Audio in Branding

Logos and images are some of the most historically powerful brand identifiers, but with today’s overcrowded, sugar-rushed digital landscape, visuals alone are no longer enough to cut through the noise. The use of audio in branding is proving to be just as important as graphics for developing positive brand perception, creating a richer environment for users to interact with.

 

 

Audio technology has changed drastically in recent years thanks to artificial intelligence-powered systems like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and other voice-assisted devices. Amazon has already licensed Alexa into everything from speakers to toys, and many brands are looking at how to best utilize these devices to help sell their products.

Fashion brand Perry Ellis is launching an “on-demand styling service” using Alexa technology, which allows users to vocally ask for style recommendations based on occasion, location, weather, etc. The connected app can generate a rendered image, showing customers how outfit pieces would look together and directing them where to buy the products.

 

 

According to Perry Ellis president Melissa Worth in her interview with Digiday, the verbal questions captured by Alexa will also become an important source of consumer data for the brand. By learning what their consumers are curious about and what new trends they’re interested in adopting, Perry Ellis can tailor their marketing and product development strategies accordingly. This is another advantage of audio branding, that brands now have the opportunity to learn new information about their shoppers by allowing bots and other voice-enabled technologies to engage them in verbal conversation.

Podcasts also provide a unique content marketing channel for brands, one that can command all of their sense of hearing – unlike visual mediums, which must constantly fight for attention. GE, Tinder, Spotify, Virgin Atlantic, Netflix, and State Farm are just some of the companies that are experimenting with audio shows as a way to improve consumer engagement.

Other companies are taking advantage of podcasts by cross-promoting with established broadcasting networks. For example, Gimlet Media did a branded podcast series for eBay called Open for Business, and it quickly became the top business podcast on iTunes. The second season of the series launched in March.

 

 

On October 11th, Blue Apron is debuting a podcast, also in partnership with Gimlet, called Why We Eat What We Eat. Hosted by recipe maven Cathy Erway, the production will take an anthropological approach to the biggest food trends of today. Blue Apron – which has reportedly been experiencing a series of financial problems – is likely hoping that this marketing campaign will be profitable enough that they can cut back promotional spending in other channels. Last year, Blue Apron’s revenue gains significantly lagged behind their increase in marketing spending, and they have been dealing with criticism ever since.

Corporate podcasts are a natural extension of the branded content phenomenon. Written pieces have worked well for brands looking to make a meaningful connection with consumers, and podcasts are similarly inexpensive to produce. According to Forbes, “the cost-to-value ratio for podcasts is incredibly low…the average CPM for a successful podcast can be between $20 and $45, compared to $1 to $20 for web ads, or $5 to $20 for TV.”

Brands that rely on purely visual mediums of engagement are going to lose out. By taking multisensory media approaches, companies can become a more integrated and important part of their customers’ daily lives.

Why Experiential Marketing Works So Well

When Frito-Lay announced that they were opening a Cheetos-themed restaurant in Tribeca – lead by celebrity chef Anne Burrell and running for three days only – the response was predictably mixed. “Is nothing sacred?” wrote Chris Matyszczyk, covering the restaurant for Inc. While some felt queasy at the thought of eating “Cheetos Sweetos Crusted Cheesecake” or “Cheetos Meatballs”, many others were intrigued by the gimmick and were willing to give Burrell’s concoctions a try.

For campaigns like this, it barely even matters if the meals were actually good. It was a very creative endeavor that earned a ton of press for the brand, and it’s unlikely that anyone (apart from a few die-hard Cheetos fans) went because they truly believed in Cheetos’ potential as a gourmet ingredient. Folks went for the novelty, because it was fun.

This wasn’t the brand’s first time at the experiential marketing rodeo. Last year, San Francisco-based agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners helped bring the “Cheetos Museum” to life, showcasing uniquely shaped snacks that resembled everything from seahorses to President Abraham Lincoln. The stunt won the brand and the agency five Lions at Cannes 2017, a huge victory for both.

 

Experiential Marketing

 

Experiential marketing – creating unique, short, in-person branded experiences – has become a very popular tactic over the past few years, and there are a number of reasons why this strategy has such a strong track record. First, it accomplishes what brands often strive for in marketing, which is to create a sense of urgency and immediacy. These types of experiences typically only run from a few days to a few months, instilling in consumers the idea that they have to pay attention and act right away, or risk missing out.

