The first entries in this series focus on Shape and Color as the first two elements of the Navigational Hierarchy. This third installment highlights the next element, Key Visuals, and how shoppers utilize them at-shelf.  

A Key Visual is a focal point of a package design that is intended to drive interest, understanding, and at times, suggest usage occasion. These include dominant brand markers and product imagery that communicate what the product is and why it should be wanted without the use of words. Simply put, Key Visuals can tell shoppers what a product is, why they should want it, and how to use it.  

Product Imagery 

Using Key Visuals to illustrate how a product looks or will look after preparation is a powerful way to drive understanding and appeal at-shelf.  

An example of this comes from the pancake mix category where shape and color are not different enough to be a vital part of how shoppers find products. Pillsbury extended their Funfetti concept from cake mix to pancake mix but needed to ensure the offering was distinguishable from cake. Pillsbury used a product image of pancakes featuring the familiar color sprinkled interior to explain the connection to Funfetti cake while illustrating the obvious differences. 

A lesser-known brand, Food Should Taste Good, has a sweet potato tortilla chip that uses a large, representative product image on its package. By including salsa on the chip, they communicate that this product is still best used as a vehicle for salsas and other dips even though it deviates from the traditional tortilla chip. Highlighting this typical usage occasion helps to limit potential friction and allows the sweet potato chip to shine as something new for people to try.  

Brand Markers 

Brand Markers—like logos and characters—often convey the benefits and emotions that shoppers attribute to a brand. 


Thousands of logos carry many different intrinsic meanings. A classic example is Arm & Hammer. Their baking soda launched in 1846 and has been a staple in kitchens ever since. In the 1980s, they decided to branch out and use their image as a high-quality, reliable brand to expand into different categories including laundry detergent, toothpaste, and deodorant. Their iconic logo implies efficacy even across categories with different dynamics.  

The Starbucks logo also carries with it an implied set of benefits in the realm of coffee. In K-cups, where every product comes in a brown box, the logo carries with it that much more weight as a signal of coffee shop quality when shoppers scan the section.  


Over the years, many iconic brand characters have cultivated investment in brand, be it emotionally or by connecting to actual product benefits. Captain Crunch has been on shelves and in commercials since 1963. On pack, this titular mascot is the focal point of each box, regardless of color or flavor. This works because Captain Crunch cues a sense of nostalgia and fun that appeals to shoppers while also linking to what the product is.  

Scrubbing Bubbles relies on a brand character, as well, but in a different way. While Captain Crunch effects shoppers emotionally, Scrubbing Bubbles’ character, Scrubby, ties the brand to what the product does and its benefit: spray it and let the scrubbing bubbles go to work for you.  

Key Visuals are powerful emotional persuaders that differentiate products when connected with the core benefits of their product. Shoppers only absorb limited chunks of information while evaluating a product, so making sure to use them appropriately and sparingly can avoid friction at-shelf when it matters most.  

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