The Paperboat saga

The word childhood brings back the good old days of pure, unadulterated and joyful innocence. Ashwini Deshpande of Elephant takes you through the childhood memories with Paperboat

28 Apr 2017 | By WhatPackaging? Team

Childhood is something we all cherish. The joy and happiness found in little acts of play… those games and pranks with friends from school, the fairytales, wandering in the sun without a care, playing indoor games like carom or cards or board games like the snakes and ladders to no end… and then drinking our favourite chilled aam panna, or kokum drinks made lovingly by grandmothers. Dinner spreads during summer vacations had to be replete with thick mango aamras that totally made the grunt of annual exams worth it. 

Don’t we wonder where those magical childhood days filled with simple, pure joys disappear? Don’t we feel like going back to our childhood days to be kids all over again?

Around four years ago, such an opportunity walked right through our doors at Elephant Design. A start-up team wanted to get into ethnic Indian drinks. Not only did they consider how to find recipes to make those drinks but they also discussed at length the multi-sensorial aspects like the colour, texture, taste, and smell that would interact with all the senses, and how we could evoke a dialogue between them.

Food and drinks have always been deeply rooted in our culture. Tastes introduced to us as children have a lasting impression on us. And the same tastes or even the mention of those recipes evoke very positive and pleasant thoughts. While designing the brand identity and packaging, these were the thought starters. It was a very unique brief based on positive associations of nostalgia.

Even though we come across a variety of briefs every other day, comparison with the competition product and the need for standout shelf-presence are common factors in all those. But Hector team was very different. Their passion and ability to think beyond market convention were altogether on a different level. They were aware they were going to an unexplored territory and they had chosen to be at a place where there was no scope of competition.

Considering products like jal jeera or aam panna, that would bring back the childhood memories, it was a natural choice to build the brand around simple, natural, unadulterated joys of childhood.

The next step was to decide on a name for the range. When you think of big brands names like Coca-Cola, Kit-Kat, or Oreo, they are fun and easy to pronounce but have no specific meaning attached. So it leaves an open canvas for attaching values or emotions to such names. Name of the product does not add value but also does not come in the way of any kind of association.

However, we felt that ‘name’ was the biggest opportunity for this brand to tell a story. Since start-up brands do not have the budgets to reach through mass media nor are able to distribute widely, the entire responsibility of building a differentiated brand was to be in the name and packaging.

A beautiful gazal written by lyricist Sudarshan Faakir and sung by Jagjit Singh captured the very essence of what this brand was set out to be…  “Wo kagaz ki kashti, who baarish ka paani…” (those paper boats.. those rains). The song became an inspiration for the name ‘Paper Boat’. As a kid, almost every one of us has proudly made paper boats and sailed them at the puddles near our homes. We may all have had different boats, some made with bright craft papers, and others using old newspapers… but all of us would remember at least one of our favourite paper boat moments. It was never just a paper boat… it was a boat that sailed the seven seas and took us along…

To bring back those dream moments was the very ideas behind ‘Paper Boat drinks and memories’.

Next step was to arrive at an idea to bring the brand to life. How would the packaging look, what would be the shape and feel, should it be a box or a bottle, or something altogether different. We decided to simulate the childhood joy of squeezing a fruit and drinking its juice. Doy pack was the perfect starting point to packaging development. A self-standing easy to hold and squeeze pack and an iconic cap inspired by the paper boat shape were designed and developed.

Packaging is the brand's first moment of truth. The colours, the shape, ease of use and messaging, all hold prime significance. The pack should not only be aesthetically appealing but also must be ergonomically designed so that usability becomes a delight.

The next step after shape, structure and substrate was to decide on the colours, visual identity and design. Since the brand called out ‘paper’, we tried to incorporate paper-like feel in the packaging as well. A small boat became an integral element of the visual identity along with the visual world on the pack. Instead of incorporating the photographs of fruits or other ingredients, the team decided to include simple illustrations in bright natural colours that could even be hand drawn; as an ode to the simplicity of childhood. 

Flat colours, simple shapes, and a pack language reminiscent of the childhood landscapes, all contribute to the delightful nostalgia that the brand is all about. And this is how the paper boat was set the sail. 

The design principles were not limited to packaging design. They were extended to multiple touch-points.

We can call out two interesting examples here. A delivery van reminiscent of baraf ka gola carts and a tree-inspired air-space at packed to brim grocery stores.

Our team always immerses itself in childhood memories for inspiration while designing for Paper Boat. The baraf ka gola cart inspired the team to design a van with colourful bottles complete with awning and a large metal bell… Similarly, for the grocery store, our team designed a hanging dispenser with easy to remove paper boat packs. The idea was to create a fun customer experience akin to plucking fruit from a tree. Thousands of these dispensers have found air-space across grocery shops all over India.

Paper boat has earned acknowledgment by the India Design Mark that recognises good design. Awarded by the India Design Council, India Design Mark symbolises excellence in form, function, quality, safety, sustainability and innovation and communicates that the product is usable, durable, aesthetically appealing and socially responsible. The brand was also awarded “The India Story Award” by Neotia Arts Trust recently.

Within just three years, Paper Boat has grown to become a favourite brand nationally. And PPL has provided an outstanding support to Elephant and Hector teams in the development stages and continues to be the packaging partner for Paper Boat. There is going to be a long journey ahead, but the design has proved to be an important enabler for this indigenous brand. Not only in packaging, but in other areas too!

 This article was first published in Marathi in Saptarang, Sakal newspaper on 19 March 2017. Rights to the contents remain with the author and first publisher