Despite its name, family packaging has nothing to do with families of people. Instead, it means that products in the same brand have a similar type of visual packaging. This helps consumers recognize the products on the shelf, and also helps them to quickly assign characteristics to each product based on previous experience of the brand. Elements of the family packaging, such as color and pattern, are generally carefully chosen by packaging designers to make the products as appealing as possible to potential customers.
Customers of a grocery store, for example, may look at thousands of different products during a shopping trip. Many decisions are split second, as people do not generally have the time to inspect all the choices individually. A brand represents a promise of a particular quality or of value to a customer, and if the customer recognizes a brand he or she likes on the shelf, it is the product he or she may choose above other, untried choices.
Potato chips, for example, come in many different brands. Some successful brands have opted for instantly recognizable family packaging, such as in tall tubes. A customer who has tried one of the variations of this product, and approved of it, can easily see on the supermarket shelf where the other variations are of that brand. He or she may choose a related product over other potato chip brands, because the association with the first experience of the chips was pleasant, and suitable for his or her purposes.
Brands that contain diverse products also tend to use family packaging. For example, a particular type of face cream may not share any practical characteristics with a nail varnish remover, but the supermarket shopper will still associate previous experiences of the face cream with the potential usefulness of the remover. Advertisements can add to a perception of a brand as well, and if the face cream is expensively marketed, the nail varnish remover may also be regarded by the customer as a quality, luxury product.
Conversely, family packaging that gives the impression the products are value for money can also steer customers in their direction when opting for cheaper products. Colors, patterns and materials are important in conveying an impression of the quality and relative cheapness of a set of products. Although it can vary by country and even by brand, plain family packaging in a cheap material like thin plastic can tell the customer the range of products is cheap. Colors like deep purple, boxes with embossing or heavy glass pot containers, on the other hand, can signal quality and luxury.
As well as grocery products, family packaging is a feature of all commercial products, large or small. A particular brand of construction machinery, for example, may all have the same paint jobs and decorative features as each other, so the customer can use previous experience to judge the quality of individual machines. A company with a good reputation and good products can benefit from family packaging, but it can backfire sometimes when a consumer has a bad experience with one product of a brand, even if the other products in the range are of better quality, as the customer may not buy them as a result.