The Zune Box

Today is Zune day. The blogosphere has gone crazy with Zune news. But I’m not going to discuss why social networking sucks, or how DRM will destroy the very foundations of human existence, or debate whether or not a gadget can be brown. I’m going to focus on the packaging, not because everything else has been blogged to death, but because this has huge implications for Microsoft.

Microsot Zune product boxApple iPod box shot

First thoughts. It’s brown. It’s square. And it’s simple. Second thoughts, what the hell is that thing at the bottom? Third thoughts, what is this? Granted Microsoft learned from their mistakes, but I think this is not going to work. Of course I have no idea what is displayed on the other 4 sides of the product box I cannot see, but if this is the same way the product will be displayed in retail stores, then it has serious problems.

For someone who doesn’t know what the “Zune” is, and I could safely assume that is a large percent of the population, this product box means nothing to them. It has a brand that is unrecognizable and doesn’t even indicate the slightest association with a portable media device. For a technology enthusiast, this might look cool since its ultra-modern and clean, but to someone who might be scared of turning their computer on, this box has no significance or influence to make them pick up the box and have a look around the other side, assuming there is anything on the other side.

The iPod solves this problem by having an image of the device on the front face of the product box. For even someone who might have never heard of the iPod, this box will not only tell them what an iPod is (a portable media device), but show them what the product looks like. So if someone either knows the iPod name or what it looks like, then they’ll instantly recognize this box. The Zune misses this opportunity by assuming consumers already know what they’re looking for, and that is, a brown box with the Zune logo on it. And that’s a pretty bold assumption.

The only way this will work is if Microsoft delivers an advertising campaign that embeds not only the “Zune”, but the brown box into the minds of every electronic consumer in the world. And that’s probably what they’ll do. I look forward to the FY07 expense report (inside joke). How much will Microsoft pay to get the Zune off the ground?

22 insightful thoughts

  1. Good point Long. In addition I wonder if Microsoft thought about the fact that in Germany the color brown is directly associated with Hitler’s Nazi party.

    There is a good reason why you rarely see any brands build around the color brown in Germany. I hope this doesn’t back fire for them. Cudos for trying though.

    The other missed opportunity I believe is not displaying the Microsoft brand anywhere. I think M$ would do well to have a recognizable logo for the general MS brand.

  2. I think having a Microsoft logo would cause negative associations with monopolies and unreliable softwares. Even though both associations are stereotypes, but the average Joe wouldn’t know any better.

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  4. there’s probably a picture and product description on the back of the box, as there are with most game consoles.

    a blank box looks sexy, but i can’t see any company (let alone M$) leaving it like that. it’s the very opposite of the ‘I-pod 2006’.

  5. @ikyouCrow: Yep, no doubt there is a product shot and description at the back. But you’re forgetting in a retail environment, all the consumers see if the front of the box. And that’s why I think Microsoft is losing out here.

  6. I actually like the box. I think it is very simplistic and pretty.

    Altthough you have a point about people not knowing what zune is!

  7. Intersting to see if Microsoft’s “we have so much cash flow we can buy any market” strategy will work in the mp3 player market. People argue that’s what made microsoft’s original xbox so successful.

    On the other hand I strongly believe what made the original xbox so successful was HALO. Or in plain English content.

    I just read that the Zune will not play TV content recorded in a Windows Media Centre and the Zune software will otherwise not tightly integrate with the Media Centre either. I can only ask why? Don’t they know people don’t buy products based on features but based on emotional reasons. That is everyone wants an ipod… because everyone else has one. Everyone wants and xbox because… everyone else is playing Halo. I don’t buy it… I don’t think too many people will buy the player because it has wifi and a radio build in.

    And coming back to our original discussion, I assume M$ will plaster the entire universe with Zune advertising and that advertising will market Zune as a “platform” not a player (hence Zune[player], Zune[Software], Zune[store]). By the time people go to a store they simply buy the thing… of course it wil get interesting when the latest must have iPod sits right next it.

  8. It just doesnt matter. People dont go into a store and pick up a couple boxes of Zune, do they. People are going to play around with the in-store demo, and if they want to purchase it – go to the counter and receive one the box with the player inside. Its the same with an iPod – so who cares whats on the box.