 

Secondly, the condensed time frame allows brands to go over the top and be extravagant, because their retail leases are very short. The overhead for something like the Netflix pop-up hotel – with themed suites that pair with the company’s original programming – would be enormous if it didn’t have an extremely limited run. Additionally, as department stores around the country struggle to compete against online retailers, commercial real estate groups are seeing short-term leases and pop-up deals as secure financial investments.

A cultural shift has influenced consumer-spending habits. Young people are putting more of their money into experiences than they are material goods, meaning that CPG companies that can serve up an experience with their product have a distinct advantage with millennial consumers.

 

Social Media IRL

 

Some brands have used experiential marketing as a way of proving that they understand their customers on a personal level. A great example of this is Kotex, which opened a pop-up shop for a weekend in 2016 that exclusively sold merchandise meant to make the experience of menstruating easier for women. Inspired by a college student’s blog post, the store carried comfortable clothes, snacks, beauty products, and other relevant items.

 

Last year, Ikea U.K. also used branded experiences to give its fans exactly what they’d asked for on social media. 100 Facebook users who liked a page called “I wanna have a sleepover in Ikea” were invited to make their dreams come true with massages, manicures, and hot cocoa, spending a night at the store in the bed of their choice.

Fruit of the Loom creatively used experiential marketing to address poor brand perception. Crispin Porter + Bogusky dreamt up a luxury pop-up lingerie boutique called “Früt”, highlighting the quality of Fruit of the Loom’s products despite their affordability and generally unspectacular packaging. The true nature of the products – that they were not from some chic, vaguely-European luxe brand and were, in fact, regular Fruit of the Loom panties from a plastic bag – was concealed until customers got to the check-out counter, at which point the false logo on the wall spun around to reveal the brand’s real identity.

 

Hit Cafés

 

While branded experiences have proven to be an effective marketing tool, few have been as successful as the Chobani Café. Transcending the short-term format, Chobani has managed to launch several permanent cafes – one in Soho, one in Tribeca, and one in Texas’s Woodlands. Fellow breakfast staple brand Kellogg’s just announced that following the success of their cereal café, they are also expanding into a more permanent location in downtown NYC, which will be “significantly larger” than the company’s current Times Square spot.

On some level, it makes sense that food brands like Chobani, Kellogg’s, and (maybe) even Cheetos would succeed in the restaurant business, as millions of fans are already familiar with their products. However, color authority Pantone proved that a brand that typically has nothing to do with food can create a hit dining experience when they debuted their seasonal Monaco café in 2015. The café was successful enough that they brought it back in 2016, along with a second Paris location. The Pantone Café serves food and drinks in bold tones, inspired by (and named after) real colors that Pantone has identified.

 

Pantone has already entered mainstream cultural aesthetic, with their trademark color chips appearing on mugs, t-shirts, watches, phone cases, and even USB flash drives. Beyond that, however, most non-designers have no reason to ever interact with the brand. Physical experiences like cafes and pop-ups give companies like Pantone the opportunity to be accessible to a wide, nontraditional audience.

 

Pop-Ups and Branded Experiences for Digital

 

Pop-ups are particularly great for online retailers, as it closes the distance between the brands and their consumers. In a moment of unity between a disruptive e-tailer and a major department store, the Herald Square Macy’s hosted a pop-up Etsy shop in 2016 with a rotating variety of curated goods. 22-year-old eBay launched a futuristic London pop-up last Christmas that used “bio-analytic” technology to analyze customers’ facial expressions in response to gift options, and made recommendations on what they should buy. Even Amazon has used pop-ups as a way of allowing people to interact with their electronics and get answers to their tech questions from a staff of experts.

 

 

Other types of digital platforms, like streaming services, have been getting into branded experiences as well. It is a natural fit for storytellers – after all, Disney has been teaching the world about the profitability of complementing beloved media works with immersive physical experiences for over six decades.

 

In the past, this meant theme parks and gaming. In the digital age, this can mean anything, from the most technologically advanced attractions to the simplest exhibitions. In 2015, Hulu made an exact replica of the Seinfeld apartment set to promote the series, which they had just acquired for streaming. It featured original items by the show, including some set pieces and the jersey worn by Patrick Warburton’s character in a season 6 episode. Seinfeld is one of the most venerated television series in American history, and Hulu chose to create an unpretentious display that would interest new viewers, while avoiding gimmicks that would alienate the original audience.

