Retro Packaging Is All the Rage

Today’s world is fast, non-stop, and all about constant communication and information gathered through our phones and tablets. But even in this modern, technology-driven world, sometimes looking back to simpler times is the best way to draw customers, and that’s where retro packaging comes in.

Retro packaging hits people’s sense of nostalgia, and also implies longevity. When a well-known company brings back old designs, or designs a new look that looks vintage, it reminds people that the brand has been around a long time. For example, M&Ms are marking their 75th anniversary and is rolling out several designs inspired by its packaging over the years, but at the same time are also introducing new flavors of the beloved chocolate candy.


New companies are also savvy enough to take advantage of the retro look. In 2012 for instance, Small Town Brewery, in Wauconda, Illinois, introduced Not Your Father’s Root Beer, an alcoholic beer with a root beer taste, with packaging featuring a man dressed in 19th-century clothing. Other features of the logo included a barrel and old-style fonts. Even the cardboard container for the beer’s six-pack is designed to look like a small wooden crate.

“Retro packaging and labeling carry the appeal of quirkiness and nostalgia, and they project authenticity to shoppers,” says Bruce D. Sanders, a consumer psychologist, retail consultant and author of “Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers.”

He notes that during a three-week stretch in 2011, Heinz Ketchup re-introduced its eight-sided glass bottle from the 1990s; Hostess Cakes used retro packaging; and PepsiCo rolled out throwback versions of Pepsi and Mountain Dew.

“But trends do have a freshness date,” he says. “The special edition of Heinz Ketchup disappeared after five months. The Hostess Cakes items made their Brigadoon-style appearance for one month.”

The bad economy that has marked much of the 2000s is one reason for all of this looking-back, according to Sanders.

“Nostalgia is more attractive to shoppers during times of uncertainty, such as from economic downturns or social isolation,” he says. “Consumer behavior researchers find that when people are feeling lonely, they get interested in nostalgia. In one study, when consumers were made to feel socially uncertain by the experimental manipulation, they became more likely to prefer automobile makes, food brands, TV shows, movies, and even shower soaps which reminded them of their personal history.”

He adds that some brands are “perennially retro,” such as L.L. Bean and Restoration Hardware.

“They aim to project authenticity via continuity,” Sanders says. “A retro image is associated in shoppers’ minds with a store being in business for a long time, carrying trustworthy merchandise and staffed with reliable people.”


Isaac Cohen, Chairman of the JNCO clothing line, says the company has embraced its retro roots.

“Back in the ’90s, JNCO was an international sensation thanks to its comfortable wide-legged jeans and non-conformist philosophy that represented the best of retro SoCal culture,” Cohen says. “When we revived the brand in 2015, we tried to reinvent the brand and the style of our clothes to match the modern trends. This approach yielded moderate success, but after answering the pleas from our followers asking for a return to our ’90s styles, our revival really took off. For our die-hard follower base, our retro products and packaging have worked to our advantage and helped strengthen our overall brand.”

Randy Gunter is the owner of the Gunter Agency, a marketing, advertising and design firm. His company acquired a consumer company, McNess Consumer Products, last October. McNess has been selling home, health and cleaning products since the early 20th century, and Gunter is emphasizing the company’s long history with its packaging.

“McNess has been around since 1908 and we are in the process of changing some of the packaging, but everything is with a retro design,” Gunter says. “When we took over, there was a lot of inconsistency. There are still some products that need to be changed yet, but we’re doing that when we need to replace inventory… We’re in the process of also bringing back several old products that had been discontinued.

So when it comes to retro packaging, you could say that everything old is new again.

Packaging for Millennials

Millennials are the next wave of influential shoppers. Born between 1981 and 2000, studies show they will be 50 percent of the workforce by the year 2020 and will spend more than $200 billion annually, starting in 2017. Millennials are loyal to brands that treat them well, offer new experiences, and are aligned with their beliefs. That’s why it’s important that packaging appeals to this generation in the best way.

