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.


Super Bowl Branding

Everybody knows that the real star of the Super Bowl has nothing to do with football – it’s all about the commercials. Every year, millions of people tune in just to see what brands have come up with, and Super Bowl LI is expected to be no different. It’s a real opportunity for brands to go all-out, getting as creative as the networks and their wallets will allow. Snickers, for instance, is going to air the game’s first-ever live commercial, featuring Adam Driver (of Star Wars and Girls) as some kind of cowboy hero. That’s not the only first for this year, either – Yellow Tail is going to be the first wine brand to air a Super Bowl ad in four decades, and both Wendy’s and Tiffany’s are finally putting out their first game day commercials.addriverSometimes, a brand can make as big of a statement by staying off-screen as they would by running an ad. Kraft Heinz has been getting a lot of buzz lately for their public decision to not produce a Super Bowl ad, and instead use those millions of unspent dollars to give employees the day after the game off. And Tostitos’ ingenious chip bag design – which doubles as a breathalyzer to determine when partygoers have had too much to drive home, and can even call an Uber for them using smartphone-enabled technology – is a great example of a brand making the packaging an integral part of the consumer experience. With social engagement and technology being where it is today, brands have lots of options for showing off innovation.tostitosWith the spotlight on sponsoring companies, it can be easy to forget what an undertaking it is to brand the Super Bowl itself as a national event. The process for designing the brand identity of a Super Bowl game begins as far as two years in advance. In fact, the identity and graphic design guide for the 2018 game is going to launch on February 6th, the day after Super Bowl LI.

The design of nearly everything tied to this year’s game, including banners, apparel, advertisements, etc., all use deep reds. This was chosen because it draws from the NFL’s official logo (helping create cohesiveness between the event and the organizers) and also because the designers felt that it best captures the spirit of energy and excitement that the league is trying to promote. Super Bowl LI is also featuring more colors in its designs than in years past, namely turquoise and yellow, as they are attempting to connect with a younger audience.supbowlThe Super Bowl is like Oscars season for those in branding. It is the moment to show off months or years of hard work and planning, and the competition is always fierce. With millions of expectant eyes watching, we will have to wait and see whether or not this year delivers. If these pre-game releases – like what we’ve gotten from Tostitos and Snickers – are any indication of what is to come, then Sunday is going to be one of the most exciting Super Bowls to date.

The Branding of Lab Grown Meat

Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 1.52.17 PMLaboratory-grown meat is projected to hit grocery store shelves within the next few years, and the benefits are easy to understand. Meat that has been grown in a petri dish requires no animal slaughter, produces little waste, and results in the emission of 90% less greenhouse gases, among other environmental bonuses. The risk of contamination or undetected bacterial exposure is dramatically reduced, and, purportedly, it tastes basically the same as “real” meat.

There is one major problem that plagues researchers and developers, however – how to get people to actually eat it.

People are just naturally squeamish about eating meat that did not come from an animal, although it is technically generated from livestock cells. This is an especially stressful time for lab-grown meat to enter the market; all packaged food trends point towards more “natural” ingredients (real sugars, no chemical additives or antibiotics, etc.), a movement that is unlikely to relax any time soon. If General Mills can’t even get parents to buy cereal that has red #40 dye, how will manufacturers get them to buy chicken nuggets that were never part of a chicken?Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 4.48.11 PMThe answer, of course, is branding. The lab-grown meat industry is very aware of public perception, and, as a result, has invented a new term that consumers may find easier to stomach: “clean meat”.

For example, Clara Foods, which produces chicken-less egg whites from genetically modified yeast, does not call its product “artificial” egg whites – instead, they use the much nicer-sounding “clean egg whites”. Technically accurate words like “fermented” and “cultured” probably will not be featured the branding of these types of goods, and anything too sci-fi or futuristic is unlikely to make a positive impression on potential buyers. “Clean meat” plays to a lot of traits that consumers are already looking for, as the name seems to allude to health and physical wellness, as well as environmental friendliness.Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 1.51.10 PMThe “clean meat” angle is a controversial one – for starters, companies that work with and rely on livestock resent the implication that animal meat is somehow unclean, and claim that there is no reason why both animal agriculture and “cellular” agriculture cannot both be part of the plan to move to more sustainable meat consumption practices. Some have pointed out that past pushes for sterile, manufactured foods have lead to unforeseen health consequences, which the “clean meat” label fails to suggest. An example that has been cited is the movement for factory-produced enriched white bread in the early twentieth century, which is probably at least partially responsible for today’s mass gluten intolerance problem.  Critics are concerned that an overstatement of the benefits of “clean meat” could lead to reliance on a product whose long-term effects cannot be fully understood until after it has been on the market for years, and that this new name goes too far in the opposite direction of public suspicion.

