Packaging as Entertainment
Blue Q Sells Sex, Sass, and--oh, Yeah--soap.
By Elizabeth Esfahani

(Business 2.0) – Pairing toiletries with a naked girl, a nun, or the word "slut" might not sound like smart marketing. But Mitch and Seth Nash have cleaned up by doing just that. Marrying mundane merchandise with eye-popping graphics, charismatic characters, and witty catchphrases, the brothers have turned Blue Q--their Pittsfield, Mass., company that did $9 million in sales last year--into a veritable P&G of boutiques and beyond. Over 3,000 retailers, including Tower Records and Nordstrom, now distribute Blue Q brands such as Dirty Girl and Mullet. "Every product is just another blank canvas to put our graphics on," Seth says. "We'd package a lawn mower if we thought it would sell." Here's a Blue Q primer on selling to those for whom image is pretty much everything. -- ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

Create a Cast of Characters

Launched in 1998, Dirty Girl is the "flirty, feisty" ringleader of Blue Q's character-driven brands, Mitch says. Starting with a cheeky moniker, Blue Q creates a personality for the name--complete with a page of adjectives for creative direction. Later the characters are matched with items from the company's freewheeling product line, which includes everything from bubble bath to bubble gum.

Don't Skimp on Materials

To some, Blue Q's new Boss Lady line would appear to be an unnecessary logistical nightmare. After all, it can take as many as seven vendors to create the line's leatherlike embossment, numerous ink colors, and customized bottles. But difficult-to-replicate packaging, Mitch contends, is an important barrier to entry--Blue Q's best defense against me-toos intent on copying its kitschy designs.

Design the Product Too

Right down to the ingredients, the Nashes try to stay in keeping with each brand's distinct personality--even if it means concocting shampoo with a "new car" smell for the Mullet line. But while Blue Q merchandise emphasizes exteriors, the brothers insist that people still expect products to do what they're supposed to do. "The graphics will get you started," Seth says, "but if it's poor quality, it's a one-time sale."

Make Gorgeous Graphics

The next challenge is finding a designer to express the unique persona of each kooky brand. For Miso Pretty, the brothers turned to Scottish graphic artist Fiona Hewitt, who contributed intricate, Asian-inspired graphics and type, as well as images that reflect the character's independent, industrious personality. Instead of an in-house art department, the company relies on outside designers to distinguish commodity items. Blue Q treats designers like movie stars, offering them a percentage of sales, which attracts talent without breaking the bank.

Craft Catchy Cop

The Nash brothers believe that words are just as important as pretty pictures. Their goal is that when customers pick up, say, a bottle of Wash Away Your Sins, they'll slowly rotate it, reading from side panel to back panel. The Nashes claim that the witty, humorous script is often what seals the deal. "It's the copy that really pushes people over the edge," Seth says.