 

This year, South by Southwest featured several interactive media experiences. AMC created a pop-up “Los Pollos Hermanos” restaurant (Breaking Bad’s fictional fast-food chain that served as a front for a massive drug operation) to promote the new season of spinoff series Better Call Saul, and Showtime recreated the “Double R Diner” from Twin Peaks in celebration of the series’ revival.

 

 

Last October, Netflix took over more than 200 coffee shops around the country and transformed them into pop-up “Luke’s Diners“ to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the Gilmore Girls premiere and to get fans excited for the revival miniseries. The event drew massive crowds, as hundreds of viewers lined up early in the morning to get free cups of coffee and check out the replicated décor, including signs and cardboard cutouts of characters from the show.

 

Musicians and Pop-Ups

 

It isn’t just visual media brands that are building physical spaces for engagement. Fans were delighted last year when singer Frank Ocean finally released his long-anticipated sophomore album Blonde, handing out CDs for free at surprise pop-up shops in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and London. This came just months after Kanye West opened a pop-up shop in Soho to sell merchandise for his album The Life of Pablo. Unlike Frank Ocean, Kanye announced the plans for the pop-up ahead of time, and fans stood in line for several hours waiting to get in.

 

Just over a week ago, Drake opened a new flagship store in Toronto for his own brand, OVO. The location is special for fans (it’s only about ten minutes from where Drake grew up), and over a thousand of them started lining up early in the morning the day before the store opened. OVO (October’s Very Own) also has locations in New York and Los Angeles.

 

Getting Creative

 

Experience marketing can be a little bit harder for brands that already operate with quick, face-to-face interactions with customers. For a brand like Krispy Kreme, a restaurant or pop-up retail store wouldn’t make much sense. The solution that they found was clever – an ATM that dispensed Nutella-flavored donuts, a new limited-edition flavor that the company wanted to promote. All of the proceeds from the ATM went to Teenage Cancer Trust, creating even more incentive for passersby to use the machine.

 

While a Krispy Kreme ATM is a dream come true for many, experiential marketing isn’t always light. Some brands, like Delta Airlines, Nike, and Glade, have developed very conceptual installations that are meant to add new depth to their image. Delta’s exhibit at the 2015 TED conference in Vancouver – inspired by travel writer Pico Iyer’s talk on the “art of stillness” – involved placing an orb on a pedestal in a glowing room. Titled “Stillness in Motion”, the experience was created to connect the ideas of calmness and productivity with Delta’s efforts in in-flight technology and modern accommodations.

 

 

Nike, as a leading athletic brand, tends to heavily focus their branding on celebrating the human body and the feats that it can accomplish. At Milan Design Week 2016, the company partnered with ten modern artists to explore “natural motion” through different mediums. Some pieces in the exhibition were practical, often including Nike products or objects that were clearly inspired by them, while others were much more abstract.

 

Nike was not alone. Seven years ago, fellow apparel brand Levi’s put up a temporary installation in San Francisco, its home base. Part of its “We Are All Workers” campaign, the fixture underlined the company’s commitment to local communities. San Francisco was also home to Levi’s print workshop, which aimed to produce works and projects for the greater community.

 

 

 

 

Air freshener brand Glade also got conceptual with their 2015 “Museum of Feelings”, which contained a series of trippy rooms that corresponded to a specific scent. Each scent was meant to evoke one of five tailored emotions: optimism, joy, invigoration, exhilaration, or calmness. As smell is the strongest sense for memory recollection, Glade’s bold plan was to curate a series of pleasant, dreamlike experiences that visitors could relive every time they smelled the correct Glade product.

 

Brands like Glade are arguably best suited for experiential marketing campaigns, since scent – which is what they actually sell, whether it comes in the form of sprays, gels, candles, etc. – is intangible. Though their scents may be packaged, fully immersive experiences like the Museum of Feelings add an extra dimension to the way that consumers perceive the products.

 

 

Looking Forward

 

As for the future of experiential marketing, the most obvious factor to point to is the fast pace of digital technology. It can be expected that as virtual reality and augmented reality mature, they will likely find a home in experimental campaigns. The implication of mixed-reality tools is that they will be able to pull users into the brand story in ways that couldn’t easily be replicated in the physical world. More events will look like eBay’s pop-up, using newly developed technologies like artificial intelligence and bots to actively learn about consumers and alter their experience accordingly.

 

In line with recent trends, experiential marketing will also see a shift away from the standard practice of drawing people in to an event, instead reaching people where they already are. Places where large amounts of people gather every day – subway stations, street corners, etc. – will be increasingly viewed as prime real estate for campaigns. This is especially true of operations like the Krispy Kreme vending machine, which don’t require a huge amount of space compared to other stunts.

