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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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.

Pop Culture Packaging: The Impact of TV and Movies on Design

Pop culture has always and will always be a great tool to leverage for information. It is a bridge that connects marketing teams to consumers when updating an old, tired look or developing a new product for a new target audience.

A Yale University study from a few years back revealed that the use of movie and TV characters on food packaging is designed to access certain feelings, memories, and associations, making them seem more desirable.

That’s why cartoon characters are often used on packaging to help sell junk food and other foods that companies are trying to appeal to little ones. Not that it’s all bad; for every Fred Flintstone on a cereal box, there is a Dora the Explorer or a Big Bird being used to help sell fruit and vegetables.

But it’s much more than food. Other brands have tied TV and movie character packaging to items such as wine, vitamins and even electronics.Homer-Marge-wine-572x354Tien Nguyen
, lead industrial designer for Studio One Eleven, a division of Berlin Packaging, says that in the past couple of years, the firm has noticed companies of all sizes have been leveraging endorsement from celebrities in the music, TV, and movie industries to gain more brand awareness, and the impact can be seen on packaging.

For example, Studio One Eleven recently launched a multivitamin gummies package with a leading nutritional supplements manufacturer, where they were able to leverage the multi-generational following of the Star Wars saga.

StarWarsVitaminsHero_2a “Our team designed and engineered special-edition overcaps based on the characters from the series to make their products more fun and appealing for kids and adults,” Nguyen says. “We were able to target both young kids that may be experiencing Star Wars for the first time (with the recent launch of Episode 7), and the diehard fans that fell in love with the saga from the original series.”

Davidson’s Organics—the first certified organic, fair trade and specialty tea company in the U.S.— just completed a package redesign for its 400 varieties of teas and accessories, centered around pop culture, such as its teas featuring movie legend Bruce Lee.BruceTea4 “We identified that millennials need to be visually stimulated with colors and buzzwords before they take a look at price and nutrition labels. We identified the words that young and old tea-drinkers look for, and put them on the face of our packaging,” says Davidson’s owner, Kunall Patel. “Pop culture has everything to do with what’s interesting right now. Every company should aim to stay that relevant in today’s fast-paced, social environment. No content is evergreen forever.”

A new energy drink released a few years ago capitalized on popular cartoon character, Popeye, who is known for his incredible strength after eating a can of spinach. That association led to a strong rollout.

“It’s important to stay in touch with the multi-cultural and ever changing lifestyle of today’s consumers, especially for younger and smaller companies. Staying up to date with trends and what consumers want is vital to build brand awareness and ultimately market shares among the larger players,” Nguyen says. “The CPG industry is a very fast pace industry. On average, we’ve seen companies target a complete redesign of both structure and branding within 2-3 years, depending on the breadth of their product portfolio.”

Before the Internet and social media, people were perhaps less informed, or they at least did not have such easily accessed resources to become informed. This led to the need for more content on packaging, as opposed to imaging.

“At that time, in order to create a brand, you first needed to introduce it. And more often than not, your first introduction to a consumer was through the physical handling of your packaging,” Patel says. “Now we’re able to establish brands through videos, websites, online images, etc. This emergence of visual interest has now led to this interest as it relates to physical products and their packaging. Our new packaging paints a picture worth a thousand words about content literally through brand imaging and design.”

Marvel has deals with numerous CPG companies—representing drinks, shampoos and yogurts—and you can find plenty of Pixar characters on packages of similar items when new movies come out.

Packaging that relies on TV or movies to help sell a product is a savvy move by companies, and is a strategy that won’t be going away anytime soon.

5 Designs We Love: Experiential Package Design

Experiential packaging involves the use of typography, color, imagery, and content to create a new environment and a truly unique experience for the consumer. By changing the way that clients interact with a product and making the experience more enjoyable, many companies have seen increased sales and more brand loyalty. Experiential packaging can serve as an effective sales tool by pulling the customer in.

In order to use this design strategy most effectively, the packaging should be visually appealing, memorable, and provide an experience for the prospective buyer, before they even get to the product. By creating a sensory experience for your consumers, you can connect with them on a more personal level. We have highlighted some of our favorite examples of successful experiential package design, which uniquely engage with their consumers and stand apart from the rest.

