Product packaging has become such a creative endeavor that even the style-challenged barcode is getting a face lift. In the past, smaller companies have used stylish barcodes to differentiate themselves from competing products, but now larger companies like Nestlé are trying these out on their smaller brands.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s dig into a fact or two about barcodes in general. We’ve all seen them and understand what they do, but do we really know how they’re designed? GS1, a nonprofit standards organization that builds and manages bar codes, assigns barcode numbers specific to that company. From there, the company creates or hires an outside firm to design the barcode to match that number for the specific product.
Even though most barcodes are identical at first glance, there is some wiggle room for changing barcodes. Some attributes are standard and others fall into a gray area. For example, for a scanner to read the code there should be around a half inch of white space on either side of the barcode and it should not be printed using colors the scanner cannot recognize (like red, yellow or orange). Barcodes allow retailers to track products throughout their stores and allows them to change prices without having to retag each specific item.
Ready to move on to the fun examples of these stylish barcodes? Nestlé, one of the world’s largest food companies, is trying creative barcodes on their Juicy Juice Sparkling Fruit Juice Beverage and their Skinny Cow low-calorie dessert line. Juicy Juice’s barcode depicts bubbles rising up from the barcode to reinforce its new beverage in consumers’ minds. Skinny Cow’s barcode (pictured right) is a cow’s spot to build up the brand recognition.
When Sixpoint, a brewery in Brooklyn, decided to launch a canned beer line earlier in 2011, they wanted to create a fashionable design for their cans. Shan Welch, president of Mad Scientists Brewing Partners LLC (which owns Sixpoint) was convinced there had to be an alternative for the stock barcodes out there…and there was. Sixpoint’s silver cans now have a barcode that integrates the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline. Much more creative, right?
However, despite the boost in visual appeal, the positive effects of these custom barcodes are perhaps not as exciting as these companies are hoping for. Although positive PR and better customer connections are the main things that companies envision when creating these fun barcodes, there’s no real guarantee that customers would not only notice the effort but also discuss the design with others. After all, when was the last time you looked at a barcode on the back of your candy bar?
I don’t think it’s a good idea to advertise a new barcode design because it seems like you would get raised eyebrows more than anything. Also, if your design looks really cool but doesn’t scan, then what’s the point? You would have spent money designing it (as well as repackaging every product) just to find out that it doesn’t work. Retailers may even get upset and decide to discontinue your product, which will drop sales drastically. These custom codes could end up doing more harm than good if they’re not completely functional, so be careful if you decide to use them for your business.
Curious to see more examples of stylish barcodes? Check out Media Media Inc, one of several companies that can make art from your code (for a fee, of course).
What do you think? If you’re looking at two similar products, one has a creative barcode the other does not, which would you buy?