It appears that nothing nowadays can be simple, ordinary and easily understood, not even the humble cap! Steve Thomas-Emberson reports

We all seem to know that a traditional cap always topped off a bottle. A simple twist motion was all that was required to release the liquid from its case. Another twist and the cap was back on and the liquid secure again.

It did not matter whether it was capping a soft drink, medicine, car oil, or sun cream. Or did it? It wasn’t actually quite as easy as all that for the cap really only worked when the bottle was upright, motionless and in a cupboard out of reach of children and anybody else that might tamper with it. What the cap was then was a feeling of security rather than a 100% secure fitment.

Fast forward to today and, while we still have caps, they themselves are a different entity.

Caps have become closures, methods of dispensing whether upright or upside down. They are also child proof, and this unfortunately makes them very adult and senior citizen proof as well!

Tamper evidence is now de rigueur for any cap or closure and to top it all they have a significant brand message built into them in more ways than a marketing manager has ‘meetings’.

Emballator offers one of the most varied cap and closure selections. These include screw caps, flip-top closures, child resistant closures, tube caps and roll-on closures. This type of offer is now endemic in the marketplace.

The road to this advancement and selection can be laid at the consumer’s door as Jonathan Couper of the packaging design company Brandhouse WTS extols.

“There has been a rapid realisation that the cap is not an element to keep something in. It is a consumer benefit.

“HP were one of the first companies to realise this when they used silicone valve technology in the cap of the ketchup bottle.

“It was a massive advance as it meant the top actually stayed clean. From this humble beginning the marketing people have woken up to these type of benefits, pushed the technologies, which in most cases were already in existence, and further developed the closure across a lot of market sectors.

“If you do not have a consumer friendly added value cap you won’t sell your product.” Mr Couper’s quick appraisal rings very true when one looks at markets like drinks, food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and toiletries. All the packs have to perform differently to how they did 20 years ago.

The toiletry market is a very good example because of the consumer’s lifestyle. Shower gel is no longer on the shelf but hanging upside down in the shower, itself dispensing through its closure the right amount at the right time. Take that same shower gel and throw it into a toilet bag and the cap still performs because leak proof and stay clean elements are also built in.

The cap or closure may also be colour coded for type or branded either by shape or embossed message but the biggest message to the consumer is subliminal: “The closure works for you, therefore, so do the contents.”

This is now typical of the tremendous advances that have been made in the cap/closure marketplace. If marketers continue to demand that technology answer even more consumer requirements, it will be difficult to tell a cap or closure mechanism from a dispenser.

There is, even now, a blurring of the lines.

Piz Buin – that premium sun care brand that in the 60s was so synonymous with Bardot and St Tropez – has recently gone under the packaging designers pencil and knife to re-emerge as a pack that is much more style conscious. It has set its sights on a much younger market-place.

It is a market that responds to and expects ergonomic portable accessories. Drawing its inspiration from the mobile phone silhouette, Lewis Moberly the London packaging design consultancy, created a highly distinctive structural form that meant the cap, manufactured by Seaquist, was an essential part of and not just an add on.

The shape of the Piz Buin bottles are so distinctive that minimal graphic branding was applied in a sector that has a tendency for information overload.

“Visual Intelligence, Lewis Moberly’s strategic process, provided us with valuable consumer insight,” says Piz Buin marketing director Marco Paolucci. “It visually transported us to our consumer’s gestalt and brought focus to what we wanted to achieve.”

On the beach! was the very literal brief for a range of sun care products named Blockhead which, in a previous existence, was anything but mass market as it was a product for snow boarders!

The brief to Brandhouse WTS was to broaden the consumer appeal but to keep the ‘edgy’ feel to the pack and it must perform. Performing in this sense was not only the creation of a tough looking shape but also a cap that was part of the Blockhead toughness.

Jonathan Couper of Brandhouse WTS explains: “About 12-15 years ago one started to see upside down oriented packed products. Our desire and that of our clients was to use this principle along with a cap that out performed anything on the market – it was for the beach

“The bottle was made by Roma and the cap by Coda Plastics. Bearing in mind what a beach is – sand – the cap had to have a stay-clean value built into it, be leak proof as the product is stored and handled upside down and have a positive click noise on closure. The click noise was important as it added to the ergonomic feel of the body shape, which is chunky.

The body shape is manufactured out of 80% PP and 20% adflex complete with an integral rib on the inside to keep the structure rigid. For the cap to perform like this meant that the accuracy of the inner flange, together with the thickness of the plastics used, was highly critical to obtaining the cap’s performance.

“Over and above this we colour coded each pack based on the principle of the darker the colour, the lower the sun factor. There is also a range of after-sun creams as well.” What is quite plain to see is that this pack in its entirety, but especially the closure, fully answers today’s fast consumer lifestyle.

While, for Blockhead, the closure had to answer a lot of requirements in the case of Axe, a Brazilian body spray product for men designed by Design Bridge, here the closure had to appear up-market.

Axe is a mass-market product but, by adding a closure that mixed air with the product, the consumer was buying into the market style without the cost of aerosol technology. The cap itself is like flicking a switch, the switch comes off and it is then open rather like sports water containers, which it is meant to be like.

The shape is ergonomic and very much a definite thumb operational thing for men as it fits in with the lifestyle of the targeted audience, a process that ties in with the water bottle, Zippo lighters and other boys toys.

While these are excellent examples of current usage and amply demonstrate just how far the ubiquitous cap has come, what are the packaging companies doing themselves to enhance the marketplace?

Roberts Metal Packaging, a leading supplier of tinplate and aluminium closures to the health and beauty sectors, has seen significant growth in its simple metal caps.

Even the most cursory glance at the closures makes one want to touch them as they are predominantly matt silver. This is a desirable appearance in its targeted sectors but with the additional exciting quality of being embossed as well.

Lin Wilson, business development manager, explains more. “There is no doubt that a well-produced metal cap will enhance the appearance of both glass and plastics bottles and it offers yet another surface for branding.

“While we are embossing we can also deboss, produce a special surface texture that is a light embossing and then embossed over the top as well as colour application.”

Crown Cork & Seal has also developed what it terms its ideal closure, which promotes easier opening for both senior citizens as well as children by featuring an increased surface area for consumers to grip and twist.

Opening requires 25% less removal torque than a standard closure, due to the decreased friction between the liner and finish. Developments such as these are to be applauded because, for some people, closures are a nightmare to open.

This brings us onto a cap or closure problem that has still to be resolved – the childproof but senior person friendly cap. There isn’t one! A statistic that may encourage the investment in technology is that by the year 2100 people over 65 will be in the majority.

Nick Verebelyi of Design Bridge has his own thoughts on speeding up the process. “Security and childproof are mutually exclusive, but there are clever and more complex ways for cap production to solve this.

“One other driving force could be by government regulations which would mean that it is not up to the first brand to take the step, everybody will have to.”