Again, consumers have a few years to get used to the idea of lab-grown meat before it will be available in stores. We will just have to wait and see whether or not a fancy rebranding effort will be what is necessary to get customers to bite, and if the environmental impact will be enough to see a change of public opinion.

The History of Holiday Flavors

Screen Shot 2016-11-23 at 10.11.54 AMThere’s no way around it — 2016 has been a strange year.

Olympic athletes swam in questionable green pools. Clowns terrorized the nation for over a month. Pringles has three different dessert-flavored chips out at once… Screen Shot 2016-11-23 at 9.47.43 AM

Photo from Pringles’ official twitter

Pecan Pie, Sugar Cookie, and Salted Caramel. Count ‘em, that’s three sweet Pringles for the holiday season – limited edition, of course, as are most gimmicky flavored snacks.

Now that we are about midway through the season in which everything from chips to ChapStick has to have some pumpkin spice/gingerbread/peppermint variation, we can’t help but wonder…how did we get to this point?

Oreos are probably the treat best associated with limited edition flavors. After all, their experiments in novelty cookies are not just bound by holidays – they play the game all year long, with nearly ten new selections produced in 2016 alone (including Swedish Fish and Lemon Twist). Consumers could first buy a limited edition Oreo in 1985, when the company debuted the decidedly mild and normal Mint Crème.

Since then, it has been the Wild West in the snack flavoring world. Most companies seem to stick to the holiday season for major shakeups, and all traditional taste conventions go flying out the window the minute the temperature starts dropping. It isn’t just savory foods going sweet – in 1994, Jones Soda put out Turkey and Gravy cola (imagine the possibilities, Pringles!), and it was only a few years ago that Accoutrements put out a Thanksgiving gumball pack that included turkey-flavored gumballs.

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Photo from Amazon

Of course, the most pervasive and beloved flavor of the season is pumpkin spice. The first reference to pumpkin spice is believed to have come from the 1796 cookbook American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, and the recipe called for molasses, allspice and ginger. McCormick’s and similar brands shortened the name of their spice blend from “pumpkin pie spice” to just “pumpkin spice” as early as the 1960s, after the blend had been on the market for a decade. Trader Joe’s began carrying seasonal pumpkin goods in the mid-90’s, and as the flavor continues to get more and more popular, their selection grows – there will be ten more pumpkin-themed items for sale this year than last year. Pop-Tarts, cream cheese, vodka, cereal, bagels, coffee creamer, popcorn, even salsa and hummus – all can be found in a pumpkin spice variety this fall.

Starbucks is largely responsible for the phenomenon, as their pumpkin spice latte, which has been around for thirteen years, is by far their most popular seasonal item. They have sold over two hundred million “PSLs” since the drink debuted, earning hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the company. Social media has played a huge role in this, so much so that the drink has its own separate verified Twitter account: @TheRealPSL.

This is not to say that seasonal flavors are all about the traditional – at the height of the cupcake craze of the early 2010s, Target released a popular “holiday milk” flavored like chocolate red velvet. So there is definitely room for brands to incorporate trends into their seasonal flavor selections, and we should expect to see more creativity in the coming years. After all, 1796-2016 is a long reign for pumpkin spice. If Pringles has given us any indication, future tastes can be unexpected.

[INFOGRAPHIC] Branding the POTUS: Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton

Political branding can be a little stale, and often follows the same tired template. That is not the case, however, when the politicians involved are running for President of the United States. We were inspired by some of the things we’ve seen throughout the 2016 Presidential campaign, and we wanted to share some of the branding highlights and lowlights for each of the candidates. Just like their campaigns, the branding of Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton has been truly extraordinary, and below are some of thoughts that are worth sharing. donald trump vs hillary clinton branding infographic

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Brand Stories: How Warby Parker Clearly Saw the Finish Line

Sometimes, overthinking is key when it comes to branding. While some companies launch as quickly as possible, others take a very deliberate approach to branding. One such example is Warby Parker.5c4190dba9c25b876e9e0a45bb4542bd

Deliberate Approach to Branding

Warby Parker was founded in 2010 by four friends at Wharton. They sell prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses online and offer a limited number of physical offices throughout the United States. The idea sprouted from the co-founders recognizing that the industry was monopolized by large firms like Luxottica, making it nearly impossible for consumers to find affordable, quality glasses.

Co-founder, David Gilboa, said, “We spent about a year and a half from when we came up with the idea to when we launched, and a huge part of that was building a brand we could believe in.” Co-founder, Neil Blumenthal, actually said that most startups underinvest in branding.

Most investors would agree that they are “more disciplined about brand than any other entrepreneur.” The founders agree that when starting out, you can’t underestimate “the importance of really defining who you are and what you stand for and having a very distinct point of view.”

