Monthly Archive for June, 2009

I am a big fan of Publix supermarket’s store name private label brand. Ever since I first saw it some five years ago, I saw elegance in its simplicity; I appreciated its ease of application across product categories; I loved the way its designers were able to vary its color schemes, avoiding the monotony to which some private label designs hew in the name of consistency; and perhaps best of all, I found the humorous illustrations a welcome and human touch that drew my attention to package after package.

Having presided over the design of many private label products over the years (examples at www.goldforest.com), and as someone who’s written and lectured widely on the subject of private label branding, I give Publix an A+ for its body of work.

Fabric Softener (left) and Laundry Detergent (right)

Fabric Softener (left) and Laundry Detergent (right)

All of which brings me to the subject of my mother. Yes, the same one who starred in my first television commercial 16 years ago, charging from home to the rescue at the last minute when my lead actress failed to show at the shoot. The result, predictably, was oohs and ahhs for HER every time I showed MY spot to friends and family. Mom, now 78, has been a loyal purchaser of Publix brand Free&Clear Ultra Laundry Detergent for a while. When guests at her home noted recently that her towels were notably lacking in absorbency, she discovered that for two months she’d been “washing” her clothes with Free&Clear Ultra Fabric Softener!

Over dinner last week, she told me that the bottles of the detergent and softener were so deceptively similar, she’d purchased the wrong one. Upon my examination of the packages, I can see that she is very, very right. Clearly the designer of this packaging system intended to communicate the compatibility of these products as a one-two laundry solution. The colors of the container, cap and label graphics are identitical, as is the sub-brand logotype “Free & Clear.” The illustrations are different, but neither clearly references either the detergent or softener function. The same argument applies to the slight differences in container shapes and sizes, as well as the variations in cap design: they are not category specific. In fact the only design element that clearly and undeniably tells the shopper which product is which is the descriptor line, printed in light grey, at 1/3 the type size of the logo lettering and just beneath it.

Detergent Cap

Detergent Cap

Softener Cap

Softener Cap

This error is a sort of “line extension nightmare,” and an occupational danger of the private label designer. A private label brand is in essence one long series of line extensions. In the case of a supermarket, it can stretch across 30 categories or more, and some categories may be dozens of product variations deep!

Publix offers multiple scents of Ultra Laundry Detergent / Fabric Softener combinations in addition to Free & Clear. Shown here is the Fresh Scent variation, using a pink motif. Other than the pearlescent colored cap on the softener, the same issues exist in differentiating by function.

FreshScent Softener and Detergent. Note the difference in caps.

FreshScent Softener and Detergent. Note the difference in caps.

The problem is that detergent and softener are two different categories, and in this case, there is simply not a strong enough visual differentiation between them to prevent the habitual shopper from grabbing the wrong one. Is that too strong a conclusion to draw on the basis of one untoward incident? In the case of my mother, who I know to be a lifelong savvy shopper, I think most definitely not. Publix, notice served!

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A duo of independently written articles seemed to pose and then suggest an answer to a question that’s been on a lot of peoples minds. First, in MediaPost’s Engage Boomers Blog, a June 22 post entitled Maybe Peter Pan Should Move to Madison Avenue, FiveO Creative Director Brent Bouchez noted that “by 2010, 50% of all consumer spending in America will be by people over the age of 50.” But he noted that marketing budgets are 90% allocated toward reaching the 18-34 demographic, today’s advertising “sweet spot.” There’s lots of other fun backup data here, but that’s the main point, and he notes that “the majority of consumers over 50 feels that advertising and marketing either portrays them negatively or ignores them altogether.” Point taken.

Curiously, the same day, Mark Dolliver of Adweek published an article entitled, Assessing the Power of Ads. He cited recent polling data which might help explain Bouchez’ point of view. While 45% of those 18-34 felt that “ads were at least somewhat influential in guiding their most recent big purchase,” on 29% of those 55+ responded similarly. Another noteworthy stat is that while 66% of 18-34 year olds found ads at least somewhat interesting, only 46% of those 55+ did.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? My point in this post is that it could well be that the reason Mr and Mrs 55+ feel ignored is that they are not worthy targets in the first place: they don’t find advertising interesting and it doesn’t move them to buy. But of course, one could legitimately point out that the advertising profession is dominated by those very same millenials and gen Y ‘ers who appreciate and respond best to advertising. We’re talking to our friends and neighbors and it’s no surprise they are listening. And buying.

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MediaPost reported in its Engage:Teens newsletter today that while teens show a genuine interest in the environment, “when it comes to brand involvement in green issues, however, they have a nuanced view.” The study reports that 67% of teens want to make a difference in this area. But teens 13-17 would choose a less expensive, non-green brand over one that costs more but is not as eco-friendly, while those 18-29 would “pay more for a product if they knew some of their investment was going towards an environmental cause.”

The article includes recommendations for capitalizing on the results of the research. Among them, brand marketers must educate teens on how to take action in their environments, turning their desire to support green causes into meaningful results. Also, adding green content to the brand Website and pushing eco-apps on social media sites are considered worthwhile ventures.

For more, visit www.mediapost.com.

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Noah Brier, author of a very interesting and diverse blog, has created a very cool visualization tool at brandtags.net. If you’re into branding, you’ll be into this. Users can view a sort of “word cloud” containing dozens or hundreds of words submitted one at a time by other users in response to views of randomly displayed logos. The larger words in the cloud are those that were used more commonly.

Thus I type in “Crayola”, a brand we are currently working with, and see that the major concepts associated with the brand logo are:

  • Childhood
  • Colors
  • Fun
  • Happy
  • Kids
  • Crayons
  • Smile

All of these words fit nicely with the brand profile contained in the company’s background material to us. (Mysteriously, “Banana” is also ranked highly. Go figure.)

Goldforest has always said that a brand is not born upon product introduction, but rather when a shared experience and vision, including descriptive terms, begins to emerge. Clearly this Web site reflects the shared vision of thousands of visitors.

While brand managers like the folks at Crayola cannot be sure if brandtags visitors represent a meaningful cross section of target customers, they can use a site like this to learn quickly the words and concepts people associate with their brand; just as importantly, they can also take note of words that aren’t listed.

This is not a substitute for formal research, but if your budget’s limited (and whose isn’t these days), it’s a great place to start!

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