Package Design for the Zombie Shopper.

Something scary has happened to us, not only as a society, but as shoppers. We’re…changing.

Auto-play videos dominate our Facebook scroll. Our kids communicate with Emojis. Short form videos are replacing TV as the go to entertainment choice of Millennials. More and more we are shunning words and seeking out images as our preferred method of communication. This yearning for visual, effortless messaging doesn’t end on our phone and tablet screens. We want it, and expect it, in every aspect of our lives, even in-store. This communication expectation has created what I call…THE ZOMBIE SHOPPER!


Shoppers are already hurried. Distracted. Tired. Shoppers don’t have time to read about which brand is better. Even three or four words are too much. Today’s shoppers are kinda’ going through the store like a zombie. Responding to, and preferring, quick visual stimuli. So to get Zombie Shopper’s attention and telegraph our product’s points of difference and reasons to believe to her, it must be done visually, not with words. Short form video? Heck, we need short form packaging! Show me, don’t tell me. That’s the new communication rule for the Zombie Shopper.

What are the best package design practices when communicating to the Zombie Shopper? I’ve narrowed down 3 that are no brainers. Get it? Brains? Zombies? Moving right along…

1) Simplify to Sell!
Zombie Shoppers gravitate toward packaging that is simple and iconic. Brands that limit copy and design elements position themselves to appeal to shoppers who just want to find, grab and go. It’s so tempting to add one more claim or symbol—but this practice can only bring overwhelming disorder to the eye, turning your package into white noise for the consumer who’s scanning the shelf. Zombie Shoppers want to find what they’re looking for and find it fast.


Is anyone going to read these claims? CAN anyone read these?! Zombie Shoppers can’t. They just don’t have the time or desire.

Simple can be complicated! Simplifying packaging to give it a clean look is easy, but making it simple and still communicate effectively is hard.

To simplify effectively, package designers must focus on the visual communications that truly matter to the brand and to the consumer, eliminating everything else as unnecessary. Here are some awesome examples of how less is more…




Now that we’ve learned that “simple sells” overall, let’s dive in a bit deeper and talk about simplifying what we’re saying on our packaging.

2) Deliver only one message.
When asked what the most common marketing mistake companies make in their branding was, Stuart Chapman, Associate Director of the design research agency The Big Picture, had this to say: “— It’s expecting packaging to do too much. When budgets are limited it’s tempting to try to make packaging the all-singing and all-dancing star of the show, shouldering the entire responsibility for the brand’s comms. This is often too much strain for one touch-point. Perhaps counter-intuitively, when budgets are limited it’s better for designs to be very single-minded to help one clear message cut through.”

And packaging communication expert Lars Wallentin said in his blog, “Simplify your message in order to amplify your message. Often what the product does and stands for is getting lost through complicated communication, when in fact simplicity is the key.” 

Don’t create your own noise.” You know who said that one? Me! Keith Manzella. One message sticks. Two messages become noise. As package designers, we have enough on-shelf noise we must cut through. Why on Earth create our own noise on our own packages?

Look at these examples of packages trying to communicate too much.


Too many messages! Not organized. No hierarchy of communication. This cereal box example has way too many messages.

Kellogg'stoo many messages

Why spell out “Two Scoops?” Sunny is doing a fine job visually communicating this point of difference without using a single word.

“Change Information to Communication to stimulate and include the consumer.” -Lars Wallentin

What does Lars mean by that? Look at how well Cottonelle visually communicates their softness claim. Does it resonate as well when communicated as information rather than visual communication?


3) Communicate Visually. Talk to the Eyes to Get the Buys!

Consumers don’t like to read. Period. So why do we keep putting words on our packaging? Visual communication is natural! It’s how our brains process information. Reading’s not natural. We taught ourselves to read. The first written languages were pictures! Our brains are wired to see and translate visual information. This is why short form videos and emojis have caught on and flourished so fast. It feels natural and easy to our Zombie Shopper brains.


Visual Communication is the strongest communication there is. Strong visual design assets stick with consumers longer than verbal communication. Visual over Verbal! That should always be the rule.

Look at the product usage story Tostitos Scoops tells on pack visually. Conversely, Frito’s Scoops packaging provides no clues to the benefit their new chip shape provides.


And look at the story Lay’s tells about its product with one brilliant image! “Made from real potatoes! It’s natural! It’s healthy!” So much is implied about the product in this one image without saying a word.


Does this do the same?


Here’s a visual I created for Post Food’s Cocoa Pebbles brand helping to position it as THE chocolatey cereal choice for kids. All chocolate cereals turn milk chocolatey to some degree, but how to position Cocoa Pebbles as creating the most chocolatey milk? Spelling out this claim with words was employed on the package face but I wanted to do something more powerful in addition.

00004_CP 11oz

By creating an ownable visual articulation of the product experience promise, our unique story could be told visually. Bamm-Bamm is shown drinking chocolate milk through a straw right out of the bowl, creating an ownable visual that instantly telegraphs the unique taste experience to consumers, “Tastes Like an Xtreme Milkshake!”

The takeaways:

1. Simplify to Sell: Simpler package graphics bring us closer to being an iconic brand which will stand apart on shelf and be instantly recognized by consumers looking to find, grab and go.

2. Deliver ONLY One Message: One message is the most that a consumer can take in at shelf. Make it short, persuasive, ownable and easy to remember. Preferably with no words.

3. Tell Your Story Visually: A picture is literally worth a thousand words when it comes to instantly conveying an idea, POD or RTB on shelf to the Zombie Shopper.


Keith Manzella is a Creative Director specializing in connecting with consumers in-store. To see more great packaging ideas, visit

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