9 Tips for Designing Retail Packaging for Other Cultures

9 Tips for Designing Retail Packaging for Other Cultures

When launching a product in a country with a vastly different culture from your own, a few things must be considered. This isn't only for success but to keep your brand from causing any offense as well.

When Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) opened its first restaurant in Japan, the beloved American brand adapted its packaging to Japanese culture. In a country where food presentation is everything, KFC substituted its iconic chicken bucket with wide plastic boxes that display its chicken appealingly.

Today, Americans readily recognize the classic red-and-white Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket with Colonel Sanders’ image on the side. But in Japan, few consumers know the brand by its bucket.

Whether you’re packaging food, drugs, auto parts, or electronic products, packaging plays a role in the success of products abroad. As KFC learned, culture and customs affect packaging choice as much as the product itself.

Using shapes, patterns, and imagery tied to the local culture will up your product’s appeal in other countries.

No. 1 Pick a Color

Color affects the way we view our world. And colors carry unique meanings and symbolism in cultures across the globe. 

For example, colors are deeply symbolic in China and can make or break your product launch. The Chinese associate the color black with evil and death, white with funerals, and some yellow shades with sex. Meanwhile, red symbolizes happiness and prosperity, and gold represents nobility and wealth. Purple carries deep religious meanings, and some blues convey history and tradition. 

Those same colors convey unique meanings in other countries. Because every culture sees color differently, it’s essential to understand a country’s culture and heritage before you select retail packaging color schemes.

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No. 2 Fonts Matter

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. The typefaces used on the packaging also affect how your brand communicates with other cultures.

Select a font that reflects your brand’s values. Choosing a font that’s traditional or quirky, fun or formal, attracts the right customers. The wrong font selection also can drive customers away. An extreme example is that in Germany, using blackletter fonts may conjure up memories of a past its citizens wish to forget.

No. 3 Speak the Language

Though the world considers English a universal language, not everyone speaks English. In fact, just 27% of the world’s population speaks English (and that percentage includes those who speak it as a second language.) The most successful product packaging communicates in a country’s mother tongue. Make sure your packaging design speaks the language of the country you’re selling in.

No. 4 Fit In

You don’t need to stand out to be popular. Standing out from the crowd in another country may send the wrong message. Create packaging that fits the theme and colors already present in the country’s packaging. Existing packaging reveals what sells and helps your product fit in.

For example, Japanese packaging dazzles with color, drawings, and cartoon-like characters, but Swiss packaging sells with plain colors, bold letters, and minimal imagery. The UK prefers black bottom bags for luxury packaging, while the Chinese avoid black packaging, as it hints at death.

retail packaging and culture

No. 5 Steer Clear of Slang

Pay attention to the words and phrases your brand uses that are common to your culture.

Idioms may attract customers in your country, but slang language may not elicit the same response elsewhere. Colloquial phrases can mean something else in another language. Some phrases might even offend potential customers in overseas markets. The best approach is to steer clear of slang altogether. 

It’s best to be prudent when choosing phrases to ensure you don’t offend customers in international markets. If the phrase is one you cannot live without, work with native speakers in your target market or a reputable translator to adapt the words to the new market.

No. 6 A Picture Says a 1,000 Words

Study the market before designing packaging for international audiences. Some images, religious symbols, and icons can offend other cultures. Investigate the cultural meaning of symbols or text before putting it on your packaging. Companies have gotten into trouble when they’ve used symbols and text that convey different meanings than intended.

No. 7 Follow the Rules

Your packaging must observe complex qualifications, rules, and stipulations. Every country has different rules for product qualifications and warning labels and how to display them on the packaging. A packaging partner will navigate packaging rules to sell your product overseas.

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No. 8 Climate Control

Know the climate in your international markets. A tropical climate requires different packaging than an arid region. Altitude changes also impact packaging decisions. Air pressure differences can cause a potato chip bag shipped from the European lowlands to burst when shipped to high altitudes. 

No. 9 Know Your Geography

How your product moves from Point A to Point B also impacts packaging choices.

The target country’s geography and distance from your manufacturing plant do more than determine shipping routes and time. It also dictates the packaging you use. Your packaging consultant can help you choose functional packaging materials that hold up as they travel and fare well in each country’s storage and climate conditions.

Localization Comes at a Price

Adapting packaging to suit specific cultures comes with a tradeoff: Your brand might lose standardization. A consistent brand design helps maintain brand recognition. But some cultures respond better to localized designs.

It’s best to follow KFC’s example. Do your homework and learn the market’s cultural preferences, rules, climate, and geography, then work with a partner to design packaging around these findings.

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