Subtle Branding Work in the Updated Hersheys Packaging

Packaging gets refreshed all the time. Initially, I thought this was just an update but I think there’s a few interesting points that are happening with the change.

Firstly, Hershey’s is putting greater emphasis on the sugar-free nature of the product, so that it’s easily discerned, especially when placed next to a non-sugar free item like these Dots. (I couldn’t find a more closely related package than the Dots. It seems this size and quantity belongs only to sugar free chocolates, so this will have to do for comparison…and yes, I ate them both!) The vertical “swoop bump” has given way to a large white band across the center of the front panel. The change makes completely clear there is a distinction between these and the standard offerings. It also stands out at shelf, doing a far better job of calling out Hershey’s offerings in this area.

The postulations I glean from these changes are that Hershey’s may have had issues with customers having difficulty finding the product or perhaps they confused the sugar-free product with normal offerings. The other possibility maybe that Hershey’s is making a bolder bid to own the sugar-free chocolate space. A louder package would go far in that regard. Seeing as the shelf-space set aside for such treats has increased drastically in the last few years, I can see the draw to advertise this feature.

For branding folks, the second interesting change is the ownership of the brown field on the packaging. Both the Dots and the new sugar free packaging have gone with a straight Hershey’s brown. The packaging my seem less ‘fun’ but it also comes off as more bold. The change to the simplified Hershey’s brown background also serves to increase ownership of that color in the merchandising space and condenses the brand message.

Not only that, but the border around the Hershey’s logo has been removed, essentially making the entire package the logo’s brown field. Breaking the logo out of the border tends to break the “badge-ing” effect. Instead of saying it is a product BY Hersheys, it IS a product of Hersheys. Sure that sounds a bit like a game of semantics, but the ownership is more clear with the border-less logo.

The great thing is all of these changes bring the new packaging more inline with the classic chocolate bar look.

There are always gyrations between packaging being simplified and overly styled to be eye catching. This new packaging look by Hershey’s is definitely the former, but a congruent brand look is always preferable, especially when you’d like to exclaim that the new product offerings are the same quality as the old standards. Since I have tasted both, I can say that there might just be truth to packaging.

Throwback Packaging and Logos as Brands

There seems to be a lot of throw-back packaging making the rounds out there, from Pepsi to Tide, a lot of companies are getting into it. While it’s pretty fun to see and brings back some childhood nostalgia, this little fad illustrates a nice point: Your logo is really not your brand.

See, your brand is much bigger than an icon or a set of colors on a box. It encompasses far more than that. Your brand is the collections of feelings and perceptions you’d like people to see in your company or product. It is also the feelings and perceptions people actually feel about your brand. That’s a lot of stuff, but what it isn’t is a trade dress or an icon or anything else. This is why Doritos can dress their products in throwbacks, tossing aside mastheads and current brand marks while getting more interest without loosing anything, while crappy companies keep ‘re-branding’ themselves with new identity, hoping for more customers to no effect, as people notice that they haven’t changed their business practices.

To be a bit more specific, people know that Doritos makes really tasty chips and always have. They know that it doesn’t matter what the bag looks like as long as it says Doritos and they can make out that the triangular chips. The quality, taste and consistency of the product is Doritos’s brand. The logo doesn’t make it good, the company behind it and their actions does. The logo and trade dress are only a reminder and a method to drive interest, as well as to serve the distinction between Doritos and competitors.

Don’t get me wrong, trade dress and logos are important, but their only important when your company is consistently upholding it’s brand promise in all aspects. Otherwise, your brand mark is a lighthouse that signals, “stay away, rocky shores ahead!”

Re-introducing Aged Products with Combo Packaging

I’ve made a lot of ‘bonus’ packs and certainly a lot of ‘combo’ packaging. Most of the themes of these packs have been to convince shoppers to buy the main product. Clients will throw in an extra item to sweeten the proposition in relation to the competition. Who doesn’t want to get the drill bits for free when they buy a drill?