 

Livestreaming also continues to be popular, and while some brands still resist the format (live broadcasts are unpredictable by nature), it is likely that we will also see more of these events streamed online to encourage engagement with consumers who can’t physically be there. Since so many of these campaigns are temporary, brands will want to reach the widest audience possible while they have the opportunity. Brands are also realizing that there is a lot of charm in unpolished, DIY-style reporting, making the event feel authentic. Companies that continue to showcase their work only through expensive, professionally shot videos will soon seem a little cold and out-of-touch.

 

Virtually any brand can create an experience for consumers. While some may require more imagination than others, there’s no denying that branded experiences are a great tool for building relationships with audiences. Unlike other some other popular brand campaign styles, experiential marketing hasn’t seen oversaturation or obnoxiousness. This may change as copycat campaigns are bound to eventually emerge, but for now, it is still fun to see how creatively different brand interpret the strategy.

 

Brand Stories: Alex and Ani

Alex and Ani is an accessories and jewelry company that offers eco-friendly, approachable products backed by influential content and powerful brand image. Founded by jewelry maker Carolyn Rafaelian in 2004, the lifestyle brand has shaken up the jewelry world by focusing on how the jewelry makes the wearer feel, rather than just how it makes them look.

 

The brand aims to design bangles, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and rings, while enlightening the mind and empowering the spirit. The purpose of the accessories is to allow wearer to more easily and effectively express their own individuality.

The small Rhode Island factory basement venture started gaining traction in 2004 when they designed an apple necklace for Gwyneth Paltrow following the birth of her daughter, Apple. In 2011, the Paper Store chain built an Alex and Ani “shop within a shop” at each of its 72 outlets. Tom Anderson, Paper Store CEO, said, “some would call it a risk. But right out of the gate, we couldn’t keep it in stock.”

Wearing Positivity

 

 

The brand is targeted towards those who want to embrace a “positive energy” lifestyle. According to Brent Cleaveland, executive director of the Fashion Jewelry & Accessories Trade Association, the difference with Alex and Ani is that “they don’t really sell jewelry. They sell positive energy. The bracelet is just a vehicle.”

More Than Meets the Eye

 

Alex and Ani has found a way to market themselves as a lifestyle brand, rather than just a jewelry company. The brand has attracted just as many people through its products as it has through its powerful brand story and social media presence. This has really resonated with millennials, with some even following the brand before ever making a purchase. Many have said that the fandom has reached “cult status”.

In fact, Forbes found that a majority of millennials follow their favorite brands on social media, so it’s an integral marketing strategy. The brand’s mobile app also offers positive lifestyle content and motivational quotes to help further their ultimate goals. Fans were so anxious for the positive boost that the app was downloaded 80,000 times within the first three weeks.

The brand also published an inspirational book to complement the brand image, called “Path of Life: Why I Wear My Alex and Ani”. Written by CEO, Giovanni Feroce, the book includes a collection of inspiring stories from customers about how their Alex and Any pieces have helped influence their lives. He said, “I put this book together to show the world that you can indeed offer products that are infused with intentions of love, peace and positive energy, made in the USA and eco-friendly.”

As Feroce put it, “We advertise Alex and Ani, but we don’t advertise what we do. I don’t care what we do. Alex and Ani is a brand. It has to do with quality, with what we put into it.”

 

Charity By Design

 

The brand has a large impact on the local Rhode Island community – where the jewelry is made – as well as a positive impact on the globe. The “Charity By Design” initiative has been wildly successful, with 20% of sales going to charity, for 20% of sales. This has totaled $44 million donated to non-profits across the globe, to date. The brand’s employees have also volunteered over 7,000 hours to different charitable efforts.

Capitalizing On the Millennial

 

 

Millennials are looking for personalized experiences when they shop, which Alex and Ani has capitalized on. The bestselling patented expandable charm bangles are available in thousands of iterations, or you can customize a unique piece, which makes it instantly more appealing to shoppers (and particularly, millennial shoppers).

 

 

Every bangle also comes with a “meaning card” and the app offers extensive information on the meanings behind different charms, so customers get an interactive experience with each purchase.

Still Gaining Momentum

 

In 2010, when Giovanni Feroce joined the company as CEO, sales for the year grew by more than 20 times its previous annual total. While there have been a string of CEOs and senior managers following Feroce’s departure in 2014, Rafaelian has since stepped back into the CEO role.

