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Welcome to your brand empowerment manual

This article appeared as a ‘Futures’ column in Marketing magazine, Canada’s version of Advertising Age, way back in November 2002 when the idea of corporate video was just emerging.

Rip. Giggle. More ripping. Squeals of delight. Perhaps our society’s fondness for consumer goods has its roots in the opening of gifts and packages, an activity we’ve all enjoyed since childhood. An aspect of marketing too often ignored, product packaging is about to see revolutionary change.

Packaging has become smarter, slicker, more colorful. It is more responsible, with less wasted paper. Smart marketers have recognized its contribution to the total brand personality. Yet one component of the box has not progressed for a hundred years.

I’m referring to the user manual.

A couple of years ago I bought a new camcorder. The box was gorgeous, transmitting the experience it stood for. Parts were individually wrapped in protective plastic bags. Cords were neatly folded and tied. Inside, the lens even came in its own glossy full color box as elegant as the main package. The entire experience was delightful, a fitting resolution to the angst involved in the decision to buy this particular make and model. Then I saw the user manual. It was nice enough as manuals go. But it just felt wrong. Low tech. Bulky. Wasted paper. For all the sophistication we’ve reached in packaging, today’s user manuals are fundamentally the same as those that shipped three decades ago.

A new technology is emerging which, I believe, will convert the lowly user manual into the pinnacle of the product packaging experience. It’s called DVD. Ultimately it will find a meaningful place in the presale brand identity mix, but the adaptation of DVD as a marketing tool will very likely begin with packaging. Picture your next camcorder box. Unlike previous purchases, this contains something extra — a shiny silver disc. You anticipate something special, and the disc delivers. Not only are there video segments on how to use your camera, but video articles helping you make better movies. A CBC Newsworld camera operator hosts a session on how to shoot great documentaries. Steve Martin hosts a funny piece on how to create a wedding video. And the product manager looks you in the eye and tells you that she really does care about your satisfaction and if you have any feedback, here is her direct e-mail address. Played on a computer, you could even click the link and send an immediate e-mail message.

The scenario works for most consumer goods. A new espresso machine can have videos on making the perfect latte. A watch can include a limited-edition, for-owners-only documentary on how this brand has been featured in action movies and traveled to the top of Mt. Everest. Such new product DVDs can include web links to discussion forums and membership areas limited exclusively to owners of the product. It works for travel, too. Imagine getting a detailed video preparing you for that cruise you just booked. Even B2B can benefit, where the DVD manual is used to orient and train people in safe equipment usage and techniques. Brands become more meaningful through digital user manuals.

A number of consumer realities point to a rosy future for DVD in marketing. There’s the simple fact that it is a standard. There are no concerns about whether or not you’ve got the right system to run it, as there were with CD-ROMs. Players are now priced below $100, making them affordable enough for any home or office. Its acceptance has grown exponentially — DVD households have doubled each year since 1998 and should reach more than 70 million worldwide by next year. The format has enough tenure in the entertainment industry to build consumer confidence. People are comfortable watching DVD videos both individually at their computers and in social settings.

Significantly, the format fits with a new consumer emphasis on being real. According to Yankelovich Research, the tragic events of September 11 accelerated an attitude that consumers have already felt for some time, but that marketers have been slow to understand. People want to stop being “sold” things and want to connect. With family. With friends. And with brands. They want marketers to be honest, to get real. Is it any wonder that reality television shows and “live camera” visual styling have been all the rage? Video makes sense in this marketing environment.

Some companies, like Britannica and Apple, are leading the way with DVD. What about you? Is your company ready for a revolution? Maybe it’s time to rethink how your packaging might contribute to your overall brand identity.

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George Pytlik

George Pytlik has been involved in the advertising industry for over 30 years and designed his first website when the Internet was one year old. He was an internationally recognized speaker on advertising and branding and served on a number of communication committees at various times throughout his career, as well as writing a regular column for Marketing magazine.

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