 

Black Forest Chocolate

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The Black Forest Chocolate packaging goes beyond presenting chocolate as a present (which this packaging also accomplishes). By focusing on all five senses, the consumer can create their own environment entirely focused on the appreciation of chocolate. The package includes chocolate to eat, a chocolate candle to smell, and by placing the candle inside the packaging, the light shines out of the logo cutouts to create a forest in the room while the consumer is enjoying their chocolate.

 

La Vita Mini Oliva

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This award-winning experiential design makes these small olive oil packages more intriguing and attractive to consumers. The individual packages are user-friendly, enticing, and are the perfect size for vending machines and counter sales. La Vita’s marketing team also offers design services to help businesses create a unique presentation stand to further boost sales and entice consumers.

 

Festina Profundo Dive Watch

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What better way to advertise that these watches are waterproof than with this packaging? Berlin-based agency, Scholz & Friends, came up with the idea to pack the watch in a transparent bag filled with distilled water to prove that they are truly waterproof. After all, the company’s motto is “We believe in what we see”. By submerging the watch in water, it creates a visually appealing, shareable experience (and also makes for a unique gift).

 

Jose Cuervo

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These limited edition Day of The Dead bottles feature a festive image that is reminiscent of tattoo art, which draws the consumer’s eye. The best part is that the color-changing bottles become more colorful and festive when the bottles are chilled, creating an experience for consumers. Khortytsa designed the bottles to connect with the millennial generation in order to increase sales both in store and in the bar/club scene.

 

Nike Air

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To complement one of the most popular sneaker designs ever released, Berlin-based agency, Scholz & Friends, realized they would truly have to do something “outside of the box”. They packaged the shoes in an air-tight plastic bag to appear as if the sneakers were floating in air. It immediately grabs a buyer’s attention, is highly shareable advertising, and even helps reduce the risk of damage from shipping.

What are your favorite experiential package designs?

Colors that Yell

With the trend of minimalist, stark packaging still going so strong, some brands are pushing back with designs that scream from the shelf. Hot pink, blood orange, teal – all are showing up in product categories that have never gone so bold. We know that color choices evoke different emotional responses for consumers, and playing with combinations can help shoppers connect with brands. Clashing colors are also usually more memorable and therefore are great for brand recall, especially when the colors are unique to the product.

Using loud, expressive colors is a way for brands to differentiate a special edition product, allowing them to break out of their standard molds and appeal to new groups. This can be highly effective for brands looking to target younger consumers, who are appreciative of companies that are willing to take on a little edginess and aesthetic risk. Large brands looking to emulate the look and feel of small brands should take note of how the following companies have successfully crafted exciting packages by taking chances with color.

 

Harper Macaw

Last spring, D.C. chocolatier Harper Macaw released a series of bars inspired by the election. Naturally, the wrappers use bold reds and blues, and the result is gorgeous and striking. Rather than feeling like political cartoons, the chocolates are elegant and find the beauty within the absurdity of our current political climate. For a time that has been so stressful and dividing, at least we got a little something sweet out of it.

 

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Bud Light

Bud Light is now the official beer sponsor of South by Southwest, and the funky, psychedelic cans that they issued in limited release last year were such a hit that they are coming back for the 2017 festival. With bright blues, orange, yellow, red, purple, green, and a shock of black, the packaging perfectly captures the vibe of the festival and of the famously “weird” city of Austin.

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Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP

Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP sticks out like a sore thumb among competitors, with a heavy fuchsia font that pops (pun intended) against solid feminine backgrounds. This is a great example of how color clashing can be used in a way that is playful without being childish – this design communicates maturity while remaining effectively eye-catching. The color choices here indicate that the snack is something indulgent and luxurious, a cut above all of the Orville Redenbachers and the Act IIs.

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Wild Leaf

Most tea brands try to communicate the same themes: tranquility, peace, smoothness, etc. Wild Leaf has decided to take an entirely different approach, with wild colors that would be striking on their own and are even stronger when put together. Energetic and youthful, with a large callout for its specific properties, it’s certainly more fun than your grandma’s Lipton.

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Ciao Bella

The bright, beautiful color palette that Ciao Bella used for their line of gelatos is a great example of risk paying off. Brands of ice cream and similar treats often struggle with how to clearly target adults, and the rainbow of color could have easily made it seem like it was a dessert for children. Instead, the careful color pairings elevate the packaging to a new level of sophistication, while still looking just as visually interesting and trendy as competitors like Ben & Jerry’s.

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