Currently, just over 10 million charm bangles are sold per year, with revenue soaring from $5 million in 2010 to just over $500 million in 2016. By the end of 2017, there will be at least 80 company-owned Alex and Ani stores.

Rafaelian has become America’s only jewelry billionaire and is #18 on Forbes’ list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. Some have scoffed at Rafaelian’s method of consulting the stars before making major decisions, but it doesn’t seem to have hurt her yet. In fact, Rafaelian said her winning strategy is quite simple: “I don’t listen. Which is the best thing I do.”

Brand Stories: Buzzfeed

BuzzFeed is an American “social news and entertainment company” with a focus on digital media and digital technology. It has expanded from quizzes and lists to become the “first true social news organization”. What is now “the web’s most beloved new media brand” was once a small “viral lab” side project for founder Jonah Peretti. Since the inception in 2006, they’ve also progressed from kittens and internet memes to serious reporting (with plenty of kittens and internet memes still sprinkled in).

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While they commit the majority of their resources to videos and entertainment, BuzzFeed News has also become a trusted, engaging news source for millennials. The site tackles hard-hitting issues and presents them in layman’s terms, and their coverage of last year’s campaign season was so well received that CNN poached an entire BuzzFeed investigative team in October.

 

It All Started with a Chain of Emails

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 The idea for BuzzFeed started early on when Peretti was communicating with a Nike representative after they denied his request to customize a pair of shoes with the word “sweatshop” on it. He forwarded the email chain of messages exchanged with Nike to 12 friends around the globe. The email chain was forwarded on and went viral. Peretti was flooded with media inquiries regarding the viral messages, as well as his stance on labor practices.

After working with Arianna Huffington to launch the Huffington Post in 2005, Jonah Peretti decided to form BuzzFeed in 2006. He always had an interest in how and why people share things through the web and experimented with viral projects.

BuzzFeed Labs first experimented with BuzzBot, which used algorithms to message users with targeted links. They also used a site to highlight some popular links that BuzzBot found, but the company wouldn’t hit its true stride until they hired human editors.

 

Finding Success Through Social Media

 

Successful social media marketing, social sharing, and content creation can have a tremendous effect on any business. BuzzFeed is a prime example of this. They found enormous success by focusing more on sharable content, rather than trying to stay within Google’s stringent guidelines. Finding content that users want to share with their friends and family has always been BuzzFeed’s ultimate goal.

 

Avoiding Banner Ads

 

While many sites rely primarily on banner ads for income, BuzzFeed doesn’t have a single banner ad on its site. Instead, they generate revenue by working directly with brands’ chief marketing officers to create unique advertising campaigns that people will want to share and talk about. They have been remarkably successful in using content as the primary advertising strategy.

 

Branding You Can’t Ignore

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The bold red logo and simplistic, clean design and user interface are hard to ignore amongst an ocean of Old English-type news source branding. The bright yellow buttons featuring fun, social buttons like “WTF”, “LOL”, and “OMG” in place of the standard “Like” makes the site feel more like a gossip mag than Peretti’s original venture, The Huffington Post (which is now commonly known as HuffPost). The red trending arrow icon from the BuzzFeed logo is also used to represent when something is trending or “buzzing” to give further meaning to the logo.

 

The Future of BuzzFeed

 

BuzzFeed Community allows BuzzFeeders to now contribute content to the site that’s approved by editors. This allows BuzzFeed to capitalize on free sharable content. In order to stay successful, Peretti said, “we have to continually surprise people, we’ll have to continually evolve and change what we do”.

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Source

 After publishing an unverified dossier pertaining to Trump’s ties with Russia in January, Trump responded by deeming BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage”. But with a $1.5 billion valuation, over 200 million monthly unique visitors, and 75% of the traffic generated from social referrals, it doesn’t seem like BuzzFeed has anything to worry about.

Brand Equity is Overrated

drinkcoke

Andy Warhol once famously claimed that America’s tradition of mass production was what made it a great country. He said:

“You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke…all the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it…and you know it.”

This kind of thinking, that every unit of a product should be exactly alike forever, has been part of the foundation of branding strategy for decades. Consumers had, in the past, relied on consistency as a measure of quality. But in 2017, the relationship that shoppers have (and what they want to have) with the brands that they buy has changed. Consumers are less trusting of big brands, and overreliance on sameness may be costing companies business with modern shoppers who are looking for more personal experiences.