I saw something quite interesting the other day that puts a different spin on the combo pack concept. This bread mix by Carnation is after something else, or at least what I perceive as something else. They seem to be using their bread packaging to introduce and advertise another product in their line, Carnation condensed milk.

I have it on good sources that condensed milk, once championed by home bakers in previous generations, has waned a bit in popularity. Most recipes have been re-designed to work with other materials, so the little cans have been forced down to the lowest tier on the gondolas, and we all know what that means.

Carnation, though, not wanting to let a product die out is working hard to push condensed milk back in the spotlight. This combo pack is really a kit that reduces the need to hunt all over the store for all the components needed to make the bread, creating a one-stop impulse buy, perfect for endcaps, but more importantly, it slyly re-introduces condensed milk into baking.

Their packaging reflects the push to advertise the condensed milk by not only talking about it, but featuring the milk in its most common packaging. This creates product recognition for the next time the consumer is in the store. Condensed milk is basically fat and sugar, so the bread, when made, will taste extra sweet and tasty, so the gambit here is that consumers will consider the milk as necessary for a great loaf. They will remember the look of the can and the great taste it made, spurring them to purchasing more.

To make sure they hammer it home, they’ve even used the imagery of the can on the back panel when discussing directions, and on the front panel in the ingredients section, further re-enforcing the connection and brand imagery.

Sadly, I found this package in the discount area, so I guess this won’t be a line extension for Carnation this time around. If my assumptions are correct, this was a pretty dramatic push to re-invigorate a brand. It’s really amazing considering Nestle doesn’t seem to have a wing that normally creates cake and bread mixes, nor does Carnation seem to make anything like bread.

Protect the Power of Your Logo. Design in Some Quiet Space.

I talk a lot about packaging design on here, so today I’ll dive into the bits of branding that goes into packaging as well as other things. With that in mind, it’s important to talk about logo quiet space and specifically how that works with your brand mark.

When you put together style guides or standards manuals, one of the first things you have to talk about is how to handle your brand mark ( logo). This is pretty important information. Your logo is basically the connector to everything you do and what you stand for as a company. It’s important to treat it right.

The easiest thing to do is to give your logo the breathing room needed to make sure it makes a statement of its own. This is done by prescribing a zone around your logo where nothing can compete – the quiet area. Why is this important? Firstly, you want to make sure that you leave enough space between your logo and other things. Not enough space diminishes the power of the logo and lessens’ your brand presence. People have a hard time making the connection that your company is the driver of whatever you’re looking at. If there’s truly not enough space, they may loose you entirely. Don’t make your logo compete with your message.

The other important reason for the space is that if you’re in a group of other logos, say you’re a sanctioning body or contributor, not enough space between you and the next logo might suggest some sort of partnership. Sure, that might be good if you make video games and you’re next to Playstation but what if you’re The American Lung Association right next door to Phillip Morris? Not so good. Keep a distance.

So, how much space do you need? That’s something that varies from logo to logo. I am sure that large agencies probably have some sort of scientific methods to ascertain the right dimensions, but you can find a nice distance by making a series of mock-up layouts from close to far and find what’s too far and not far enough, like the simple example above. Another method is to look at the materials you already have and locate an example that seems to feel ‘right’ and use that as gospel.

Once you have your distance, you have to tie it to the logo itself. Think scalability. Your logo is going to be many sizes and it’s crucial that the quiet area become a percentage of the logo rather than a concrete number. When the logo gets big, the quiet area will get big too, and the same thing for moving smaller. I like to find something in the logo mark itself to determine the dimension. In the example above, the width of the serpentine sets the quiet area. This guarantees that as long as the logo scales correctly, you can always ascertain an appropriate and proportional quiet area.

Logo usage rules, and quiet space rules specifically, can get far more complex than this and with fairly large corporations, they often do. Some of the variances I’ve seen and produced is two (or more) stage quiet areas – think of a soccer field with the penalty box and a goal box inside. Complexity increases with the treatment of tag lines as well as using the logo with a brand name or a sub-brand. It can get pretty labyrinthine quite quickly. On the other side of things, it’s important not to get too far into the granularity of the matter. Knock out the important rules first and determine the minutia as the situations demand.