They carefully explored every detail of the brand design. In fact, they explored roughly 2,000 names before settling on Warby Parker, which combined two names from Jack Kerouac’s journals (Zagg Parker and Warby Pepper). They tested the name on about 1,500 of their friends to see how they reacted to it. Blumenthal recalled that “the fact that it resonated with people sort of built in credibility.”

Even the price involved a lot of thought. They set the threshold at $100, but $99 sounded discounted and “Visually, it’s not that pretty.” Blumenthal recalled that “$95 is deliberate, visually; it’s more appealing.” While it means less revenue, he found that “You sometimes have to make tradeoffs to do something creatively and beautifully versus always just going for profits. In this case we’re trading $4, but we think that the upside is bigger.”warby-parker-bird-caseThe white and light blue branding is inspired by the blue-footed booby bird. They were also inspired by Zappos’ customer service, Apple’s focus on simplicity, Nike’s brand clarity, and Patagonia’s pro-social initiatives. enhanced-buzz-5450-1364308740-6-1WPKarlie2They’ve also had highly successful brand partnerships, with celebrities like Karlie Kloss and Ryan Gosling, as well as with productions like the Man of Steel movie.

How a Mistake Turned Into a Triumph

warby-parkerWhile the founders came up with the idea for Warby Parker in 2008, they weren’t planning on launching until March 2010. GQ contacted Warby Parker for a story that would publish in the March issue (before Warby Parker had even officially launched), so Warby Parker decided that this would be their official launch date. They later found out that the magazine would hit newsstands on February 15, so the founders realized they had to push up the launch date. The site went live on February 15 and within 48 hours, the orders came pouring in so quickly that they had to temporarily suspend the home try-on program.

In the article, GQ dubbed them “the Netflix of eyewear”, leading to a waitlist of 20,000 people. In only three weeks, the company hit its first-year sales target.

Tell a Compelling Story

Warby Parker has leaned on telling engaging stories to reach a new audience. One such story occurred in 2011, when Warby Parker found a way to participate in NY Fashion Week, even though they couldn’t afford to. They invited a number of fashion editors to a “hush mob” at the public library. There, about 30 models were reading from bright blue books, dawning the latest Warby Parker designs. Every editor that attended wrote about the event.warby-barker-1-600x587Other compelling, shareable stories include Warby Parker’s 2,000+ one-to-one video answers and April Fool’s jokes (such as launching glasses for dogs). Their social mission is also highly shareable. They donate a pair of glasses to someone in need for every pair purchased. To date, they’ve donated more than a million pairs of glasses.

Trailblazing at its Finest

warby-home-try-on-600x306Most people seemed hesitant about buying glasses online. This led to Warby Parker becoming one of the first to introduce a home try-on program, where consumers can try on five frames at home, at no cost. They confirmed that people who try items are 50% likelier to buy. They were also one of the first to go direct to consumers online, rather than relying on in-person purchases. They design glasses in-house and sell only directly to consumers, which allows them to lower the cost of prescription eyewear to an affordable $95 per pair. Today, more than 50% of their traffic is driven by word-of-mouth referrals, proving that when you get the branding right in the beginning, people are sure to notice.

Busch + NASCAR = Awesome Branding and Packaging

Busch Light No. 4 Car

Anheuser-Busch is creating limited-edition packaging throughout the 2016 NASCAR season and celebrating the brand’s return to the sport of racing by leveraging its packaging assets via its racing platform.

“Busch obviously has a great track record and strong roots in NASCAR and the sport of racing overall. We’re thrilled to be back,” says Chelsea Phillips, senior director, US Value Brands, Anheuser-Busch. “Our marketing efforts already focused on our long-running association with outdoor pursuits, especially those who enjoy hunting and fishing. We’re able to leverage the racing platform to amplify these initiatives, taking advantage of the natural synergies that take place across our interests in NASCAR, hunting and fishing.”

For example, the paint schemes for Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Chevrolet are heavily inspired by the look of its iconic can. Every time Harvick’s car is seen—whether it’s during a race or on social media—fans make an instant connection to the Busch product.

Harvick has been very involved in the process since Day One. The goal was to create highly visual cans that would resonate with the company’s core target—passionate outdoorsmen and fishermen. The cans display some of the most popular species of fish that are found in our nation’s lakes and streams.Busch Fishing Angler + Trophy Cans_“When we approached Kevin with the idea of using the No. 4 car as a platform to launch our fishing campaign, he was instantly on board,” Phillips says. “He’s an avid outdoorsmen himself, so it just made perfect sense and feels super authentic to us.”

Overall, Busch’s “Here’s to Earning It” tagline and overall brand persona are a perfect fit for NASCAR, and this sponsorship has resonated strongly with racing enthusiasts.

