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”.

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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.

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.

 

Original Packaging that was Better than the Redesign

Package redesigns are famously tricky. On the one hand, updating a product’s look can be an important part of appealing to new consumers and staying fresh in an evolving market. On the other hand, companies risk losing valuable brand equity when they sacrifice recognizable design. When faced with the challenge of a redesign, sometimes brands just don’t get it quite right, and would have been better off sticking with their original look. Here are three recent examples of redesigns that did not deliver the effect that companies intended.

Miracle Whip

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In Kraft’s defense, Miracle Whip was due for a modern upgrade. The redesign that they chose in 2009, however, was uninspiring and bland. It’s clear that they were trying to go more minimalist, but the result made the product look unappetizing and generic, with no indicators of flavor other than the words “The Tangy Original”. Kraft quickly realized the error of their ways, and in 2010 a new design was released that retained more of the fun and color of the original packaging.

Weight Watchers

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In 2012, Weight Watcher’s had their logo redesigned by Pentagram. Keeping with the trends of the time, they opted for a gradient and a heavy font, with no space between the words. The company, which sells products related to dieting ranging from books to packaged foods, wanted their new look to highlight the transformation that consumers experience through the brand. What they were not counting on, however, was that a vulgar British slang word was now smack dab in the middle of the logo, which consumers in the U.K. found very difficult to look past.

The Happy Meal

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Few things are as iconic to the children of America as the Happy Meal box. The simple, sweet design had a lot of personality, and it represented years of brand loyalty that McDonald’s had built with families. In 2014, the company decided to reintroduce mascots into their branding, including a new one in the form of “Happy”, whose realistic smile and crazy eyes terrified consumers. The new boxes quickly became the subject of public ridicule and scorn, inspiring everything from memes to thinkpieces about how McDonald’s had evidently lost their minds.

An important thing to keep in mind here is that all three of these companies – Kraft, Weight Watchers, and McDonald’s – are multimillion-dollar corporations with huge marketing teams and expensive consumer research, yet even they have gotten redesigns very, very wrong. It’s difficult work, and both the design community and the food and beverage industry are still figuring out the best ways of going about it. But for every failure, we all learn a little more about how to do better next time, which is especially true for companies that are as large as these three. If the public disaster of the new Happy Meal box prevented us from having to deal with more disturbing mascots that may have been in the works, then it was worth it.

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.

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 Stories: PBR and the $44 Beer Bottle

PBR's Brand Repositioning

Pabst Blur Ribbon, better known to most as PBR, has served as one of the most popular beers for middle class Americans since its origin in 1844.  What was once the cheapest beer on the shelf is now a global phenomenon.

Brand Repositioning in the Early 2000s

In the early 2000s, PBR gained popularity with urban hipsters, college students, and millenials. The new fans were attracted to the minimal marketing and non-mainstream attitude. Following a nearly 20-year decline, sales suddenly rose 5%.

While most companies would have rebranded to appeal to this new audience, PBR opted to keep their branding the same in order to maintain the authenticity that attracted hipsters in the first place. Instead, they sponsored customer events and featured user-submitted photography and fan art on their website to encourage customer interaction, all without calling in the PR team.

Finding an Audience Abroad

Following the example General Motors set in 1999, PBR set out to appeal to a worldwide market and created a case study in brand repositioning.  In fact, big-name brands have been branding to the foreign market for decades. If you’ve ever taken a trip to Europe, you may find Disney comics are just as popular there as they are here. Kit-Kats and Spam are two other food brands that sell just as well abroad—if not better—than they do domestically.

Through a licensing agreement and joint venture arrangement with China Pabst Blue Ribbon, the American company has been able to successfully branch outside of the United States. PBR rebranded their once generic American product with a luxury ad campaign. What has been deemed “Blue Ribbon 1844” is selling for $44 a bottle in China. The specialty beer is considered a luxury in China and gives the perception of riches.

Brand Repositioning - The Story of PBR

The brewmaster states that the specially crafted reddish brown strong ale is in fact better than its American counterpart. “Blue Ribbon 1844” has the appearance of brandy, an updated recipe, and is aged rather uniquely, but it appears that the branding and perception is what is attracting most Chinese consumers.

PBR was once considered a working-class beer, but due to recent rebranding efforts, it has become the beer of choice for hipsters, college students, everyday Americans, and foreign enthusiasts alike.  The increase in sales led to a 10% price increase in 2009.  PBR’s success domestically and abroad has led to pricing shifts throughout the beer industry worldwide.

Pabst Blue Ribbon has proven that any business can create a successful brand identity and reposition themselves to be who they want to be, regardless of their current image. They continue to be one of the fastest-growing consumer brands in the country, with widespread influence around the world.

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…

Color Theory & Package Design

Custom Packaging & Color Theory

When it comes to branding and packaging, color is crucial.  Colors are often used to trigger sensory reactions and emotions, and to prompt consumers to make assessments about brands.

In an article in the Journal of Management History entitled Impact of Color on Marketing, researchers found that 60-90% of people make snap judgments about products within 90 seconds based on color alone.  “Prudent use of colors can contribute not only to differentiating products from competitors, but also to influencing moods and feelings – positively or negatively – and therefore, to attitude towards certain products.  Given that our moods and feelings are unstable and that colors play roles in forming attitude, it is important that managers understand the importance of colors in marketing.“

Marketing studies suggest that our habits prefer instantly recognizable brands, which makes color incredibly important when creating a brand identity.  Color Research & Application recommends that new brands choose colors that specifically differentiate them from established competitors (Coca-Cola’s can is red, Pepsi’s is blue, 7-Up’s is green… see where this is going?).

All that said, it is important to note that the symbiotic relationship between brands and color can work for you, but it can also work against you.  The reason is that there are hardwired connections between colors and the products they represent.  Yellow is often used to trigger hunger (Golden Arches, anyone?), possibly due to the fact that starches and breads are often yellow and brown.  Blue is subdued and suppresses appetite, and dominant blues and greens are historically unpopular in food packaging design (save in generic household cleaning products and cereals).

Researchers at the University of British Columbia showed fake ads to a group of students, and studied their feedback after seeing different colors.  Red produced a positive evaluation of the imaginary product.  Blue evoked images of water and tranquility: oceans, openness, peace, calm.  They found that blue in product packaging was successful to accomplish specific goals in consumers’ minds—a whitening toothpaste that stops tooth decay –– while red was best to illicit an emotional response and trigger memory.

While certain colors are closely associated with specific traits (e.g., brown with “ruggedness”, black with “sophistication” and “luxury”, red with “passion”), most design and branding professionals agree that it’s far more essential for a brand’s colors to support their personality and messaging rather than reinforcing color association stereotypes.  There is a strong correlation between the use of colors and consumers’ perceptions of a brand’s personality.  Predicting consumer reaction to a product’s color and custom packaging design is far more important than the color itself.  Remember, branding and packaging design can be aspirational… purchasing decisions reflect how the consumer wants their lifestyle to be, not as it actually is.

There are no absolute, concrete parameters or set of guidelines for choosing a brand’s colors and packaging color scheme.  Shoot instead to capture subtle feeling, mood, and brand image, because this has the ultimate power of persuasion.

With all that said, here’s an infographic from First Site Guide that speaks to many of these issues, as well as many others! 

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