The most important thing is to protect your brand mark and to make sure you get that information in the hands of the people operating on your logo. If you get that far, don’t let your brand down. Double check the work to make sure it follows your rules. To manage your brand well, your brand has to look good and look good all the time, making it important to have a plan for all these things.

Your Packaging’s Back Panel, the Undiscovered Country

There’s a lot of attention always being lavished on the front panels of packaging and with good reason, but the back panels are usually an after-thought. Especially, this happens with carded items.

The back of a card really should get much more attention than it does. After all, it’s essentially a bit of free space to help sell your product – and usually it’s larger space than you have on the front – but there are even better reasons than this.

Above, we have the pretty darn excellent Betty Crocker cooking implements packaging that you can easily find in Dollar Tree. Yes, that Dollar Tree, home of “everything is a dollar”(which should hammer home the point that you should be always in it to win it, no matter what the price point is). So what’s so great about this trade dress? The answer is on the back.

Sure, there’s all the usual stuff you’d see on the back of a package: the closure, the legalese, and of course, the UPC. But what else does it have? It has a call to action, asking people to go to the Betty Crocker website for more whatever, but it also gives something a bit more to the consumer. It gives a little recipe. How nice is that? Perhaps the product has no features to talk about on the back but instead of just letting that space go, Betty added a little extra gift for the buyer. It cost them nearly nothing but it gives something even more than the logo. It gives the ‘feeling’ that the company is invested in your cooking or baking journey and wants to help you get there – not just sell you a cheap plastic thing for a dollar. The added detail is like if Betty Crocker herself gave you a little wink and a go-for-it thumbs up.

Even more, it gives Betty Crocker a chance to cross-sell it’s baking and cooking food products, while perhaps not in the same store, it will stick in buyer’s head for when they come across it. Mmmm, creamy chocolate or vanilla frosting! A sneaky bit of advertising concealed in a cleaver value-add.

Comparing this work to a not so similar product that’s in an arguably similar store situation, you can see the real difference in the perception of how each company really seems to care about the buyer. The product on the right is a package of epoxy from Harbor Freight (and the stuff works really well!). The glue is sadly an example of how many companies treat this extra space that could be so valuable to them. There’s all the basic stuff that you need and that’s it. Otherwise, it’s bone dry – not even any branding on the back, and certainly not at the level of completeness that the Betty Crocker has.

Harbor Freight has invested in printing on the back and even in two (possibly four?) colors, why not go all the way and really make the product experience as complete as possible for your customer?

When you’re making a lot products it’s easy to blow through the backs of innumerable cards, but it’s important to think that the back of the card is really your salesman that gets to go home with the consumer and makes sure that your product’s experience is as complete as possible. I’d like to think that how you treat the front of the package in these small instances as how much you care about your product and the back of the card is how much you care about the customer. If you had these opportunities, shouldn’t you capitalize on them?

Keeping Packaging Cohesive

The best thing you can do is build a united front across the entire shelf space. It’s pretty hard to do. There’s financial aspects of doing a hard roll-out so you end up piecing the new look out or you’re a gigantic company with many divisions so it’s difficult to cut across silos to unify the trade dress.

What do you get if you can make it work? You get a brand that looks sharp. You get a line of products that all look current and products that look fresh. Your products have been reborn in a new dress that speaks to the customer in a way that’s timely rather than dated.

If you can’t make it work, you are presiding over a shelf that’s more like a brand’s history lesson, displaying every managerial dynasty the company has had. The new products are weighed down by the old trade dress making the entire line look like someone who’s treading water. It’s the difference between dressing like a hipster and dressing business casual. Sure business casual person looks the same as every other business casual office worker but then again, you’ll never mistake them as hobos.

