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Read my lips: Monthly Design Perspective, February 2011

Posted by: Dyfed "Fred" Richards on February 23, 2011

My awareness of the lip-gloss and lip-care category is much greater than it was a few years ago, courtesy of living in a household with three women – most notably, my seven-year-old, gloss-loving daughter. Growing up in Britain, the selection of lip-care brands was slim to none, and their packaging used design cues that were too feminine for my taste, so I did without. After moving to the United States in 1993, I discovered a few more brands – all of which had either a feminine or functional package design – which I purchased to soothe the chapped lips that accompany Chicago winters.

While the lip-care market has expanded considerably in size and sophistication over the past decade – glosses and balms in sticks, tubes and pots abound – the category’s packaging remains uninspired. In general, lip-care brands are over-packaged: large-format blister cards dominate in an effort to carve out as much real estate as possible in what is primarily an impulse category. Descriptions of added benefits such as shine, flavor (Thank goodness, we can now choose something other than cherry!) and SPF levels from 15 to 45 compete for consumers’ attention. Other obvious cues that comprise the category language include red lips, ripples or droplets of water, flowers, and ice-covered mountains. I suppose the higher up the icy mountain you intend to go, the more SPF you require.

Most surprising is the growth of the branded/licensed lip-care category. It seems that no brand extension or flavor opportunity is spared in an effort to entice younger, flavor-adventurous consumers. The array of licensed brands in my daughter’s possession at any one time is staggering. They range from the prerequisite Hello Kitty gloss to a multitude of cereal- and soda-flavored lip-care brands. Who knew that people desire to have the scent of their favorite cereal or soda continually wafting up to their nose? (Interesting side note: Virtually absent from the licensed lip-care category are brands synonymous with other aspects of health care and repair; toothpaste, mouth wash, bandages and the like.)

Despite all the lip-care flavor and shine innovation taking place, there seems to be little or no innovation in terms of the stick itself. Yes, roller balls have been around for a while, and we have seen the advent of the “slimmer” stick. Beyond that, the same old screw-based lipstick format continues. I would also hazard a guess that the sticks themselves, like that dab of mustard on your plate, are never totally consumed. Lip-balm sticks, like ballpoint pens, are all too often discarded in favor of an impulse purchase at the check-out counter, primarily because you cannot locate the stick you currently own. Perhaps this provides an opportunity to innovate: How about a clip-on rubber cover to ensure the lip balm stick is always at hand, similar to what Purell created for its hand sanitizer bottles?

Is there also an opportunity for innovation at shelf? Does the package have to be so large for a product so small? I understand that the oversized packaging is designed, in part, to combat theft, but surely in this digital day and age there are alternatives. Could the lip-care category learn something from more sophisticated adjacent categories such as cosmetics? I think it’s time for some lip-smacking-good lip-balm packaging!

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