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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 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.

Package Design Trend: Dramatic Callouts

As consumers become more resolute in their preferences for trends that have been growing over the past few years (“simple” ingredients, environmentally-friendly production practices, etc.), brands are responding by dramatically highlighting these traits in their packaging. This has proved successful for many breakout brands, and this strategy should be considered in order to show potential consumers that their needs are the primary concern of the company.

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Protein bar manufacturer RXBAR took a pretty big gamble when they shrunk their logo by 60% in their 2017 package redesign. Their risk paid off enormously – by making the ingredients (which are easy for buyers to understand, a valued feature for modern shoppers) the star of the design, they launched their product into third place in its category.

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KIND chose a similar strategy with their line of pressed bars, minimizing their brand name in order to free up room for the ingredients to shine. The company states that each bar adds two servings off fruit to one’s daily routine, and that the snack is made with just fruit and vegetables or fruit and chia. The packaging callouts emphasize this “simple” makeup.

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This packaging from design agency mousegraphics reads like a recipe, taking what RXBAR has done a step further. While the funky hand-drawn typeface is a little difficult to read, the flavors are easily distinguished because whichever ingredient is most present in each bar gets a corresponding color and small illustration at the bottom. The project won a 2017 Dieline Award for Outstanding Achievement.

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Halo Top majorly disrupted the ice cream category with its loud display of its outrageously low calorie count. The treat is made with stevia instead of sugar, meaning that the brand is able to differentiate themselves from fatty, indulgent competitors. Here, this fact is the hero of the packaging, as the calories-per-pint count is the first thing that draws the consumer’s eye.

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Water for Change, which donates 10 liters of water to villagers in need for every carton purchased, won an A’Design Award for this packaging. The hand-to-hand illustration clearly calls out the value that the product offers beyond its basic function, and floating words like “eco friendly” and “sustainable” further express the image of environmental health that the brand is trying to promote.

 

 

The Present and Future of Alcohol

Alcohol is a multibillion-dollar market in the US, one that must constantly evolve in order to keep up with changing consumer needs. The category has seen some serious innovation so far this year, and our understanding of where the industry is now has provided us with some pretty significant clues as to where we can expect it to go in the near future.

The Present: Millennials Don’t Have Brand Loyalty

 

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According to a recent Nielsen study, last month only 24% of millennials knew what brand they wanted to purchase when they entered a liquor store. This is in stark contrast to 52% of baby boomers, who tend to have more developed, concrete preferences in this category. The study also found that just 11% of millennials bought alcohol on impulse.

What This Means for the Future

 

Alcohol brands can look at millennials’ lack of brand loyalty as an opportunity to have greater influence in-store, which means more investment in assets like package design and in-store advertising. Additionally, brands can be expected to make stronger attempts at building relationships with consumers via social media engagement.

The Present: Heineken Just Debuted a Non-Alcoholic Beer

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Heineken just released “Heinken 0.0” in order to compete with industry giants like AB InBev, which has made it their goal for 20% of their beer to be low- or zero-alcohol within the next eight years. Non-alcoholic beer manufacturers are also seeing the product as a potential rival to soft drinks, which have been losing retail momentum to lower-calorie options (Heineken 0.0 has half the calories of Coca-Cola).

What This Means for the Future

 

Beer brands – as well as other alcohol manufacturers – are going to start considering the financial promise of alternative markets. While producing non-alcoholic beverages may seem like an odd departure from convention for Heineken, research has shown that the European market for non-alcoholic beer has grown over the past five years as the overall beer market shrank. In Spain, zero-alcohol beers have as much as 10% market share. The future of the alcohol industry is going to depend on identifying and supporting niche trends like this that show potential for going global.

 

The Present: “Poptails” are Taking Off in the US

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The recent trend of “sloshies” (frozen alcoholic slushies, usually with a white wine base) has now evolved into “poptails”, frozen alcoholic popsicles. Initially introduced into the UK market, the treat has just become available in the US through brands like FrutaPop. Each pop in this particular brand has 5% alcohol and comes in thirteen flavors, including Sparkling Prosecco, Cranberry Mojito, Pina Colada, Rum Punch, and White Coconut Sangria.

