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Competition from the diversity of multi-media formats now available is changing the role of packaging. All suppliers – whether high or low volume – are recognising that there is a growing need to add value to the product experience reports Louise Hunt

The multi-media industry is a fickle beast. It seduces us with the latest in communication and entertainment formats, while whispering into our ears that this new thing will be the best we’ve ever had. But innovation has a limited life.

Since the arrival of DVD in 1998 the multimedia industry has certainly been in a spin. Its steep ascent has seen 100% growth year on year, with a further 50% increase predicted next year. More people are buying into the hardware. 25% of homes across Europe are now said to have some form of DVD player and it is reported that these sales recently overtook VHS recorder sales for the first time.

Interestingly, the rise of DVD has not taken the massive bite out of the video market that was first anticipated. Sales of VHS have declined but only by 8%. In fact, the attention on DVD appears to be expanding the video market. VHS is still the everyday viewing format, while DVD has become more of a collector’s item.

Conversely, the CD market is relatively stagnant. Record companies are reporting a downward spiral due to the growth in people downloading music from the Internet. This is reflected by the packaging which has mostly stuck with the plastics jewel CD case. Originally invented by Phillips as a low-cost pack, it is now considered a somewhat staid format with little room for further development.

Where creativity is coming through is in the growing compilation and limited edition markets. The shorter product runs allow for designs and materials that truly set packs apart from the sea of plastics.

CD-ROMs are increasingly used as a marketing tool by companies looking for a ‘with-it’ image. In the software sector, however, there is a trend to repackage games consoles into DVD format in a move away from the technical image of the computer industry to capitalise on the sexier image of the entertainment industry.

Such a competitive industry means there is a constant drive for something new to keep formats afloat upon the ebbing and flowing tides. Packaging companies have to respond with packs that will keep consumers interested.

Says Gerard Saint creative director of design agency Big Active: “You can easily download music from the Internet so you don’t need packaging, but the function of packaging should be to add some desirability to the product. Packaging can paint the picture that music alone can’t give.

“There is an argument for producing more interesting packaging forms. It is beginning to happen, but the major multi-media companies are slow to pick up on it. They look at packaging as a disposable product, but you need to give products longevity.”

“Good ideas will always out. But you need to ask why you are putting something into a special format. There needs to be a strong enough argument to put things into a different box”.

For the UK’s largest multi-media packaging producer AGI Media, part of US based MeadWestvaco Corporation, the argument is always balanced by volume. The company has a substantial market share in the DVD and video sector under the Amaray brand of PP library cases. It also offers a premium look alternative to the jewel CD case with its DVDigiPak, featuring a plastics tray with folded carton structure.

Anthony Fraser sales and marketing director of Amaray explains the company’s focus on developing packs that add value through the automation process.

Its DVD Safe Box is designed to offer higher quality moulding with tooling that leaves no marks. Exploiting the robustness of PP, the Safe Box can be cycled through the production process much faster, as well as offer the flexibility to be exported in tougher environments.

Safe Box is developing to answer the call from film companies for multi-disc versions containing additional product and promotional information.

Product security is also a major focus for AGI. The estimated cost of multi-media theft to retailers is 3-20% of sales – the worst offenders being professional thieves who will escape stores with a hefty booty.

However, the real cost is not in the theft, says Mr Fraser, but in the depression of sales caused by having to lock items away, either in cumbersome DVD safes or behind the counter.

Quelling impulse by having to queue has a serious impact on sales. According to Mr Fraser, an increase of 15-25% in sales can be made if products are already within their packaging while on display. They are also able to stay on sale longer.

AGI has developed its Red Tag system as a solution to this problem. It is designed to lock products into the standard Amaray case so that packs can be sold live on shelf. The checkout person then removes the locking feature at point of sale.

Red Tag is a truly tamper evident development as it works on a ‘benefit denial’ basis. If thieves are to get to the coveted product they have to completely destroy the pack – thwarting any plans to sell the products intact.

After 15 months testing in 22 stores Red Tag was rolled out in Australia in July and August. Customers are reporting that theft has stopped on Red Tagged products, but continues on those still kept in DVD safes.

Red Tag will hit the European market this Autumn with 80-90% of all Amaray titles receiving a free upgrade.

AGI does aim to provide a level of customisation where orders are in reasonable numbers. In recent months it has worked with major games console companies on limited edition packs.

“We try to be as flexible as we can through the limitation of high volume production of 400M units/year. Small firms can focus on more creative packaging. Overheads are lower so they are better able to profit from short term oppor-tunities than high volume producers,” concedes Mr Fraser.

