Cross-Category Packaging (Part 1: Cans)


Sometimes a product is put into a package, borrowed from another product category. Clothing, sold in cans, for example. I call this “cross-category” packaging. The motivation behind this potentially confusing marketing move? Partly a “category disruption” to stand out on the shelf and partly a flippant novelty to charm the consumer. Why flippant? Because canned goods have acquired a humble, sometimes humorous connotation. (Canned music; canned laughter.) A cross-category “canned” product mocks itself and invites us to share in the joke.

Sometimes the category hopping seems arbitrary—(why a bra in can? why not in a bag or a box?)—other times there’s an underlying logic. Malted milk balls packaged in a milk carton, for example, to highlight a key ingredient. (milk)

The Levi 501 Jeans in a paint can, I first saw via Lovely Package. These seem like an example of the “arbitrary” approach—(unless they’re “painter’s pants”)…

I wish I could remember where I found the Voyeur brand store-packaging, but I give up. (Try searching online for “Voyeur” + “underwear” and see what you find.) Voyeur’s canned underwear packaging takes the “flip-novel” approach, although the graphics appear to be totally in the manner of Barbara Kruger and I wonder whether she’d approve of that.

The Paint Can pinhole camera is a little different. A different type of packaging camera from the ones we featured earlier—here the can is the camera, although the connection between photography and house paint seems to be of the “arbitrary” type. Still, the can is pretty important since the package is pretty much the product.

Many times, when a product is cross-categorically packaged in a can, the can is an essential part of the concept and is featured in the name. (As in: “Any Product You Can Think of in a Can”) This also ties into the idea of packaged “kits,” where batches of items are kitted together into a convenient (or humorous) product concept. Think: ”Party-in-a-Can,” “Bed-in-a-Bag” and the like.

(One more thing, after the fold…)


Just in case you thought cross-category packaging was something brand new, this 1960s can of nylon stockings says otherwise. (From Allee Willis’s Kitch O’ the Day blog)

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

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