Even Coca-Cola, Warhol’s shining symbol of mass production, is embracing the trend towards customization in their bottle designs. They took a huge risk with their enormously successful “Share a Coke” campaign, where they replaced their legendary logo with 1,000 different names.

namecoke

Not only did this create a smart, personalized experience for consumers, it also showed that the company understood the need for branding that lends itself to social media engagement. A big part of the customization trend is that the evolving media landscape has transformed company-consumer interactions, so that there are more conversations and less one-way dialogue. The “Share a Coke” bottles made consumers feel excited about drinking something that has been in their family’s fridge for generations, and by risking their brand equity, Coca-Cola saw soft drink sales rise more than 2%.

itsminecoke

 

The company has taken this concept one step further with their “It’s Mine” campaign. Using HP’s SmartStream Mosaic software, Coca-Cola produced millions of glass Diet Coke bottles, each with a completely unique design. Purchasing one of these bottles means owning the only Diet Coke in the world that looks the way that it does – no movie star or President can drink one like it. This is the future of branding.

When Tazo tea first came onto the scene in the 90’s, the spiritual, mythical look was considered innovative and modern — as The Dieline put it, the packaging “really represented the times”. For years Tazo was associated with that new-age image, and the design remained virtually unchanged for about two decades, even after the brand joined forces with Starbucks. Once the coffee giant completed their own redesign in 2012, they decided that it was time to bring Tazo into the new millennium. What was once a fun standout in the boring tea market was now corny and outdated, and nearly every visual element that defined Tazo was thrown out. In its place was a clean, white background,  with the flavors present in each variety clearly displayed in a neat little picture. The rebrand here was so successful because the company understood what was valuable about the product and maintained its spirit with the new look, while still being unafraid to go in a radically different direction than what fans were used to.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATazo pre-redesign

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Tazo post-redesign

What is also interesting about the redesign is that nowhere on the packaging does it make any claim to be affiliated with Starbucks. Starbucks is one of the most recognizable and beloved brands in the world, and if the company was trying to introduce the tea to a new generation, then the association could have been a potentially valuable asset. The fact that they distanced the packaging from the Starbucks brand could indicate how the company anticipated consumers may come to feel about big brands.

Unfortunately, years of pink slime exposés and soy chicken sandwich scares have conditioned consumers to be wary of brands that could be considered “Big Food”. Today’s shoppers are drawn to brands that seem to care about them and their families, and the reputation of national brands as a whole is that they care far more about finding ethical shortcuts in order to increase profits. One of the core tenets of brand equity is name association, and if all shoppers can think of is artificial flavors and hormones, then brand equity is worthless.

Hellmann’s has also recently had a redesign to better appeal to contemporary shoppers. The “deli-inspired” look and feel of the product gives off a more wholesome vibe, and the photographs of eggs play into consumers’ desire for fresh, easily understandable ingredients.

hellmans

 

The color palette isn’t an extraordinarily dramatic change from what Hellmann’s had before, but the jar does look different enough that many longtime buyers searching for that distinct yellow label will have a more difficult time finding it. Some may even abandon the brand altogether, afraid that Hellmann’s is either now “too fancy” for them or that the change in design signifies some kind of major difference in flavor. Hellmann’s knows that they face these risks, and yet has chosen to ditch their iconic packaging anyway in order to stay relevant.  Ultimately, relevance does matter more than consumer loyalty.

Some companies are forgoing their usual branding in order to compete in a specific local market. For example, Airbnb, which has been hugely successful in this new anti-big-brand economy, just announced that they are not even keeping their name consistent across all markets. In China, they are now calling themselves “Aibingyi”, which is meant to be easier for Chinese users to pronounce. While it is not unprecedented for businesses to change their names when entering different markets, Airbnb faces unique risks in that this could cost them users that travel internationally, a group that is quickly growing. If a frequent Airbnb user from Sweden is vacationing in Shanghai, they may overlook the unfamiliar Aibingyi.

Brand equity, while important, is overvalued by big brands. More than consistency, today’s shoppers value niche traits like individuality, freshness, and smallness. Scarred by many years of health scandals, consumers do not have faith in big brands that way that they used to, and brand recognition is no longer the coveted feature that it once was. In 2017, companies that hold on too tightly to their same old branding risk falling behind in the new economy.

