A class act: Why LVMH is ditching its premium packaging for practicality

Within 72 hours of the French government calling for help to fill the gaps of crucial medical supplies for COVID-19, leading luxury brand LVMH took on the task of producing approximately 12 tonnes of hand sanitisers and distributing them free of charge to French health authorities. The project was launched under the orders of chief executive Bernard Arnault who instructed the LVMH Perfumes and Cosmetics business to leverage its factories for the production of these products. Teams from Guerlain, Dior, and Givenchy came together in a bid to push "great solidarity and engagement in a spirit of collective effort for the common good", the group elaborated on an Instagram post.

Keeping the packaging of the LVMH rather basic, the sanitisers were placed in clear bottles with the insignia "CD" on the handle representing Christian Dior. The hand sanitiser also featured a simple label listing usage tips, precautions for use and the list of ingredients. The overall look of the bottle was a far cry from the luxurious  feel that LVMH's brands such as Dior, Givenchy and Guerlain often portray with their product range and packaging.

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Complimenting the simplistic look and feel of the bottles, packaging and branding company JKR's head of strategy, Katie Ewer, told Marketing that the LVMH hand sanitiser packaging was "perfect because it is neither craft nor premium". While brands have always preached about brand purpose and in such trying times, LVMH has certainly shown that it is putting the needs of the nation above its business.

"If LVMH had put effort into its design, it might have been accused of capitalising on a crisis to grow its business," she explained. Instead, this is an example of a brand using its area of expertise to make a genuinely positive impact during the COVID-19 crisis. "Zara has offered to manufacture hospital scrubs. Rolls-Royce may assist [the UK government's call] in producing ventilators. This is the kind of help the world needs," she said. Ewer added:

What the world does not need is brands doing clever reinterpretations of their logos, or anyone else’s.

Agreeing with Ewer is Prophet's Asia regional lead and senior partner, Jay Milliken, who said this type of socially responsible behaviour is what leading companies should be taking on, and also be applauded for. In troubled times such as these, Milliken said brands should by no means be focusing on traditional messaging to their consumers.  "If your brand or product happens to be in an area related to solving the public health crisis, for example antibacterial soap, then I think you have permission to communicate around the role you are playing in addressing the situation," he explained.

He added that if the brand or product is unrelated, then brands' communications should focus on either supporting those who are involved in the public health crisis, such as messages of support to doctors and nurses, or the contributions the company is making to solve the crisis. 

At this point, it is not business as usual, and brands that try to act as if it is will seem tone deaf.

"[Activities that help the society] have benefits that go significantly beyond building their brands, they are helping their communities in a time of great need," Milliken said. He added that while such humanitarian efforts will have some positive brand halo, he does not see it as the primary reason why LVMH is undertaking these efforts. Instead, he believes the company is genuinely looking to help communities because it is the right thing to do.

Also weighing in on the issue was Tania Tai, MD of DIA Brands Malaysia, who said that amidst the backdrop of bleak news, this is the time for brands with a strong conscience to shine by sharing positive messaging of hope and connecting with consumers at a deeper, more meaningful level. 

"Every brand touch-point is a moment of truth. That is why it is important for brands to stay true to their identity by balancing both design and messaging considerations," she said.

Tai added that despite the simplicity,  the packaging design takes on "an understated and minimalistic design" that is unmistakably Christian Dior. "With the 'CD' insignia on the pump and the LVMH endorsement on the label, the co-branded packaging communicates the shared passion to be a force for good, both at the group level and at the individual brand level. This clearly brings together the best of both worlds in purpose-driven design," she added.

Besides hand sanitisers, LVMH has also pledged to address the surgical mask shortage in France by liaising with a Chinese industrial supplier to deliver 10 million masks nation wide. According to LVMH, the order will be repeated for at least four weeks in similar quantities. Arnault has also arranged for LVMH to finance the whole of the first week of deliveries, amounting to about US$5.3 million. LVMH will also assume the management of the supply chain, delivery and custom clearance for all subsequent deliveries.