A cluster of bespoke packaging companies are recognising that the ability to offer a personal touch can give them the edge.

Formed in 1997, Progress Packaging of Huddersfield is one such company dedicated to the production of bespoke creative packaging in bags, boxes and multi-media.

Being able to produce in a range of materials is integral to the company. Says marketing manager Suzi Ellis: “New products are mass made. It takes six months for a product to hit the market. Then it gets popular and people get bored. It’s a very fickle market and very designer led.

“Trends are determined by the materials available. At the turn of the millennium designers began to move away from metallic finishes, which seemed to dominate the market. These were teamed with glittery prints and heavy embossing and mirrored by metallic bags and bubble wrap.

“Colour began to appear in all forms of design, with the introduction of gel-filled products, new PP colours becoming available in short run quantities. Much of the music industry has followed the trend by using highly visual packaging and by putting strong colours into their designs.

Recent multi-media designs have tended to be very low key. More is definitely less, characterised by matt finishes with same colour prints. Mixing materials have come into their element as production technology becomes more advanced. Metal mixed with PVC with hand finished rivets are increasingly popular.

A new product called Aluskin – a sheet of PP sandwiched between two sheets of aluminium – allows metal to be folded like card. This eliminates the need for expensive hand finishes, making metal finished products more cost-effective to produce.

PVC colour improvements have encouraged its use. Its flexible and cost-effective qualities have made it one of the most widely used products.

Progress has seen a steady increase in demand for the full range of these materials but, over the last couple of years, two products have led the range says Ms Ellis.

Last year the shallow round slip lid CD tin, available in several sizes, outsold other ranges but this year the hinged rectangle and deep round CD tins have been the two most popular products. The metal DVD tin was launched last year alongside the A4 tin and have both become steady sellers.

For Leicester-based Venture Packaging Innovations new materials also play an important role in adding value.

Mr Hildred believes that the secret to success lies in spending time with the companies to find the right solution. Contracts have been won over the major multi-media packaging players because, although a proposed material may be expensive, VPI’s tailored cost planning can halve the quote of its cost-focused competitors, typically estimated from a generic model.

A project that exemplifies this point was for Warner Music’s compilation CD ‘Love so Strong’, released for Valentine’s Day. Some uncharted territory was explored when 3M’s luminescent Radiant Colour Film was chosen for lamination onto baseboard sleeves. Cost of the expensive film was reduced by working with an outside converter which laminated the film in strips onto the front of the pack. The previously unsolved problem of printing onto the laminated film was solved by development of new inks.

Another Warner compilation CD, Chick Flicks, saw VPI use 3M’s Radiant Mirror Film to give a mirror-like finish to sleeves printed with metallic inks. The fluorescent material also glows under UV lights for an extra special effect in store or even in club promotions.

Experience in producing rigid box board in a number of gift and premium packaging sectors is earning Exeter-based Jourdans a healthy stake in the multi-media market.

Latest in the stable of DVD packs is the rigid Gatefold. Based on the clamshell pack, it is designed to provide a foldout platform for multi disk collections and accompanying product information. Managing director David Gargrave says the product has had success in the film and music markets where the use of vivid graphics on the printed foldouts has proved effective.

For a real alternative to the current multi-media pack formats, the pièce de résistance has to go to newcomer BurgoPak for its invention of the same name. With the BurgoPak there is no more fiddling to open and close disc cases, a simple pull on an opening tab causes the disc tray to smoothly appear from the opposite end. The design is inspired by children’s pop-up books and works through a PP belt-drive mechanism built inside the case.

Other than achieving the miraculous feat of making it a joy to return discs to cases, the BurgoPak carries the advantage of no hinges. Research shows that broken hinges is a leading consumer gripe with disc cases. The manufacture process also makes it difficult for bootlegging.

Inventor Burgo Wharton patented the design and formed the London-based company, comprising four partners, three years ago.

The design has multiple applications, including cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Multi-media was found to be the most tangible as an initial launch pad.

BurgoPak has already notched up an impressive multi-media client list including MTV Networks Europe and a number of record labels. It is now being launched into the UK market.

Packs are currently produced in CD, DVD and e-pak versions by CMCS in Dartford in half board/half plastics. However, if BurgoPak’s aim of conquering a significant percentage of the CD and DVD markets is to be fulfilled, the company acknowledges that the pack will have to be produced primarily in plastics to bring costs down.

Currently, BurgoPak costs 40% more than jewel or DVD packs. An all plastics version will reduce costs to an additional 5%. Discussions to sell license agreements to major players are in progress. If these and others prove successful, it may just be that the BurgoPak will survive in the fickle market as a development that can balance automation needs and add value.