Joseph Anthony, a millennial marketing expert and CEO of HERO Group, has worked with some of the world’s leading brands such as Pfizer, Nintendo, Pepsi and Nike, says Millennials look for a personal connection to their preferred brands and are more likely to buy a product if it makes them feel special through this personal connection or the idea of exclusivity.

A new report from Mintel, Marketing to Millennials, revealed limiting the availability of a product creates a unique purchase experience in which brands effectively satisfy the pronounced desire of Millennials to have the latest, greatest and most exclusive products. It notes that offering a limited-time-only rollout of personalized packaging has the ability to create unique connections with consumers who might be mulling a purchase.UnknownDigital Plays a Role

The role of packaging in the digital space plays more of a brand-building role than in traditional brick and mortar shopping environments. In social media, packaging may not have to do the job of shelf impact and differentiation, but there’s an opportunity to play with brand elements in a simpler, more iconic way that makes consumers want to share across their social channels.

For example, packaging that includes quick-response (QR) codes right on the label gives consumers immediate access to a community that is also participating and purchasing the same products as they are.

Recent examples of brands doing this include Coca Cola, Frito-Lay’s and Heinz.

Lorrie Frear, an associate professor in package design and packaging science at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, N.Y., says that when communicating information about a brand, it is critical that brand managers and designers consider mobile as a key component of the entire brand strategy and not as an add-on

“Consumers use devices in making buying decisions quickly, so be sure that information is easy to find on the packaging and not small or hidden,” she says. “The user experience is critical to acquiring return customers, so be sure that any interaction takes less than a few seconds to accomplish and that the destination is reached within three clicks.”UnknownIn Vogue

A big trend in packaging with Millennials in mind is reseal. Over the last few years, the snack aisle has seen more and more packaging with reseal tabs to allow consumers to eat a handful and then reseal the packaging for later.

There are a few main benefits to this type of packaging, particularly for Millennials. It’s convenient and portable for their busy lifestyles; it promotes healthy snacking as many of these items are pre-cut, peeled fruit; and the food stays fresher longer using a moisture vapor film barrier.

Ryan Lupberger, founder of Cleancult, which delivers non-toxic laundry pods, designed his packaging with Millennials in mind. The company’s market research has shown that Millennials want to buy responsible products, but are actually 23 percent less likely to purchase a “green” brand.

“We saw that Millennials wanted two things. They wanted packaging that could be recycled, but they also wanted this packaging to be durable and design focused,” he says. “Most were not interested in packaging that signified it was cheaper or just eco-friendly. They care about purchasing products that combine design, convenience, and responsible packaging. They are not willing to sacrifice one of these things for a more eco-friendly package.”

Millennials also seem to care about humor in the opening experience of the packaging. Companies like Naturebox and Dollar Shave Club have done well because they combined all three things with a focus on humor.

Sustainable Packaging

While packaging design is crucial to set your product apart from competitors, a recent Asia Pulp & Paper study found that packaging appearance, including design, is less of a factor for purchasing than one might think. According to the research, Millennials are placing less focus on packaging design and demanding more functional and sustainable packaging. In fact, only 21 percent of Millennials surveyed indicated design as the most important feature when making purchasing decisions.

Reducing the volume of packaging – and the types of materials used – continues to be a good way to improve functionality and the sustainability of a product’s packaging and a goal of many companies around the globe. It not only makes sense from a business standpoint but also from a sustainability and customer relations standpoint.

Companies are discovering that one way to ensure and build customer loyalty is to prevent situations that may cause a delay in opening their packages. The simple solution is to utilize packaging that can be easily opened – no tools required. Paper-related products are not only the most frustration-free type of packaging, but they’re also one of the most recyclable and sustainable at this point.

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.

5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Branding Agency

Choosing the right branding agency

There is never a shortage of things to worry about when running a business.  As a result, even for large companies branding is an often-neglected piece of the marketing puzzle.  Moreover, even when companies decide to invest in their brand, the field is a specialized one that can be hard to navigate.  Choosing the right branding agency should not only address an urgent business need (i.e., a new logo), but it can also change the way you look at your business.

There are a variety of things to look for when choosing a branding agency, but below we highlight five of the most important ones (in our humble opinion).

