (But boy, what a fabulous box!) 

At the other end of the spectrum, for variety and customisation we look to the Beauty and Alcohol industries which definitely lead in the development of creative designs for limited editions, box sets and gift packaging.

In Beauty, Christmas and other seasonal/occasion-based gift packaging (eg Easter, Mother’s/Father’s Day) is where the investment in design and production is often focused as that’s where sales reach the highest volumes. Non-seasonal gift packaging is much more challenging: it might come in handy when customers are looking for birthday presents for their loved ones, but it quickly loses its ‘new product appeal’ on shelf and generally doesn’t sell in anywhere near the same volume as seasonal gift packaging.

Alcohol gift packaging is usually associated with special and limited editions - either of the product or of the pack format (eg special tin). It attracts the attention not just of those looking for a gift for others, but encourages self-gifting by devoted fans or those building collections of a brand’s artefacts.

We have put together a little collection of the most incredible, eye-catching and wonderful special editions below:

As Christmas is the biggest retail opportunity for the majority, this is the time when brands work very hard, way ahead and with most of their annual budget, to compete with every other brand working very hard, way ahead and with most of their annual budget. Brands hope that their loyal customers will buy bigger and that they will attract enough attention for smaller gifts to be purchased by previous non-consumers. Packaging colours in the Alcohol sector tend to capture Christmas with a predominance of gold, red and seasonal sparkles, while Beauty gift packaging generally plays a bit more subtly on Christmas themes.

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In the general Christmas shopping madness, and going head-to-head against competitors’ outstanding efforts, it is crucial not only to focus on gift packaging but on the entire retail experience, from window display to POS. Potential customers need to be amazed by your brand offerings this season and wowed enough to look for your products the second they set foot in the retail environment.

To support this, many brands introduce out-of-store campaigns that ensure customers are aware of their products and want to buy them before they even start thinking about their Christmas shopping list. When designing and implementing marketing campaigns, luxury brands are very conscious of their strategies: they tend to use more subtle, informative and refined tools that seemingly don’t influence customers’ decisions, but leave an idea in their heads: rather than creating an immediate increase in sales, marketing focuses on the long-term aspiration to own or give.

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