Brand Rebirth: Transformation Through Package Redesign
By Pauline Tingas
Brands once favored the deliberate and steady evolution of their packaging. These days, though, they seem to be shedding their skin at a much more rapid clip. Indeed, package redesign is increasingly becoming a major driver in the stewardship, and sometimes in the transformation, of many great brands.
Trend consultant Robyn Waters says consumer demand is one reason for the shortened lifecycle of today’s packaging. “There seems to be an insatiable cultural demand for ‘new and improved’ that almost mandates a regular review,” she says.
That way, consumers will never really feel that a brand is staid.
But you can’t just schedule a redesign. There has to be a strategy behind the decision, says Christopher Lehmann, creative director of the San Francisco office of Landor Associates. “Budget and desire should not alone drive a package redesign,” he says. “There should always be a strong why.”
Design a new position
One common trigger is a brand repositioning. When Target launched a “price brand” as the second tier in its food and beverage private label program, it had to reposition its existing Archer Farms store brand as the premium option.
The Archer Farms packaging, however, was dated and clearly couldn’t meet that objective, according to Michael Osborne of Michael Osborne Design (MOD), the San Francisco-based firm charged with the package redesign. “Everything from the style of photography to the structures themselves had to match the price point where they wanted to take the brand,” he says.
MOD’s initial design explorations took that charge to see how flexible the brand could be. “We presented spices in really cool aluminum cylinders, pasta in raw corrugated and coffee in a silver bag,” Osborne says.
Not that Target would move on all of that. The decision to go ahead (or not) with each concept came down to the retailer’s purchasing department.
“Some things they did. Others they didn’t do. They had to look at what’s custom, what’s stock,” Osborne explains. “We just gave them a sense of what the brand could be.”
They decided on MOD’s presentation of a French country theme with a rich green background. “It’s not old school,” says Osborne. “There’s just a sliver of that, but with a modern twist.”
And though there are many layers to the final design, Osborne says the real challenge of the project was in having to hand off the concept in a complete enough form that Target’s internal team could digest.
“We did a representational selection of products in our presentations to demonstrate that the design was extendable, and we produced the first several SKUs,” he says.
MOD then developed design guidelines that outlined each element of the new packaging in detail. The entire redesign project took the firm less than eight weeks because, according to Osborne, Target was very aggressive about getting the new design launched and in stores.
With a new price brand on the way, the retailer had to be sure Archer Farms would be set to communicate its more premium position and avoid confusion at the shelf.
Refresh a dated brand
Other package revamps are not tied to such firm deadlines. The need for redesign simply creeps up on them. Take Coca-Cola. The beverage company recently introduced a package redesign for its 39-year-old Fresca brand, giving the no-calorie beverage a fresh look with a new logo and graphics on a variety of packaging sizes, including 12-ounce cans, 20-ounce bottles, two-liter bottles and multi-can packs. It’s the first refresh since 1995.
The redesign stays true to the beverage brand’s position as a “tasteful alternative” to soft drinks, but it offers a more contemporary identity. By relinquishing its dated green and yellow graphics in favor of a livelier retro-modern color palette, it appears Fresca is trying to capitalize on the growing interest in fruit-flavored “adult” sodas and capture consumers as they shift away from the high sugar, traditional options.
Another brand that experienced a recent refresh, Seagram’s Coolers took its 20th anniversary as an opportunity to introduce a more contemporary package design late last year (see “Brand New” on page 10).
The most significant element of the redesign was the introduction of a new bottle (shape often plays a role in wine and spirits redesigns).
Sure, there was risk in changing out the cone-shaped bottle—a 1980s icon. But, according to Justin Fisch, senior brand manager of United States Beverage, which manages and markets the brand, the decision was rooted in extensive consumer research.
“We found that the cone-shaped bottle made consumers feel older and outdated,” says Fisch. “There was a stigma attached to it that was not favorable in a social setting.”
Seagram’s new beer-shaped bottle leaves behind all those 80s-era trappings. Unique to the cooler category, the bottle also benefits the brand in that it compares much more closely to the competition in the malternative category, which, as recently as 2002, was reporting annual growth at 33 percent.
Fisch says the new packaging has seemingly turned the brand around. After several years of stagnating sales, Seagram’s reports strong growth based on the redesign, which also includes a new label, logo and a four-pack paperboard carrier with tropical imagery that speaks to the “escape” feel of the refreshed brand.
“[Our] consumer base has expanded because of the sleeker premium design,” says Fisch. And, he says, the brand has outperformed the cooler category overall.
Sometimes, the need for change comes straight from the top. Corporate change can drive new thinking and put packaging in greater prominence.
GE Lighting, for example, had operated at one point under a decentralized structure that had product managers making decisions about the packaging for each of their product types.
“No one was thinking holistically about the brand,” says Landor’s Christopher Lehmann.
That is, until marketing took on a larger role within the company and partnered with product managers to unify the brand presentation and experience.
Recognizing that the light bulb category had become a commodity, where consumers made decisions based on channel and price, the company set out to create more of an emotional connection with its customers. One of the first directives was the relaunch of the company’s existing Enrich product.
Landor began by renaming the product “Reveal” to communicate its unique offering—cleaner whiter-looking light—then developed a visual identity to reflect that. The face of the new packaging features a graphic of two inverted light bulbs with the negative space between them turned “positive” by coloring it in a vibrant blue hue. The effect is that of seeing something that wasn’t there before, which, along with a “palette” of pure white (no yellow cast) and the brandline “the bulb that uncovers pure true light” seeks to convey the emotional aspect of something as simple as light.
CIBA Vision offers another example where corporate changes led to new packaging directives.