1. Do they (or can they) understand your business?

This may be the most important thing to discover about your shiny new agency candidate.  Most branding agencies will roll out their most impressive examples of prior work, and they will showcase their largest clients.  You should be looking beyond the sparkly exterior and really probing their business acumen.  Its easy to create beautiful and impressive looking designs and brand identities.  But beautiful and impressive are frequently not the solution to your business problem.  Do they have the ability to understand your consumer, your industry and your position in the market?  Will they lead their ideation and design process with those things, or will they focus first on creating visually engaging and cutting edge design solutions?  Not that there is anything wrong with beautiful and cutting edge, but those should be arrows in the agency’s quiver – not arrows that they shoot every time.

2. How creative are they really?

There are no (good) cookie cutter solutions when it comes to branding – or any other creative work for that matter.  Choosing a branding agency that comes up with fresh ideas and creative solutions will help set your business apart from the rest, stay current, and identify both problems and strengths with your business positioning.  Great creative will allow you to stand out from your competitors.  Obviously you want to look closely at their portfolio, and evaluate how pretty, cool and fresh their design work is.  You want their work to stand out in those areas from other agencies that you are interviewing.  That said, you also want to consider (and have them explain) how their portfolio projects compare to other brands in the relevant industries.  You want an agency with a deep understanding of branding, design and marketing trends.  While the most creative work is not always the solution, you want an agency that can always deliver the most creative work.

3. What are their past results like?

It shouldn’t be a secret what your branding agency can do for you, and what their past results look like.  Can they meet your goals? Ask for metrics, analytics, reports, and take a look at their measurable results.  ROI has become an overused buzzword, but it is definitely relevant in this context.  Ask for case studies where they detail the ROI that a client experienced in connection with their work.  Can they point you to the success of a past client after a rebrand project?  Can they point to a product that was a big hit after a packaging design project?  Can they give you numbers?   This will help you determine what their past results have been like, as a whole, and will also give you insight into what the agency finds most important (based on what and how they measure).

4. What is their process like?

Branding a product or service can be nearly impossible without a set process.  Accordingly, most agencies follow certain processes for their projects.  Many have trademarked or otherwise named their processes.  While these are often cheesy catchphrases, they at least give you a look into your prospective agency’s creative process.  If they don’t offer up details about their process, ask about it.  Most branding processes start with some form of creative brief – ask to see a sample creative brief.  Dig in and don’t feel bad about looking behind the wizard’s curtain.

5. Are they a versatile bunch?

You need to have a real understanding of your business problem, and you should have expectations in terms of what services and deliverables you will need.  Obviously you will look to your prospective agencies for their feedback on those points, but the first step is understanding the problem.  In that regard, very few branding agencies can solve all of your problems on their own, with their in-house staff.  Most branding agencies rely on freelancers to complete certain aspects of their client projects (designers, web developers, copyrighters, etc).  Be sure to ask what their core capabilities are internally, what they would need to outsource as part of your scope of work.  The more they can control in house, the better.

Choosing a branding agency – or rather, the right agency – will take some time.  Ask for references, google them, compare portfolios, and take your time researching agencies.  And last but not least, make sure you like who you will be working with and are confident that they are the right cultural fit for your company.

Brand Positioning for Men’s Grooming Products

dollar shave club brand positioning

The personal grooming market is experiencing healthy growth boosted by innovative packaging and viral marketing campaigns, and a large number of competitors that are very skilled in brand positioning.  To that end, male consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of using grooming products, according to Kline’s 2012 research report.

Read more…

Creative Packaging and the Male Consumer

Just how far will creative packaging take a product?  Can it create a new market out of thin air?  Or is it simply just another arrow in the marketer’s quiver?  In our humble (or rather, biased) opinion, product packaging is somewhere in between.  A recent article by the Australian design agency Truly Deeply got us thinking about this issue (its well worth the read).

When it comes to gender roles and gender cues, packaging is very effective at targeting in not so subtle ways.  The Truly Deeply article noted above features a student project by Dutch design student Annemiek van der Beek.  The project is a package design concept for a male-oriented cosmetics line, as seen below.

