Meghan Casserly, the “Girl Friday” blogger at Forbes.com, recently posted about a new product from Coty that she described as being nothing short of a “miracle.” The source of her epiphany, she wrote, was Sally Hansen Salon Effects Real Nail Polish Strips, a do-it-yourself nail treatment that gave her fingers the look of a professional manicure and cost her less than 10 bucks.
So enthusiastic was Casserly that she nominated Salon Effects as a “Name You Need to Know”—a Forbes designation for items poised to become central to the global conversation. The distinctive container should have no difficulty in provoking conversations of its own among package designers and brand managers in the innovation-driven cosmetics space. The development of the Salon Effects package tells a story of unusual creative demands met through close cooperation between the brand owner and its manufacturing service providers, with meticulous execution at every stage of production.
Minus the glass bottle
The nail strips, sold by Coty under the Sally Hansen brand, are the creation of Incoco Products, Clifton, NJ, which began developing what it calls “the world’s only flexible nail polish” more than 20 years ago. Produced on a special press, the strips are laminar combinations of a bottom adhesive layer overprinted with lacquer-based polish and a clear top coat. Incoco had begun marketing the strips itself as “dry nail appliqué” in a mostly opaque sleeve pouch, but under the media radar until Coty introduced Salon Effects.
The strips, which last about 10 days, sell for $8 to $10 in sets of 16. Users apply them by removing the backing, pressing the strip to the fingernail, and then shaping for a precise fit with tools that come in the package. With names like Misbehaved, Collide-o-Scope and Teal with It, the Nail Polish Strips have every bit of the razzle-dazzle visual appeal that those fanciful phrases imply.
Stick-on strips made of real nail polish are like nothing that most users of liquid nail treatments have tried before, and that novelty gave Coty a broad objective for the design of the packaging—but also a specific imperative. Says Soo Hyun Kang, the Coty senior designer who directed the creative development of the package design, “Because this is a new product for Coty, it’s important for consumers to see instantly what it is and what it’s for.”
An age of transparency
One glance at the package tells you everything you need to know. A nail-shaped, see-through window in the front panel of the PET package presents the strips directly to shoppers, who can also see the rest of the contents—a cuticle stick, a combination emery board and buffer, and printed instructions—through the clear PET on the other panels.
Although the product isn’t completely new in the market, notes Coty’s Gabriel Dume, the project’s package engineer, the strategy for the Salon Effects packaging is a marked departure from the original. The path to the new packaging concept began about one year ago in meetings between Coty and the primary contractor, Transparent Container Corp., a provider of visual packaging solutions including blister packaging, clear folding cartons, custom thermoformed packaging, and clamshells.
It was Transparent Container’s first assignment for Coty. “They knew what they wanted,” recalls Steve Close, the vendor’s business manager for printing and fabrication. The challenge was to create a package that would scrupulously color-match the shades and designs of the product inside, including tough-to-replicate fluorescent neon and glitter effects.
The deliverable for the initial Strips rollout was four million pieces spanning 24 different SKUs, each unit representing a different nail strip color or pattern, which now hovers near 100 variations. All of the package design graphics are provided by Coty creatives under Kang’s direction. Every time a new variation is proposed, says Dume, Coty sends it to Transparent Container to match the designs and the colors.
It was known from the beginning that the look of the box would have to replicate—not just simulate—the look of the product. But it was also understood, says Kang, that a tight visual correspondence wouldn’t be easy to achieve on a plastic substrate, especially with bright neon fluorescents. Neither would simulating nail-polish sparkle on holographic film. Even Coty didn’t know exactly what the reproduction targets would look like, Kang says, until Incoco sent production samples that could be turned over to Transparent Container for color matching.
Steve Close, business manager at Transparent Container, says that getting from design to printing and finishing involved repeated rounds of proofing not just on PET, but also on gloss silver and holographic foils. Because consumers would see the nail strips and their color clearly through transparent windows, there couldn’t be any compromises in color fidelity between them and the corresponding decorations on the package.