In July 2001, the manufacturer of optical and ophthalmic products launched its Clear Care lens care brand, which became one of the fastest growing brands in the category, despite significant competition.
But as marketing grew its presence within the company, management realized the gains that could be realized if the Clear Care packaging better reflected the product’s benefits, says Julie Hartvigsen, senior brand consultant with LAGA, CIBA Vision’s global packaging agency of record.
“[The company] had been R&D driven. There wasn’t a strong consumer focus in the past,” she says.
The company proactively initiated a package redesign with LAGA in January 2004 with the goal of improving the shelf impact and competitive differentiation of the Clear Care brand.
LAGA’s challenge was to create visual impact on shelf and, at the same time, maintain the professionalism and medical credibility that research revealed was important to the brand’s customers.
“It’s a delicate balance,” says Hartvigsen. “We explored a whole range of colors that popped at the shelf, but consumers were giving us a small latitude in the colors they’d accept. Blue and cool colors are what they felt comfortable with. We knew we had to be in that world.”
LAGA’s solution was to select a unique blue that didn’t exist at the shelf and combine it with a purple to create a distinct color palette for the redesign. From there, a photorealistic image of a contact lens was prominently added to set the new packaging apart.
“Most competitors’ packaging treatments are just graphic. No photographic type of illustration was being used,” says Hartvigsen.
After nearly five months of design work, the new packaging hit the market in the fourth quarter of 2004 with “A New Look” violators placed on all Clear Care SKUs to call attention to the redesign. Marketing support has included Clear Care kits for practitioners’ offices, direct mail coupons and free-standing inserts in print publications.
According to IRI data, Clear Care’s September dollar share is 6.9 and, year-to-date, it is 6.2, which is up 1.8 percent versus same-time last year. The brand has also realized improved positioning at retail.
Change can come from many directions to spur a package redesign. Category evolution, for instance, can set new standards for product photography, messaging, typography, color and other packaging elements.
“Imagine the health food aisle 20 years ago,” says Landor’s Lehmann, who describes the landscape as dominated by an unsophisticated, crunchy granola look. “But the category has changed tremendously, especially in the last five years, to where people are bringing in the same expectations of sophistication with branding that they do with traditional categories.”
Technology advances can also set off a wave of redesigns, Lehmann says. Case in point: when tuna jumped from the can to the retort pouch, the whole category had to do it.
Seek growth in the down cycle
Most often, though, the business scenario behind a package redesign is the need for good, old fashioned growth. Revenues often trace a product’s lifecycle, booming at launch, and then tapering off once the brand has become more established.
Diet Rite is one such example. When it was purchased by Cadbury Schweppes in 2000, the brand was in considerable decline—it was the number 10 diet brand nationally—because bottlers had lost interest in promoting it.
The generic packaging did little to inspire sales and, in fact, contributed to the brand’s perception as a “value-based” offering devoid of personality.
But there needed to be a reason to drive growth, says Lehmann, whose firm took on the redesign. “[Cadbury Schweppes] thought about the brand and product offering, which had a good history of developing interesting flavors. So they wanted to expand on that.”
After achieving consumer acceptance of new flavor formulations, Diet Rite engaged Landor to develop packaging that would aggressively move the strategy forward. Landor’s solution was to abandon the diet-category color cue of white, which, Lehmann says, was not needed because the word “diet” was already in the brand name. Instead, the firm chose bright colors, graphics and a bold wordmark to convey a livelier personality that would better reach consumers at the shelf.
According to Lehmann, the redesign has contributed to unprecedented growth in Diet Rite sales in both 2003 and 2004. A key element in the strategy, he says, was getting buy-in for the design from the bottlers.
“They’re vital players in the mix,” he says, “because when they’re excited, they help.”
Start over to get it right
In rare instances, a redesign might be ordered as part of a complete overhaul where, essentially, the whole brand is scrapped. Lehmann says such a scenario came up during a series of projects for the Coleman camping company.
Coleman enjoyed an excellent reputation among its consumer base, which was predominantly a mix of families and casual weekend campers. But it had a stand-alone brand called Peak One that it didn’t know what to do with.
“They couldn’t figure out how to position it and how it fit into the Coleman family,” says Lehmann.
Reexamining their segmentation, the company identified a small group of customers who look beyond campgrounds for adventure and recreation. The idea was to take Peak One and completely rebrand it to leverage the positive associations of the Coleman brand but still appeal to this newly discovered “remote camper” among the company’s customer base.
The new line needed to provide a range of products for campers who might use SUVs, mountain bikes, horses or kayaks on their excursions. So more thought was given to the products’ size and weight as well as their ability to pack easily.
Landor created the name “Exponent” to rebrand the line and developed packaging with duo-tone imagery and a white, metallic silver and black color palette to deliver a premium appearance. Imagery of snakes, lizards and other more exotic animals on the packaging support the new brand tagline “Exit the beaten path.”
“There was acceptance from Coleman consumers to ‘move up the mountain’ in terms of offering a line like this,” says Lehmann. “It led [Coleman] to greater awareness and added shelf space. They finally felt that it made sense.”
As with Coleman, brands can achieve better retail positioning through a redesign. Smaller brands (and even larger brands that are dated) might find retailers are refusing to list a product because its design is staid, or because it’s not packaged to suit their merchandising formats. But these are just more reasons that add weight on the side of redesign.
“A manufacturer that continually offers innovation and newness that helps the retailer connect to the consumer is going to have a big competitive edge over the other manufacturers,” says trend guru Robyn Waters, formerly the vice president of trend, design and product development at Target. “All retailers want to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Good retailers want to connect directly with the needs and desires of their customers. Great design can deliver both of those objectives.” BP
The author, Pauline Tingas, is the Senior Editor of BRANDPACKAGING.