Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thinking "About-the-Box"

C. Engdahl

The Big E of Big E Toys

[In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit right up front that this post includes an example of a product that I personally developed.]

It’s perhaps become a cliché (or at least a well-weathered phrase) to say that we strive as individuals and organizations to think “outside-the-box”. Despite the overuse of this phrase, this still seems to be the ultimate goal for innovative endeavors. It’s as if inside-the-box is blasé or lacking in some fashion. But that’s not really why I write today. Instead of “outside-the-box”, I was actually thinking recently “about-the-box” – literally. I was thinking about packaging.

Fred Richards of Interbrand in Cincinnati, writing recently in the 08.17.2009 issue of Brandweek said “Packaging is the capstone of brand expression. All of the touch point messages that are leading, convincing or driving the consumer to consider a particular product at shelf are forming a perception of that product’s brand promise and delivery even before the consumer has purchased or tried it. The brand’s package seals or kills the deal.”

So true.

The ultimate influencer come decision time is the packaging itself.

When I was play testing my charades-based game Stumblebum® prior to its introduction a few years back, I remember an incident that got me to do some additional thinking about the packaging for this game. I won’t describe in detail here the premise of Stumblebum. Let’s just say that it’s referred to as “A Hilarious Game of Charades” with an accompanying tag line that reads “It’s so fun, you may actually fall down laughing!”

During a session on the night in question, a player was acting out some words while standing on one leg (at times hopping to keep her balance) and with one hand on her head. It was indeed a hilarious sight to see. In this particular case, the already tipsy participant from the libations that accompanied this game night, had her back to a set of stairs leading down.

If you can envision this scene in your head, you sort of see where this is going.

Fortunately the woman in question did not take the nasty fall I had worried she might. In fact she probably was never in any real danger. I was the only 100% sober person in the room though, and being the creator of the game and attempting to absorb any and everything I could about the playing experience that evening, I was probably hypersensitive to all that was going on. Needless to say, that particular incident prompted me to add a “disclaimer” to the Stumblebum game packaging.

You see them all the time - disclaimers and warnings on over-the-counter medications, cleaning products, automobiles, power equipment, microwaveable foods, etc. For external use only; use only as directed; keep out of the hands of children; don’t feed after midnight [I felt compelled here to include this somewhat obscure Gremlins reference]; do not take while pregnant. You name it, it seems as though everything has a warning or disclaimer associated with it. But I wasn’t about to put concerning language like this on my board game. I did figure though I could have a little fun with a disclaimer. I mean really, isn’t fun what board games are truly all about?

Here’s what I settled on. You can find this on the top of the Stumblebum box.

Disclaimer: players assume responsibility for the fun and mayhem that can occur while playing this game. Careless or reckless play could result in injury or personal embarrassment. Injuries incurred during play are the sole responsibility of participants. Players should not attempt to operate heavy equipment while playing this game. Pregnant women should take special precautions to avoid falling and rolling on the ground. People with asthma or other respiratory difficulties should think twice before engaging in this or any other activity that results in uncontrollable laughter. Don’t smoke. The creator of this game assumes each player will use common sense and understand his or her own tolerance for personal enjoyment. Have Fun. Play Responsibly.

I’ve been fortunate to have sold a relatively fair number of Stumblebum games over the last few years. And every time I reprint the game I typically make some sort of small aesthetic alteration to the game box. The size and shape of the box has remained the same. But the look has evolved over the years.

Just prior to the most recent incarnation of Stumblebum, I began thinking about how healthy laughter and fun can be in a person’s life. As the saying goes, he who laughs lasts. I decided I wanted to incorporate this premise on the game box somehow. I ultimately latched onto the idea and phrase “Emotional Nutrition”. And once I did, the packaging concept materialized rather quickly. I lifted a standard visual requirement of virtually all packaged foods and added it to my board game. See for yourself.


Despite its visual similarity to packaged foods, the development of the Emotional Nutrition label required creativity. It wasn’t a lay-up, but I knew I was onto something. Whether the thinking was inside or outside-the-box, is up to you to decide I guess. There’s a certain simplicity though, or perhaps cleverness, that is very satisfying for me. To look across industries to create a fresh take on something so familiar was quite gratifying.

In the book The Big Moo (not written by but rather) edited by Seth Godin, the anonymous writer of the chapter entitled “The Power of Dumb Ideas” writes “Imitation Across Industries Is More Efficient and Effective Than Blue Sky Creativity and Innovation…Appropriating existing marketing concepts is cheaper—and certainly quicker to implement—than developing new ones. The secret is bringing a great idea from another market or industry to your market or your industry.”

The next big thing for your industry might already exist in another. Be open to this possibility. Sometimes innovation isn’t about inventing the wheel. Sometimes it’s about putting wheels on something that never had them before.

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