Beauty Products – Thoughts on Packaging and Labeling

Leading names in the natural and organic cosmetics market gathered in New York earlier this month for the Natural Beauty Summit. Needless to say, the potential of the Indian cosmetics market was also a topic of discussion. According to Karen Daskow, from market reasearch group Kline, overall growth in the Indian market is surpassing the global average.

This is matched by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) which predicts that the cosmetics market will grow from $950m to $1.4bn in the next 2-3 years, which would bring India’s per capita expenditure up to that of China’s.

Just imagine the total number of soaps, creams, shampoos and countless other products that are entering the consumption steam of the average Indian.

  • From a company’s point of view, this is great news. More consumption, more sales, higher economies of scale leading to greater profits.
  • From a consumer perspective, this is great news too. As it talks of a growing prosperity and disposable income.
  • From a society perspective – we face a dual challenge. The challenge of disposing off used products packs and the challenge of information dissemination.

Product Packaging and Labeling

Beautiful multicolored bottles, jars and tubes are all part of the buying experience when it comes to cosmetics. Product packaging  is an essential part of the marketing mix that not only makes the product looked good but helps us in making the right choice as a consumer.

Let’s take the case of my Garnier and Ponds moisturisers.

  • Layer 1 – On the outermost layer is a plastic film that covers a cardboard box. The film is of course protective in nature and is the first thing to be discarded by the consumer.
  • Layer 2 – This contains the cardboard box. The cardboard  is printed all the way round on the sides as well as the top and bottom. These boxes adhere to the labeling standards that have been outlined  in statutory regulations. In addition, they  also have the important task of maintaining the brand identity with logos colour and font sizes.
  • Layer 3 – This contains the glass jar with a plastic lid. Both glass jars look pretty and can take place of pride on a dressing table.
  • Layer 4 – My ponds box has another component, a flyer (same as the website) that details out the entire product range – Ponds Age Miracle.

Lets look at all the 4 layers from 2 perspectives,

Does it add to product appeal?
Does it add to usability?

Product Packaging

Product Appeal

  • The pretty red Ponds box does look larger and more appealing than the Garnier when I walked down the aisles in a couple of stores.
  • The Ponds jar too looks prettier on my table when I compare it to the Garnier.


  • When I look closer the Ponds box is 30% larger in volume but has only 10 ml more cream. So do we really need such a large box, and so much paper? A typical marketer might add that product purchase is 80% impulse in the retail environment. So appeal matters. I don’t have any counter arguments to that, my only complaint with the packaging seems to be the apparent waste. To house a jar of 40 or 50 ml cream, how much paper and plastic are we wasting? Is it really needed?
  • From the point of view of reading the matter on the product labels, I have to admit that the Ponds pack is too shiny and the tiny white font on the gray really makes it impossible to read. The communication is also in 3 languages – How many Indians understand Thai? It is obviously a product for a larger international market. But, given that we are in India and comparing usability for an Indian customer, I have to admit that the Ponds labeling really needs more work. The Garnier labeling is clean and simple and very readable. Though local languages need to be considered too.
  • Now, lets look at the ingredients. Does Methoxycinnamate make any sense to you? or have you ever heard of Titanium Dioxide? If you have been reading cosmetics sites you might have heard of these, where there are various debates on the use of chemicals in cosmetics, harmful impacts, benefits, etc. My issue with the ingredients list on both products is that, it is impossible to decipher.

In beauty products, many will tell you that packaging and labeling is half the battle. But are manufacturers missing out on something a bit more essential. Could packaging and labeling design be improved? Can we design for function and then impact?

I have a few suggestions:

Design for usability – The new consumer wants more information. Don’t just pander to this need by giving a sales pitch, give genuine insight so that customers believe you.

Waste not – All company websites talk of sustainability. Doesn’t wasteful packaging contradict the core ethos of the company? So, get more with least waste.
Use technology

Web – Why should websites not have detailed product information? In todays age do we really have any excuse? In addition, can the web be used as a channel of engagement rather than a TV replacement?

Cell phone use is the highest in India. Can we not make better use of this? A simple application would be for cosmetic manufacturers to pool in together and created an integrated ingredients database. Customers can send an SMS and get information they seek (More on this in a subsequent post).