Words of Wisdom from Scott Cook

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Flavors of America

At the end of last month, Hershey’s began rolling out their “Flavors of America” campaign, which has the company including signature regional tastes and ingredients into varieties of some of their most beloved products. So far, options include:

 

1)   Reese’s Honey Roasted Peanut Butter Cups, for Georgia

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2)   Hershey’s Cherry Cheesecake Chocolate Bars, for New York

 

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3)   Strawberry KitKats, for California

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4)   Orange Cream Pop and Key Lime Pie Twizzlers, for Florida

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5)   PayDay BBQ, for Texas

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6)   Hershey’s Coconut Almond Kisses, for Hawaii

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This campaign is very much on trend, as food brands are becoming increasingly local. For example, last year ConAgra launched new Slim Jim flavors inspired by regional cuisine, including New York Buffalo Style, Philly Cheesesteak, and Cali Taco. Interestingly, Jill Dexter, brand director from Slim Jim, referred to this rollout as their “Flavors of America” platform. Not only is the concept growing in popularity, the name itself is being applied across different companies.

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2016 also saw granola producer Maple Nut Kitchen combining two major trends into one campaign with the release of four regional flavors for their Paleo line: Northern Berry Harvest, Eastern Apple Pecan, Southern Cherry Almond, and Western Cocoa Cayenne.

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Frito-Lay might actually be at the top of the regional flavor game, and they’ve been doing it for a long time. It was way back in 2011 that Lay’s introduced three localized varieties at once, with Honey Mustard for the Northeast, Creamy Garden Ranch for the Midwest, and Chipotle Ranch for the Southwest. Even prior to that, they released Balsamic Sweet Onion in the Northwest and Cajun Herb & Spice in the Southeast. As far back as the early 2000s, the company experimented with options such as Chicago Steakhouse Loaded Baked Potato, Santa Fe Ranch, and San Antonio Salsa. Similar to ConAgra and Hershey’s, Frito-Lay predictably named that campaign “Tastes of America”.

lay's honey mustard

Some of Lay’s regional flavors have been so popular that the company transitioned them into national rollouts, such as Garden Tomato & Basil. Unlike Hershey’s, which is rolling out their “Flavors of America” varieties across all regions, Frito-Lay tends to initially introduce a regional flavor into its appropriate local market.

Taking flavor inspiration from local tastes is huge in the snack category, and the trend is expected to continue gaining momentum. Not only does the practice help tailor products to markets based on preferences, it also gives big brands an opportunity to connect more personally with consumers across the nation (and beyond). By incorporating ingredients and styles of various areas of the country, national brands like Hershey’s are able to compete at the local level with smaller companies.

For example, one of Hawaii’s most popular candies, simply called Coconut Balls, comes from local company Hawaii Candy. It is easy to see the similarities between this coveted confection and Hershey’s Hawaiian treat, Coconut Almond Kisses.

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It is unclear right now whether or not Hershey’s intends to develop flavors for all fifty states, or how Californians, Hawaiians, Floridians, Georgians, Texans, and New Yorkers will react to Hershey’s attempt at capturing their distinct local tastes. The campaign definitely has an interesting concept behind it, and other brands that are considering localization will surely be watching to see how successful it is.

Brand Stories: Magic Leap

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Founded in 2010 by Rony Abovitz, Magic Leap is a fast-growing startup that has been shrouded in mystery since its inception. In fact, it has earned the reputation as one of the most secretive firms in the tech industry, and its headquarters are located in Southern Florida to maintain its discretion (which would be nearly impossible if it were located in Silicon Valley).

The startup evolved from a small company called “Magic Leap Studios”, which was focused on creating a graphic novel series and feature film franchise. Abovitz had hired visual effects studio Weta Workshop to develop the imagery, following their work on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

However, Abovitz became frustrated that the augmented and virtual reality world he’d read about in sci-fi novels wasn’t available in real life. He aimed to make it so. In 2011, Magic Leap Studios became a corporation, releasing an augmented reality app at Comic-Con that year called Hour Blue.

How They’re Trying to Change the World

Magic Leap is working on a head-mounted virtual retinal display that has been compared to the Microsoft HoloLens. It superimposes 3D computer-generated imagery over real world objects by tricking the brain into thinking that digital light signals created in the headset are in fact reality. Gizmodo said they are trying to build “a Google Glass on steroids that can seamlessly blend computer-generated graphics with the real world”.

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Forbes perfectly described the experience in relation to Pokemon Go: “VR takes you to another place. AR can make a Pikachu appear in your living room. Mixed reality keeps you where you are-and makes that Pikachu come to life.”