    I infact applaud their use of brown. Its a very underused colour, but quite classy at the same time. I like the way they want to be different, and thats going to set them apart from their competitors.

  9. A couple of problems…

    That box is really huge compared to the iPod Shuffle and Nano packaging.
    It even appears to be slightly bigger than the regular iPod’s packaging based on the picture of a whole case/box of Zunes

    1) Apple can flood the shelves with Shuffles and Nanos whereas this brown box will have retailer displaying them with the side facing out…Now, the only thing that a customer will see is a very abstract “Z” logo. They won’t event see the “Zune” brand.

    2) If Apple has last holiday season’s supply issue sorted out, they can ship and retailers can stock way more Shuffle and Nano units per box/pallete than it would be possible with the Zune or 5G iPod. The Nano and Shuffle models will be this year’s best-seller. The chances that they will run out of Nanos will be very slim. In the eventuallity that the supply of Nanos is sold-out, most would probably opt for the Shuffle or the 30Gb iPod if the former is also sold-out because of the brand’s mindshare.

  10. Could the Zune fail? And if so, what would the product box have to do with it? This is a cross-post of…

    Packaging plays a very important roll in what people buy and what they don’t. With so many products out there that do the same thing, packing is the only thing that makes them stand out from the rest. As a graphic designer I know that making sure your product stands out is very hard. A lot of the times when you go to a store you like to look around and not necessarily get what you went into the store into the store in the first place.

    The package itself is nice and clean but I will agree with the rest, it really doesn’t show what the product is or what it does. And if that’s the front that’s how stored are going to place it on the shelves and will be difficult to know what it is.

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  12. I’m guessing that MS could make up for the lack of information on the box with a good advertising campaign. Also they are probably banking on not many people seeing the box when they’re buying, but seeing the product and then being subjected to their stylish box making skills.

  13. But why would people not know what zune are? Do you think they will place them along with the soda cans and cereal? No, it will be placed together with all the other mp3-players. There it will actually create a soothing area with colors that you are not used to. The orange will work as an eye-catcher.

    Actually, as all mp3 players look the same, you know a square unit with a screen, navigation and som music displaying on the screen, there isn’t much point in showing it on the box. And as someone already said, you will want to pay around and try out the unit hands on, as with any other brands. Don’t tell my you buy iPods without looking and trying the stuff?

  14. Hakan is right, keeping it simple allows for some very creative display ideas from retailers and I’d be really surprised if there wasn’t plenty of ‘stuff’ around making it absoultely clear what the Zune is.

    The concept is take the details off the packaging and place it elsewhere. This effect can have multiple people standing around a section of the display talking about what it’s got (social), not picking up each box and reading the details.

    I like it.

  15. @Paul Murphy: i hope that practically naked zune box doesn’t get lost in an overly saturated display.

    side note – i’m going for the brown zune… guaranteed to get one since everybody else seems to hate it. who with me!!??!

  16. @ikyouCrow: i totally agree with you. the brown is the go 🙂

    but i am worried about buying a 1st edition Zune …. everyone knows how shoddy the 1st edition ipod was …. so maybe a zune in 2yrs time will be a better choice?

    but therein lies the conundrum – if we dont buy it now – they wont make an updated version because sales will be down …….

    maybe i should just buy it 😛 hahaha


  17. Long, I have to agree and disagree with you. While the packaging doesn’t stand out and tell you exactly what it is, I think there is something to be said about the pure mystique of the box amd logo. While it doesn’t directly jump out and say, look at me I am an MP3 player, maybe that is a statement Microsoft is trying to make. You say the brand is unrecognizable and might fail, but what about things like the Xbox? No one thought that Microsoft had a shot in hell on entering a whole new realm, and they are already number 2. While they have lost money on it since it has come out, Gates has already said that he doesn’t intend on being second in any market that he enters. And with $43 billion in cash, I think he can make whatever he wants to happen. Now, this is just one opinion. I did want you to know that your article has made it to my site. If you are curious, here is the link. Keep up the great posts.

  18. They should have a pic of me on that box, then it’ll sell like crazy. lol
    They need to create a really good and original advert like the iPod has. Everyone knows that the silhouette is an iPod ad and even if its not an iPod ad they still think of it (well i do anyway)

    NO SCRATCHES!!!!!!!! YAY (so far)

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