Creating a unique packaging system for ethnic beverage startup Paper Boat that would fit its equally unique, niche proposition
Communicating the Paper Boat experience that combined intensely familiar tastes with nostalgic memories
Blending the unadulterated traditional goodness of Paper Boat’s promise in a contemporary package that would appeal to its target audience
Since Elephant had built the brand from scratch (including its nomenclature) the packaging echoed it origins, values and story in the way that best fit the narrative
Colorful, caricatured design language was utilized for capturing the nostalgia of the target audience’s childhood memories
Utilized every element of the packaging from the back of the pack to the lining in order to enhance brand recall
Lastly, created a visual language that was so flexible that it could be instantly modified to accommodate for their ever-increasing roster of flavours and product ranges
Before the name “Paper Boat” came into existence, Hector Beverages, its parent company, wanted to tap into what would later be termed the ‘ethnic beverages’ market. The Indian beverage ecosystem was already cluttered with many ready-to-drink products that were not traditionally Indian – a casual glance at any supermarket, or grocery store display would highlight that.
Till that point, the traditional Indian beverage was supplied through either a local vendor – think aam panna or ganne ka rus (sugarcane juice) – or, even better, made at home for you by your mother, especially during your childhood. Hector Beverages wanted to bring this very product and blend it with modern packaging and supply channels, enabling it to be purchased at stores!
So, when they came to Elephant with this idea and entrusted us with its branding and packaging from scratch, we knew that we had a very unique and innovative journey ahead of us.
The naming is based on the quintessentially Indian childhood hobby of enjoying the rainy season. Children often play around the millions of freshly formed puddles by launching paper boats in them, watching them artfully glide and tackle the miniature currents. Another key inspiration was an iconic piece of Indian music: the song Woh Kagaj Woh Kagaz Ki Kashti Wo Barish Ka Pani.
This made it clear that this wasn’t just another product, or flavor for you to buy and consume. It was an experience: The experience of childhood nostalgia.
Naturally, the packaging system needed to accompany this radically fresh brand story. It also needed to became yet another portal for establishing brand connect and recall.
Going back to the Roots
Elephant appealed to Paper Boat’s target audience – namely people from the ages of 25-35 in big Indian metropolitan cities. This audience comprises of people who have often found their first job and have moved away from home in order to start their individual, independent journeys.
While they love their homemade food and drinks, they simply cannot recreate that magical experience by themselves. Often, the lack of time is a big hurdle in addition to not finding the right ingredients and over that, they simply don’t have their parents’ repository of recipes at hand.
Paper Boat satisfied all those needs neatly as a beverage but the packaging design had to showcase that. We had already given careful attention to the packaging structure itself by choosing to use doy packs that provide an enhanced sensory experience, or the bottle caps that are also boat-shaped and easy to use.
Our team decided to go one step further and utilize every inch of these packs in order to highlight where Paper Boat was coming from.
Primarily, we textured the pack like paper and added a variety of colourful doodle-like icons, complete with text to make it playful and engaging, to mirror the margins, or the back of a well-worn school notebook.
You’ll find good-natured, tongue-in-cheek one-liners that tell you about the lack of artificial flavoring and small writeups that recreate, if just for a moment, a time and space that transports the customer back to a forgotten time and space. There are highly interesting mini-stories on the back of the pack that is personalised for each beverage – in addition to fun one-liners on the bottom, barely concealed for those who are enterprising enough to stumble upon it.
We recreate “The good old days”, where childhood innocence is invoked. Where time slows down as your concerns are limited to what game you must play next under the tropical sun and where you steal treats from the topmost jar in the kitchen – this time, this experience is embedded within the graphics on the pack.
Colorful paper boats, deliciously caricatured fruits and scenery like you would find in the drawing book of a third grader is what you’ll find here. Each flavor has a distinct color. Elephant purposely did not utilise vivid displays of the real ingredients, opting to enhance the brand story with graphics and impish flavour text instead.
The Promise of More
Paper Boat is an extremely agile, constantly innovating startup. This is evidenced by their growth from two flavors in 2013 to over ten of them in 2019. They always have newer traditional recipes in the pipeline and have even tapped into the traditional foods category by manufacturing snacks like chikki.
As custodians of their packaging system, Elephant has ensured that it can be used for a wide range of flavors and multiple types of products, providing healthy consistency across segments like chikki and namak para.
Its versatility comes to the fore especially during their seasonal, or ‘festival-only’ limited edition beverages like thandai for Holi, or Sharbat-e-Khaas for Ramazan, which could easily be molded for the template with a few colorful modifications.
The Fruits of Labor
Apart from Paper Boat’s own ingenuity in desiring to become a brand that connects with consumers through storytelling, as opposed to just their products, Elephant’s labor have paid off significantly.
In 2012, Paper Boat simply placed their products in a select few shops – and then in the Indigo Airline in 2013. There was no branding, no mass media – nothing till that point to create hype. Based on the strength of the packaging system and brand story, it managed to take off and carve a niche of its own by 2018 in a market dominated by big players like Coca Cola and Pepsi.
Since its launch, the brand has also won several awards for design, brand connect, consumer preferences and more, right up to a Wharton Case Study in 2019 as to how it was admirably competing against gigantic players with cutting-edge innovativeness.
The message? Paper Boat, despite its high-stakes, agility filled formula, is here to stay precisely because of them breaking conventions like disruptive startups often do. And where there are disruptive ideas, there needs to be disruptive design to match!