While this technology has outstanding potential for gaming and entertainment, Magic Leap aims to use it to revolutionize the way we work, communicate, and play.

Quick Success Led to a $4.5 Billion Valuation

Forbes estimated that Magic Leap was worth $4.5 billion, even though they have not released a product to market yet. It raised $1.4 billion from a list of impressive investors, including Google and China’s Alibaba Group.

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It earned highly publicized early contributions thanks to its overwhelming claims that the technology would “forever change the way we interact with images and information”. The prominent investors were convinced with early prototype demonstrations and technology that was still in development.

Standing Up to Big Competition

Magic Leap is not the first (or only) company to pursue mixed reality. Apple is working on an AR device, startups Meta and Atheer are working on their own headsets, and the MIT Media Lab has also constructed a 3D display using “compressed light fields”. The Microsoft HoloLens is the largest competitor and already has developer kits available. The difference, according to Magic Leap, is that Magic Leap’s breakthrough technology provides better resolution than the HoloLens, making it far superior.

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Misleading Claims Revealed

Most people who have tried Magic Leap have positive things to say. However, not all of the attention surrounding the startup has been good.

Magic Leap may have exaggerated what it was able to provide. In a recent interview, it was revealed that Magic Leap posted a misleading video demonstration of its tech. Magic Leap didn’t help things when it used YouTube videos to prove what its tech can do, using a video that was later revealed to be created by Weta Workshop.

As it stands now, the Magic Leap tech won’t outshine the Microsoft HoloLens’ tech. During a recent rare demo with The Information, the images produced by the headset were often blurrier and more jittery than Microsoft’s prototype.

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While the startup wasn’t ever planning on rushing to market, it seems as if the technology is in reality years away from completion. The fiber scanning display that was set to be Magic Leap’s breakthrough tech has also been demoted to a long-term research project. They have also promised to provide a small headset resembling glasses, but have not yet trimmed down from the bulky helmet prototype.

However, this hasn’t slowed Magic Leap, which just acquired the 3D division of Swiss computer vision company Dacuda and formed a partnership with Disney’s Lucasfilm and its ILMxLAB R&D unit to create a joint research lab at Lucasfilm’s San Francisco campus. Abovitz believes that one day, Magic Leap’s technology will replace phones, tablets, computers, and televisions.

Words of Wisdom from Scott Bedbury

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Four Branding Trends from Expo West 2017

Chris Burton, our Art Director, travelled all the way to Anaheim last week for Expo West 2017. The four-day event is the country’s largest natural foods show, and it gives industry professionals the opportunity to see what’s in store for the future of organic foods. Shifts in consumer tastes usually lead to major design shakeups, and here are four of the biggest packaging trends that we noticed.

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With consumers becoming increasingly interested in buying local small-batch products, branding is taking on a distinctly “handmade” look. Handwritten logos, drawings, and rough edges are all major trends, as brands are moving away from the overly polished “hipster” look of the last few years in favor of appearing wholesome and healthy.

ProteinFotoJet Collage2 Protein is in everything right now, from plant milk to pancakes (FlapJacked wins best name). As a result, we’re seeing categories looking a lot more diverse than they have in the past. For example, protein-packed cookie brand Bite Fuel is using a very heavy black font in all of its branding, which is unrecognizable from the bright colors and gentle script of more familiar players like Mrs. Fields and Famous Amos.

With this sudden interest in protein, we’re also seeing more artisanal varieties of meaty products like beef jerky. Duke’s came to Expo West with dried brisket and Cajun-style dried sausages, with elegant packaging that highlights the seasonings and flavor additives over the meat.

This protein phenomenon is manifesting itself in two ways – products that traditionally would not contain much protein are being set apart with strong, commanding designs, and products that have always been known to be great sources of protein are trying to appeal to new consumers.

 

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Consumers want to feel closer to the food that they eat, which means becoming more comfortable with the animals at the source. Meats, cheeses, and flavored snacks are all beginning to feature realistic depictions of livestock, sometimes using straight-up photographs.

Meat-and-dairy-free products are using images of animals as well. Los Angeles’s Kombucha Dog, for instance, puts photos of homeless dogs from local shelters on their labels, using store shelf space to help them find homes.

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Mascots were all over the place this year, which is interesting for a natural foods show – mascots are most commonly associated with sugary cereals and fast food. Brands are now recognizing that mascots can help build relationships with consumers, who can feel personal and emotional connections to them. They can also considerably boost a brand’s recognition potential, which is especially attractive for new products in crowded categories.