What This Means for the Future

 

Innovation in the alcohol industry is trending towards understanding the consumer’s environment. Both poptails and sloshies appeal to young people drinking outdoors – summertime parties, poolside lounging, and beach trips are all served well by these products. Additionally, freezing the drink allows brands to incorporate the kind of special cocktail features that one could find in a bar, like the sprig of mint encased in the boozy Watermelon Mint Lemonade Pop. Finding ways to include these types of added-value traits is going to be imperative for new product development.

 

The Present: e-Commerce is Changing the Game

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The explosion in popularity of both online shopping and subscription box services is affecting the way that alcohol brands are packaging their products. Bulky, heavy glass bottles were never especially ideal for shipping from warehouses to retail locations, and they are doubly impractical for direct mailing. UK startup Garcon Wines has been in the news lately for their ingenious flat bottle design, intended to make the wine easier to fit through a traditional English letterbox.

 What This Means for the Future

 

Alcohol manufacturers (particularly wine companies) will begin straying from classic bottle designs and will start looking towards new solutions that preserve the product in a lightweight, yet functional way. It can be as simple as following Garcon Wines’ example with more compact structures, or brands can go as far as Bota Box has with their award-winning cartons, which are both much lighter and far less prone to breaking than standard wine bottles.

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As more brands begin to focus their attention on e-commerce rather than retail, design strategy will move away from what looks best on the shelf and will instead consider what will provide the easiest means of quickly transporting the alcohol to the consumer.

 

Brand Equity is Overrated

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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.

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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%.

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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.

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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.

How Packaging Can Tell a Story

Effective product packaging can shout from the shelves, even as they grow increasingly crowded. It can instantly answer any question that consumers might have, so that they easily understand the product. Packaging should tell the story of what makes the brand unique and what the product’s purpose is.

First Impressions Matter Most

Consumers are creatures of habit, so they tend to choose what they know and opt for familiar stories, recognizable brands, and engaging packaging. By conveying a story through packaging, a brand can feel more accessible and relatable, instantly building brand loyalty and enhancing the customer experience.

While you can use more than just the packaging to convey your story, the packaging is usually the first thing people see. Considering that the average first impression is made within seven seconds, it’s crucial to hook your customers immediately.

How to Tell Your Story

The packaging design needs to lead consumers where you want them to go, so they understand the story you’re trying to tell. Through the use of colors, materials, textures, type, and copy, your packaging can evoke certain feelings and emotions that draw consumers in.

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A picture is worth a thousand words, and packaging can speak volumes with no words at all. As an example, Scanwood instantly tells the story of the wood’s history with their simple, yet effective packaging design. The award-winning design from Goodmorning Technology Team appeals to global retail markets by telling a story without using words or any additional packaging. As the team put it: “This branded story is now visible and understandable across all different markets and languages”.

Know Your Target Audience

Once you know your target audience, your packaging needs to resonate with that group of people. For example, emphasizing that you run a family-owned business through approachable, “down home” packaging can entice your customers by making them feel like the product is more relatable and could have been made by someone like them.

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Stonyfield displays this perfectly with their storytelling packaging. By displaying cows grazing in an open field, they instantly tell the story of happy cows on a family ranch. It evokes positive feelings and emotions, making consumers more likely to choose it over the competition. By featuring one of the family farms that supplies milk for Stonyfield, Webb Scarlett de Vlam created packaging that Stonyfield feels “now reflects who we are and what we have stood for for over 25 years.”

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Coca-Cola is frequently referenced as one of the best examples of storytelling through branding and packaging. Their effective personalized packaging instantly encourages sharing with friends and weaves a story in the minds of consumers.

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Holiday and seasonal packaging is another great example of telling a story through packaging. By emphasizing the holiday or theme (such as adding a simple bow or wrapping), it makes the packaging feel special enough to share or gift with others.

Your packaging should share a story with potential consumers about what benefits the product can offer them. Taking the time to create a remarkable design can result in long-term profits, a loyal customer base, and an effective brand culture.

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.

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.

 

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.