03 August 2018

The Brand Packaging Health-Check

5 Killer Health-Check Tips to see if a refresh is due or long overdue

5 Killer Consumer Brand Packaging

Health-Check Tips

I’ve lived, loved and devoured the world of brand packaging for most of my 40-odd years on planet Earth (my wife still can’t fathom why I can’t recall how old I am without going back to my birth year!). The excitement and power of design in that 1-to-3 seconds that brands have on shelf, amidst another 29,999 brands to stand out and get picked up is still what gets me up and out of the house bright-eyed and bushy-tailed each morning. Over the last 20 years there are a lot of common checks that I use in my own design business and wanted to share with anyone that is looking to assess whether their FMCG/CPG brand (and) packaging is fit for the future. Here are my 5 top brand packaging health-check tips that might help determine if a refresh is due, or long overdue: 

1. The Rule of ‘Thumb’

The first and simplest test for any brand is what we call the ‘thumb test’. You simply place your thumb over your logo on pack and see if the rest of the brand design could come from another competing branded player, or even private label (which has come on leaps and bounds over the last decade). If you’ve merged into the same world as the rest, (it sometimes happens before your eyes without you even realising it) it’s time to go back to the drawing board and understand what made you famous in the first place. Look to see how you can refresh your brand for growth with an identity that’s as close as possible as your own unique position and view of the category and world.

2. The ‘Squint Test’

Where others ‘zig’ you have to ‘zag’ in order to stand-out from the crowd and ultimately get picked up off the shelf. The fight to remain relevant is the biggest fight any brand can have and too many leave it too late to refresh or reinvent themselves.

In the past that didn’t matter as much because retailers kept on stocking you but competition is more fierce than ever before. The killer category resets (Tesco, ASDA, etc.) have made businesses take their brands much more seriously, or they risk getting culled for the ones that find a small place in our hearts and minds. Too many branded categories merge into one design language over time. For example, health on-the-go bars are virtually all craving the same child-like innocence (AKA Innocent) and fun with luminescent colours and irreverent child-like illustrations. Don’t follow the design trends, set you own path and stand for being something different that people still love. When you are next in the aisle, look at your brand on shelf and squint your eyes whilst asking yourself “do we standout enough for someone to even consider us?”. When I worked on Napolina we stood out as being the premium ‘black’ Italian brand in a sea of red. It is a design that has stood the test of time and hasn’t been buggered with in 15 years.  

3. Hunting ‘Iconic Brand Assets’

‘When Will I, Will I Be Famous (Again)?’ Some of you may recall that famous Bros line, but it’s too often true for brands who have or are starting to lose their way.  Established brands that we’ve grown up with have a set memory structure in our minds and there are always key brand triggers in there ready to be mined and brought back to the forefront to drive that fondness that we once had for them that may have been lost. What distinctive brand assets do you have and what could you use to empower your brand? Two examples of our work come to mind, the first is bringing an asset back from the dead and the second is creating a new iconic asset:

1. Captain BirdsEye had long been a part of today’s world of British Mums growing up. But for one reason or another he was taken off pack for some time across the business’ frozen fish range. The insight led to the fact that he was loved and endeared as a character and a brand asset that Mums associated with getting good quality food into their kids at breakneck speed.

2. The second one is our work with Thornton’s, another established brand in our mind. It’s the brand that we were gifted in our lives and often gifted for others. It sat in a world of not-so-special confectionery brands doing boxed chocolates. People want to be seen to be giving something special to show the care and love of their gift. Thorntons owned that ‘special gifting’ memory structure in people’s minds. We simply led with the brand name so it could be found quickly, but then amplified the icon for gifting. We amplified an iconic bow that points you to gifting. This was especially powerful given that most people only read 7 words in a 60-minute “big shop”.

Both brands were refreshed to great success in established category leadership positions where they not only grew themselves but the category as a whole.

4. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

As brand owners and guardians we all think far too long about our brands and we go into intricate detail to make sure everything is perfect. But what most are really bad at is clutter. A lot of today’s packaging is littered with far too much information and copy that nobody really cares about or reads. When you are coming to the end of any design programme and the packaging is reaching finalisation stage ask yourself, and your agency, to go back and simplify it further. What could we strip out without losing the core idea? The easier it is for someone to understand you at speed, the easier it is for them to pick you up and drop you in their basket. If you are making two claims on the front of pack then don’t, chose one and lead with it. We may not have time to even read or remember that at the shelf or in our homes, so don’t give me a reason to pick up a competitor.

Sometimes it’s time to run the numbers and assess what you’ve got on-shelf and see if killing a brand or two might help with the bigger picture. Time and time again I’ve heard senior marketers say “we can’t lose the facings on-shelf, it will kill us. If we take that out a competitor will come in and steal our space”. That may well be the case, but run the numbers and see what makes sense to your shoppers. When we worked on Thornton’s we had 3 boxed chocolate brands: Classic, Premium and Continental. In talking with people who bought boxed chocolate it became clear that they didn’t want 3 brands as it confused them, they had £5 or £10 to spend, depending on how much they loved the person they were gifting to. They just needed two brands! Commercially it sounded like suicide to get rid of an £Xm brand, but ultimately it didn’t. It was consigned to the skip and the simplicity (going back to my last point) of 2 brands that met the £5 and £10 criteria resulted in uplift far beyond the value of the Premium brand. Look to your own branded portfolio of products and see what you could kill and focus your efforts on. Far too often you know deep in your heart what the right thing to do is, but it’s all too easy to fight for the right to stay when the numbers and shoppers tell a different story.

So, in rapid summary (that is if you’ve managed to read this far, well done if you have) put your thumb over the logo to see if you are still distinctive, then squint your eyes at the fixture and check if you stand out. Then hunt or amplify your iconic brand assets, simplify even when nearing the end of a brand packaging programme and kill brands or branded products that nobody buys into.

One last point to sign off on, please go out in stores and speak to shoppers (in stores if you are brave or in research if you need the mirrored glass). Too often brands ignore the people they serve at their peril and die. I couldn’t sum it up better than the advertising legend David Ogilvy did, so I’ll leave you with this: “the consumer isn’t a moron: she is your wife”.

Richard Taylor