“Due to our brand’s deep racing roots and dedication to outdoor pursuits, we’re able to put some eye-catching designs on the track on race day,” Phillips says. “In addition to the standard Busch and Busch Light paint schemes, we fielded a Busch fish car paint scheme at Talladega, and we’ll have a retro car for the Southern 500 at Darlington in September, reminiscent of Cale Yarborough’s iconic 1979 Daytona 500 car.”

Busch-Fishing-Meets-RacingSince its initial design, the branding and packaging has evolved. For instance, it’s cut down on the number of species featured on the packaging so that folks can attempt to collect all varieties. Specifically regarding the limited-edition packaging—which inspired the look of the Busch fish car that ran at Talladega—all Busch and Busch Light packaging was converted beginning May 8 to feature one of four unique fish cans, or the ultimate prize: the brand new gold trophy can.

5 Unheralded 90’s Brands

In recent years, 90’s nostalgia has been finding its way into new branded products, motion pictures and various other areas of daily life.  Particularly among 30-somethings, this nostalgia has become a mega-trend, and its hitting a fever pitch with the success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and Coke’s recent limited re-release of Surge soda.  Hollywood is talking about a 90’s film remake frenzy, and no doubt food and beverage marketers are starting to comb through their history books to find old cult classics to re-introduce.

Given all that, this whole 90’s thing got us thinking… what are some 90’s pop culture icons that we could see re-emerging in one form or another?  Or alternatively, what are some icons that have flown under the radar during this 90’s renaissance?  Below is a list of our 5 favorites – some might present brand licensing opportunities, and others are just fun for us to talk about again.  Enjoy.

5. Dunk-a-Roos

dunkaroos brand licensingDunk-a-Roos were a kids snack from Betty Crocker that first launched in 1988. They consisted of a snack-sized package containing cookies and icing – the cookies were dunked into the icing before eating.  As the jingle stated, you dont just eat, you dunk a rooooooos.  Dunk-a-Roos basically represent the complete opposite of most current food trends such as simple food, natural, organic, etc.  That said, they have two things going for them.  First, they were delicious.  Cookies and icing go together like… cookies and icing.  And second, they likely have extraordinarily high brand recognition among 30’s somethings, and no doubt evoke fond memories of lunch boxes, cartoons and on the go junkfood eating.  Not sure from some brief google searches whether these things are still in production, but if not they should be.

4.  Urkel

urkel brand licensingSteve Urkel was a fictional character on the ABC/CBS sitcom Family Matters, and was portrayed by Jaleel White.  Rivaled only by Screetch from Saved by the Bell 90’s TV fame, Urkel was a one of the most lovable and iconic nerds in television history.  Not sure exactly how he could be incorporated into a modern day campaign or product or brand, but most people in their 30’s can identify with the name, and the Urkel brand seems to have slid under the radar with the tidal wave of 90’s nostalgia.  Other than a brief Dancing with the Stars gig, Jaleel White has similarly stayed under the radar.  Urkel suspenders anyone?  (kidding)

3. Babysitter’s Club

BSC brand licensingThe Baby-Sitters Club  is a series of novels written by Ann Martin and published by Scholastic between 1986 and 2000, and sold 170 million copies.  It spawned countless spinoffs and licensed properties, including a TV show and a movie, among other things.  No doubt this franchise was much more popular with girls than boys during the 90’s, and probably retains more equity with today’s 30-something females than males.  Given that I am a 34 year old male, I couldnt tell you anything about the plot, characters, background or any other details about the franchise – but the name still resonates with me.  Even if this franchise doesnt inspire a new book series or movie, someone has got to be able to do something with this brand.

2. Carmen Sandiego

carmen brand licensingCarmen Sandiego was originally a computer game which would get kids interested in geography, and it evolved into a media franchise of educational computer and video games, television series, books, and other media featuring a  villain of the same name.  I remember this brand as a computer game that was introduced to me in computer class in 3rd grade – which I would play as an alternative to reading about computers – and as a TV show that I watched when nothing else was on.  Im sure many of my contemporaries probably have the same memories.  One way or another, if you are a 90’s child, you know the name and the jingle… where in the world iiiiiis Carmen Sandieeeego??

1. Reebok Pump

reebok-pump-brand-licensingThe Reebok Pump is a line of sneakers that became a phenomenon in the early 1990s.  It was released in 1989, as a basketball high-top shoe.  The shoe was much more expensive than most sneakers at the time, and it often was 150% more than the next most expensive sneaker on the market.  It became  of a status symbol first on urban basketball courts and then later in suburban high schools.  The Reebok still seems to be making the Pump, and while I am no sneaker afficionado, this brand seems to have retained a pretty prominent following and cool factor with the both children of the 90’s and the millennial generation alike.  Hipsters love these things.  Given the cross-generational appeal, and particularly the millennial appeal, and you have to imagine there are some new and interesting cross category marketing opportunities for this brand.  Its not nearly as ubiquitous as it should be in popular culture today.