Good things in small packages
The compact packages (3-1/4" x 1-1/4" x 1-1/4") are made of clear, 12-mil PET with 25% recycled content. The plastic contains a UV inhibitor that provides fade protection for the polish strip color showing though the fingernail-shaped window on the front panel. Each hand-assembled, hand-filled package contains two sealed-foil pods of eight nail strips each. The application tools and the printed instructions are kept separate from the pods within a glued inner wall.
The printed and finished packages are sent as flats to a hand-assembly service, where dozens of workers erect, fill, and seal them. Hand assembly is unusual for Coty, according to Dume. But given the contents and the space constraints—particularly the narrow slot for the nail strips in the front of the inner chamber—the filling of the Salon Effects packages couldn’t be automated, he says.
In every printing job, it’s essential to create press impositions that will permit the largest number of units to be produced in the smallest number of passes through the cylinders. Relationships among colors on press determine how efficiently the form can be set up, a task made no easier by the presence of fluorescent inks along with standard process colors.
Close says that Transparent Container was able to impose the job in two 12-up forms that run in three ways, depending on what polish strip designs the packages have to match. The patterned colors print as a combination of process-color builds on either white ink or a combination of gloss silver foil and a base PMS color. For the neon colors, custom spot color ink with standard and fluorescent pigments is laid down over white ink. The glitter effects are achieved by printing the aforementioned “noise” over holographic silver foil.
But, notes Kang, it’s still necessary to conform to general Coty and Sally Hansen brand identity guidelines.
This is accomplished by printing the logotype and the swoosh on the front panel in PMS 1585 orange, the brand’s signature color.
Fifteen colors in two passes
Lake County Press of Waukegan, IL, prints the packages on two UV-capable industrial Heidelberg presses, each consisting of eight printing units plus UV coater with interdeck UV drying. Tom Johnson, an account executive at Lake County Press, says that most of the forms print in eight colors of UV ink in a single pass, although one form is a much more complex layout requiring 15 colors and, as a result, two trips through the press.
The typical printing sequence for Salon Effects is two hits of opaque white followed by CMYK, the Sally Hansen orange, and whatever additional spot color may be needed. Foils that have been prestamped on the substrate are overprinted. The arc-like silver foil accents on the front panel and the sides are stamped after printing. To finish the package off, MCD Inc., Madison, WI, foil-stamps the substrate and die-cuts the printed flats.
A particular challenge during this phase of production, says Close, was Coty’s insistence that there be no overwrap of the accent color from the side panels onto the front—a difficult separation to maintain, since the edges of the side-panel color and the white ink on the front panel are less than 1/64" apart. The requirement was met by making two dies. One die tested the movement and twisting of the PET under the pressure of cutting, and a second die used these measurements to position the creases for zero wraparound precisely during the actual die stamping. Other finishing techniques helped to ensure that the packages could be squared up and hand-filled with as little manipulation as possible.
Nobody said it would be easy
Close agrees that the Salon Effects project pushed Transparent Container and its production partners to the limits of their technical skill. Besides the fundamental difficulty of color-matching UV litho inks to nail polish colorants, there was the challenge of overprinting foil on some of the press forms and, for others, stamping foil on top of already-printed UV inks and coatings.
Trial-and-error testing of foils, inks, and coatings eventually yielded the right combination of graphic brilliance and scratch/scuff resistance, but it wasn’t easy. For example, says Close, it took five or six tries to properly formulate the UV coating that now protects the packages on their way to the stores. Other testing revealed, somewhat counterintuitively, that matte silver did a better job of accenting colors than gloss silver, which tended to darken them.
But the care lavished on both product and package seems to have paid off handsomely. Casserly, the Forbes.com blogger, quoted Annette Devita, Sally Hansen’s v.p. of marketing, as saying that Salon effects boasts year-to-date sales of over $20 million and a 10% share of market in the nail-color category.
Close says that Transparent Container and its production partners have delivered a total of about 20 million pieces—with more production expected as Coty expands the line with new colors, themes, and seasonal promotions—with no rest in sight. “We haven’t stopped thinking about how to improve this package,” says Close.