Product variant packaging can help brands differentiate their product range and shoppers browse the category, but only if done well.

Nurofen made the news last week when it was accused of using ‘misleading’ packaging over its ‘specific pain’ products.

An Australian consumer watchdog group has launched legal action against pharmaceutical giant Reckitt Benckiser Australia for the marketing of its Nurofen Specific Pain Product range. The products at the centre of the dispute are Nurofen Back Pain, Nurofen Period Pain, Nurofen Migraine Pain and Nurofen Tension Headache.

The group has alleged that making each product look like it treats a particular type of pain is false or misleading – because the tablets inside are identical. The drugs, which are even sold for different prices, actually all contain the same active ingredient.

It is very understandable why shoppers could be misled as the product variant packaging is well designed and uses a couple of the techniques that I would recommend for best practice – each has a distinctive and bold name and unique colour while still utilizing the core brand logo and colours – so that even a quick glance can help the shopper identify the correct product for their need (perhaps even more important in the pain relief product category!).

All four Nurofen products were listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods as being suitable for treating a wide variety of pain types.

The consumer group alleged that consumers had been misled into purchasing Nurofen Specific Pain Products under the belief that each product is specifically designed for – and effective in treating – a particular type of pain, when this is not the case. Furthermore, the retail price of the Nurofen Specific Pain Products is significantly above that of other comparable analgesic products that are also general pain relievers.

I believe that the packaging design itself is very well done and a successful execution of product variant packaging. However, I certainly cannot condone the mislabeling of products as distinct when they are actually identical.

At The Behaviours Agency, we have recently completed a number of large packaging design projects where creating clear, distinctive and easy to understand product categories and variants was essential due to complex and large scale brand requirements. The case studies will appear on our website once they are launched into the supermarkets and specialist retailers.

In the meantime, if you would like to see how we could approach designs for product variant packaging for your brand then please get in touch here.

Adam Tregaskis

Head of Retail