Alright, so that was a little pithy, but I do have examples. Below is a shot of products by Sony found in a nondescript Wal*mart in America.

So you have a Radio on the right and tapes on the left. It’s obvious that there’s a Radio factory owned (or licensed by) Sony and there’s the Cassette factory owned (or licensed by) Sony. The dress doesn’t match. Has one been on the shelf longer? Am I buying the junk that doesn’t sell? Is one going to be discontinued? And perhaps the biggest question: Are these really made by Sony or just some company that’s paying Sony to drop its name?

These are all questions that a brand manager never wants to hear about their packaging.

Let’s compare this to what Betty Crocker did in the Dollar Tree (yeah, I shop at Dollar Tree – how else can I have a calculator in EVERY room??).

Betty Crocker obviously owns the cooking implement segment in this store. There are no older products to smear the look – all of the packaging matches. When it all looks the same the packaging acts as one giant billboard for your products. By doing this, they’ve put together a story of richness that rivals, and perhaps surpasses, the offerings in stores with much higher price points. Are the products comparable? I have no idea. I don’t think I actually own a spatula anymore. But it looks like it is. That sells the Dollar Tree shopper. It would sell a Wal*mart shopper as well, I bet.

Now, I know that this Betty Crocker thing is really hard to do for most companies. There’s all that stock of printed packaging that’s already here and product that’s already been packaged. Then there’s the product on the shelves running the old stuff. It would be too costly to bring it all back for re-pack, to be sure.

There are certainly benefits to making it happen, though. Change the things you can. Sell the accountants. Get rid of the old stock and make the shift to the new trade dress happen faster, your shelf presence and your brand image demands it. The company that does this is offering a pledge to consumers that they care about how their products look on the shelf. If the company cares how they’re presented then they obviously care about the products they make, right? It goes to the brand’s promise.

Nobody wants their company’s trade dress to be a time line of all the stuff that doesn’t work anymore. Every customer shops for the best product they can afford, but they really want to be assured that they’re getting their money’s worth. If the company doesn’t care that their looks don’t match, how could you reason they care about how well their stuff works?

Making the Back of a Package the Front

The trouble with showing your product on the front of your package is that the product usually takes up a lot of space for marketing. Not to mention the product can go a long way to seriously  muck up the trade dress, making the offering look seriously awkward or unattractive. Kind of funny, huh?

Carded products are usually the worst for such things. Cards tend to be rather conservative with area for many reasons and then there’s the blister, which seems to remove a big portion of the rest of the card just by being there.

It seems that Autolite has decided to go for it and make a rather drastic change to get that marketing area back – by making the back of their card the front.

Wow, look at that billboard space! And to think: it was there all along!  That said, let’s have a more serious look at this solution.

Moving the blistered products to the back gets you the entire card area for branding and marketing. The dynamic imaging and trade dress really get a chance to shine. Autolite is owning that orange.  There is also a luxurious amount of space for sell-points. If you can’t get your point across with that much space, you really shouldn’t be selling that product.

Comparing the Autolite package to the Bosch packaging here, you can see how much more exciting and capable the Autolite is, which brings us to the downside…

There has always been a lot of talk about needing to actually see the product you want people to buy and this is the serious bone of contention about flipping your cards. There’s something re-assuring about seeing the spark plugs on the Bosch package. , As a consumer, I can’t put my finger on it. Perhaps it’s that you feel more confident you’re getting what you’re thinking about with the Bosch. Autolite tries to rectify this by putting a pretty dynamic illustration of a spark plug doing its thing on the front. Is that enough? Should it have been an image of the entire plug instead?

Here’s the other issue: store stockers notoriously do not care about the presentation of your product. Case in point: my mom wanting to buy a big heavy thing at a large home center. All of the products were stocked with the Spanish side out. Mom isn’t bilingual, nor a body builder. She gets frustrated and leaves…

Bringing this back home to Autolite’s packaging, I predict that they’ll have a hard time making sure that the blisters face the back, as we are all programmed nowadays to put the blisters to the front – even the consumers putting things back. Thinking of this, I hope that the back of the Autolite is as compelling as the front of the competition’s! As you can see from above, I don’t think it’s up for the task of competing back to front with Bosch.