Creative Packaging - Masculine Cosmetics

 Clearly this creative packaging crosses boundaries from a gender perspective and introduces masculine visual cues into a very feminine product category.  Would something like this work?  Depends on the category and the consumer profile.  Its not entirely clear that there is a market for very masculine cosmetics.  That said, this concept–while somewhat extreme–demonstrates how innovative and creative packaging can be effective at repositioning a product for an entirely new (perhaps shockingly so) consumer segment.

This masculine design makes us think of a couple of other creative packaging examples that we were recently struck by, per below.  Any interest in yogurt, gentlemen?

Creative Packaging - Masculine Yogurt

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Brand Extension Done Right

As we all know, the world of consumer packaged goods is littered with products that just don’t make sense.  The business environment is extremely competitive, and that competitiveness drives brand managers to constantly experiment with new products and innovations.  In many cases, these new products are so misaligned with their brands that consumers are left confused, and often even worse – irritated.  Buzzfeed recently featured a list of some of the most ridiculous (and hilarious) product failures of all time, which is worth a quick read.   Pizza Hut body spray?  Cheetos lip balm?  Yes please!!!

All that said, from time to time you see products that are so well-developed and so well-aligned with their brands that they just seemingly can’t miss.  We recently came across two such products, and of course we wanted to share with you all.  Below are a couple of products that, well, just make sense.

Texas Pete Cha!

Sriracha Brand Extension

We have long been surprised by how few Sriracha products exist on the market.  Sriracha is a Thai condiment that is made from a paste of chili peppers and vinegar, among other things.  It has very recently become one of the most popular condiments in the US, and it’s amazing that no national brands have entered into this market given its size and momentum.  To that end, there is only one dominant brand of Sriracha, which is produced by a little known company named Huy Fong Foods.  That said, Texas Pete, the maker of the #3 hot sauce in the country, is now planning a nationwide launch of its own Sriracha product, “Cha!”

Their entry into the Sriracha market is such a logical brand extension, as they have built a popular niche brand that is closely associated with hot sauces and condiments.  Sriracha is a perfectly reasonable extension for Texas Pete, and will allow them to enter into a cutting edge and growing product category, with precious little competition.  While nothing in life is guaranteed, how can this not work?

Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups

Peanut Butter Cup Brand Extension

In January 2014 Nestle will be taking Butterfinger into the peanut butter cup world.  While peanut butter cups are a fairly crowded field (dominated by Reese’s, no doubt), we love this brand extension almost as much as the Texas Pete Sriracha (almost).  Butterfinger has built incredibly strong brand equity as a crispy, peanut buttery and chocolaty candy bar.  Seems to be a natural fit to extend this reservoir of brand equity while introducing the loyal Butterfinger fans to a new chocolaty and peanut buttery product, in a category that should be very familiar to them.  Nestle intends to introduce the Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups with a Superbowl ad, and we cant wait to see it (and to try it ourselves).

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Oh, Hello Hershey’s


Lancaster - a new candy package design from Hershey's

A look at Lancaster soft caramel packaging

Last week Hershey’s announced that it is launching its first new brand (i.e., not a line extension or acquired brand) in the last 30 years. The new brand will be named “Lancaster” and will feature multiple varieties of caramel soft cremes that are set to roll out nationwide in early 2014. Hershey’s has already conducted an initial launch for this brand in three cities in China, and that launch will also be followed by wider Chinese distribution next year.

The product itself fits squarely into an established candy category occupied by such established brands as Werther’s Original (August Storck KG, a German company), Nips (Nestle) and Kraft Caramels, among others. That said, Hershey’s seems to have departed from the bold colors and dramatic typography that are featured on most all candy caramel packaging (if not all candy package design in general). Instead, Hershey’s elected to create an elegant yet understated brand featuring simple and modern package design, with earth tones and sophisticated typography. Not what you would expect to see in the candy aisle, but nonetheless a refreshing new candy package design.

Click here for the press release announcing the launch.

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