By Dr. R. Andrew Hurley
Contributing Editor, Packaging World

To me, packaging is a canvas, and when I look at canvases, I expect to see art—something fun, something interesting, something...disruptive.

I was in the Fresh Market the other day, and Fred Water in its plastic flask drew my eye. In the sea of bottled water choices, Fred stood out and demanded to be noticed. Fred is a real disruptor on the shelf, and the creators utilized simple aspects of design to achieve that disruption. I won’t get into typography, use of space, or the leveraging of a symbolic structure today. I want to talk about Fred—just “Fred.”

Fred is a person, a neighbor, that guy you know. Fred is an existential, anthropomorphic character.

As a society, we have been doing this type of stuff since the beginning of time—fashioning vessels that resemble people. Our brains are wired to seek out the familiar human form and engage with it. And when anthropomorphism is applied structurally, it’s awesome.

Psychology researchers have done thousands of studies showing the links between appeal and the human form. Humans find humans attractive; this is not a novel concept. Marketers and designers have latched on to this connection. Is your car smiling at you? Yes, yes, it is. Is Siri your best friend who can also do math? Apple sure hopes so. And how many times have you been tagged on social media when a friend came across your name on a soda can? We all want to share a drink with Heather.

There are clever ways to pull this off without major investment. Designing your package with a human form gives it the ultimate appeal and can serve as a huge return on investment.

People are doing some wild things to apply this concept. Even little hints of anthropomorphic forms make a difference. They’re clever, fun, and as familiar as the self.

But let’s get back to Fred. Fred embodies all of this with one simple thing: a name. Naming is the most impactful thing you do as a parent. Fred’s parents explain it this way: “The truth is, we wanted to present water for what it is. Water isn’t some exotic product from a far away land. It’s not an elixir made from diamonds that will cure all your ails. It’s water. It keeps you alive. And it should be with you all the time. Like a friend. Like a friend named Fred, for example. Fred is water and water is Fred. Nice to meet you.”

By anthropomorphizing a simple water bottle, they are engaging the consumer in a relationship from the get-go. Fred has a personality, simply because his human name makes him stand out from the rest of the spring-fed crowd. Because humans innately seek a relationship and connection with the world around us, we feel a sympathetic attachment to Fred.

Fred Water may be a superior-quality product in comparison with the other guys on the shelf, but you won’t know that until you take him home. Have him for lunch, or introduce him to the rest of the family.

The next time you’re thinking about a new packaging project, consider how you can integrate an anthropomorphic aspect.

Dr. R. Andrew Hurley is Assistant Professor of Packaging Science, Clemson University, and founder of Package InSight (www.packageinsight.com) and The Packaging School (http://packagingschool.com).

Editor’s Note: In a recent conversation I had with Dr. R. Andrew Hurley of Clemson University, I realized that as the founder of Package InSight and The Packaging School, he has a unique perspective on all things packaging design. So I asked if he would provide editorial content on the subject of design six times a year, content that we could use in this Shelf Impact! department. I’m happy to report that he heartily approved of the idea, and so what you see here is the first installment of what we plan to bring readers every other month. Welcome aboard, Andrew!

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