Just for the record, I bought the Autolites because the Bosch packaging was just not approachable for my short-attention-span noodle.

Hormel Natural Choice Packaging Review

There’s been a lot of talk about moving towards more sustainable packaging, lately. We even get some requests now and again. For the most part, while it’s a good story, I really don’t see a lot of it at shelf, yet.

There’s a few reasons for this. One is that cost is sometimes a big factor – and one that usually stops a lot of projects early on. It takes a lot of cash to re-jigger larger lines for the new green stuff and that can be a bit too much for tighter margin items. Another hurdle is how to control shrinkage. One of the big reasons for having plastic (aside from being cheap) is that you can sort of encase your product in it making the item virtually impossible to quickly extricate, as we all have become aware. The third reason is sometimes sustainable packaging just doesn’t have the punch of regular packaging. The high-gloss, pretty printing goes a long way, so when I saw this packaging in my local grocer’s shelving, I was excited.

Here we have a nice step into more sustainable food packaging by Hormel. It consists of a cardboard box encasing the standard zip-lock bag of product. The really interesting thing is that Hormel went the distance and decided to direct print on the cardboard box rather than going the standard litho-laminate route seen on most other packaging.

The big drawback of this method is that the colors just don’t have the pop as the common high gloss methods. Hormel seems to have played to this weakness by choosing a muted color palette of that tends to vibrate against each other, creating enough contrast to punch out the trade dress on the shelf. The trade dress also was made with an eye toward the actual printing process – probably flexo by the substrate – and the capabilities it has (or lack of them as it may be). The designer kept the look amazingly clean, eschewing the normal bit of indulgent gradient and detail work. The dress further hides the shortcomings of the process by removing any places where color may overlap, thus negating flexography’s inherent sloppiness on press. Only in the Hormel ribbon does two colors overlap and when that area gets messy, that dark ghosting of the green on red will be neatly read as a drop shadow on the ribbon – well-played!

Using the ‘natural’ look of the cardboard also creates a nice allusion to being  a more natural product as it has a certain old-timey feel like the old days where items were wrapped in butcher paper instead of vacuum-packed space bags, even though the product inside is. The bare cardboard look is quite good at showing the perception of quality, simplicity or heavy-duty and it does so here as well with a ‘green’ feel as well.

Finally, the use of the cut out on the front provides the savory look at the product itself, allowing the real color of the item punch out from the comparatively dull packaging – A far better solution than the competitors which usually show an image of the product, and one that costs nothing more than a die cut.

Executions like this give me hope that we’ll see more sweeping changes in the industry toward more conscious packaging, both for the environment and for marketing.

Why Minimal-looking Packaging Only Works for Apple

From time to time, I get requests to make packaging that is ‘minimalist, like the iPod’s’. Once we get to work on it and a few revisions later, we’re pretty far away from the minimalist concept and much closer to the standard packaging look, kind of like this great video that came out a few years ago:

While this video is comically funny and at poor Microsoft’s expense, it hints at why most other companies can’t do the Apple packaging. The real reason is that Apple’s packaging isn’t really designed to convince the shopper that their product is the best at the shelf level – and it doesn’t have to.

Apple’s marketing and branding is set up so that the sale happens well before the shopper even gets into the car to go to the store. The packaging only serves as reassurance for the customer, rather than something that has to convince. They do this by having a very rich saturation of advertising that sells to a lesser extent the product and to a larger extent the emotional conductivity to the brand and the perceptions this entails.

Most companies, whether they sell consumer electronics or Macadamia nuts just doesn’t have the pervasive outlay that Apple puts out, so they rely on the packaging to be the final decision maker at the shelf level. The packaging, then is salesman and has to convince the shopper that the product is the one they want.

It becomes a big gamble then to leave the packaging clean, perhaps too big of a gamble for any marketing person to take. Important information must go onto the package in order to guarantee the competitiveness of the item, or so it seems.

Perhaps the real issue here is that Apple doesn’t sell personal media devices, they sell a lifestyle. People buy more on the idea of engaging in the Apple lifestyle rather than the actual features of the item. In this world, the Apple packaging is perfect as it sells the awesomeness of living in Apple-world. 5Gb as opposed to 32Gb is not in the vision of the person who wishes to live the Apple lifestyle – this information can certainly be left off of the package.

As a further aside, Apple has also done a very good job of separating their products at shelf level where the plain opportunity of comparing the items is difficult and speaks to the lifestyle concept: either you are looking at just the Apple products or you are not – and we all want to be part of the cool club…

So, if you really want the clean, minimal packaging for your products, the most important things to copy from Apple, is  to at least create a pervasive and rich advertising campaign, but the optimum thing to have is to sell your product as something that doesn’t have features but has the means to transport the consumer to their ideal life. Then features become less important and the exciting world that the brand creates – if done well- is far more enticing than battery life or the kind of salt on them nuts.

Designing Your Packaging Through Your Customer’s Eyes

Here we are, the final installment of this trifecta of packaging talk. The up side is that this is when I bring it all together!

Previously, I talked about the importance of where you place your logo and then we got into the hierarchy of the package and text. This time, I’m taking those to two bits and actually applying them, but first I have to talk about thinking through your customer’s eyes.

To really make an effective package, one has to realize that the package is basically the salesman for the item and the final gasp by your company to actually sell your product. Most times (and certainly with network cables) there is no extra marketing that helps swing home the sale. What really does it is what is said on the packaging – and it better be the right stuff. To hammer it home, the right stuff is the very things the customer needs to have. Most times, these are completely different from what your spreadsheets tell you.

Customers look to buy things to solve problems. Sometimes it’s a nebulous thing, like they need to feel better, richer, worthwhile or perhaps skinny or something. With network cables, that’s pretty easy: they need a cord to connect their computer to the internet – NO! They want to go online. That’s what they really need. The cable helps the customer get there.

Thinking like this, the biggest benefit we can put on that card is that this items connects you to the internet, right? I beg to differ in this instance.

While the above thought is important, the most important thing is the differentiation of the network cable from the phone cable. There are plenty of people who can divine the difference easily but for most it can be very confusing – especially when considering that stores usually put phone cables next to network cables. Therefore we need to say this is a network cable and say that loudly, because you need to take into account the environment your product will be placed in.

After this, on the scale of importance comes the reassurance that this product does connect to a network.  We must say ‘network’ rather than ‘internet’ because we must not confuse things, as this item certainly cannot connect without a modem of some sort, as well as to not confuse the small-office buyer or someone who needs to get on a ‘network’.

The next most important bit of information will be the length of the cord. For this, the reasons are obvious. The cord length is given a place of prominence on the top of the card and in a location where one can quickly thumb through other cards to find the size you need, in this case the upper right corner.

Finally, at the bottom of the card we put the qualifying specifications that need to be said. We need to specifically say the compatibilities to make sure we encompass as many customer’s conditions as we can.

For fun here, I have cobbled together a mock-up of what I figure to be a solid solution for this card going forward.

This card addresses all of the things I had discussed earlier. We now have a strong branding element in the large red swath of color behind the product that connects to the logo as well as popping the product off of the card. I have also moved the logo to the top the card, to a much more prominent position that should be far more legible. The new logo location also allows for the logo to be larger. This company is doing a good job saying it is proud of its product, rather than hiding itself.

Speaking of legibility, all of the text on the package has been weighted bolder for more impact and made larger for easier reading – an important feature for older demographics. It is a bit of comfort to the buyer to find pertinent information quickly. It goes to feeling comfortable with their decisions and we all know that most people buy on emotion rather than on logic.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of packaging design thinking!