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The days of ‘packaging first’ brand design are over

As brand design experts, we’re frequently looking beyond our heartland for inspiration, it’s those adjacent nuggets that help to uncover a new creative road to pursue. The ‘bringing the outside in’ approach has never been as important as it is for brand designers today. 


As channels merge, flux and evolve the ‘packaging first’ rule for FMCG is no longer fit for purpose.

brandA huge driver of this is, of course, the changing behaviour of how consumers engage with brands. Boomers, Gen-X, Millennials and Gen-Z see brands as part of their lives – not just a jar in the cupboard. Particularly on the younger end of the spectrum, these consumers have been brought up with a democratised brand relationship. For Gen-Z for example, the ‘build it and they will come’ strategy is alien and irrelevant.

As such, the days of presentations of adored, indulged and crafted packaging on crisp white backgrounds are over. As brand design professionals, it is our job to think about where the brand journey begins – to truly put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer, understanding their perspective and where we can start to offer relevance. It is this angle that is fundamental and integral to every design challenge from day one.

We have a duty to consider the different roles of design in the earliest phases of work. We have a functional and emotional role to play for consumers. We need to satisfy both system 1 and system 2 thinking, not either or – creating an engagement cycle with a loop that delights from OOH, to 3 metres, to unpacking, to living in your cupboard, to consumption all the way to disposal.

Our job isn’t flat graphics, it’s experiences, flexibility, creativity and possibility. Story-telling. Big ideas. Building brands with attitude and real personality that go beyond only a great product.

joel-filipe-187166As experienced brand designers, we’ve developed our tricks of the trade over the years, and have put together our fail-safe tick-list of principles to drive bigger, holistic brand design thinking:

  1. Open up the brief writing process to stakeholders that need to champion your brand – what are their biggest channels, touchpoints to operate within, communication trends that go beyond the ‘standard’?
  2. Establish the ‘torture test’ touchpoints of where your brand needs to operate. If your creative concepts work here, they’ll work anywhere.
  3. Unlearn your ‘design process’ – put some real TLC into your design briefs. Take a step away from the computer, grab some inspiration, really mine your consumer insights to give rich and inspiring attitudinal pointers.
  4. See design as a system, and not just packaging. Packaging may be the road in, but what does this mean for digital? For travel retail? For promotions? Strong, bold, distinctive assets are more important than ever.
  5. In execution, keep it consistent. Consistency, consistency, consistency is the rule of thumb – protect the strength, message and richness of your brand – without distortion or reinterpretation. Keep your visual communication pure and succinct.

Case study: Halo Top - the ice-cream brand getting it so right

ice-creamHalo Top – unknown to us Brits, has become a sensation in the US, over-taking both Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Daaz as the biggest selling ice-cream brand. Their appeal is clear; a great product story, hitting the sweet spot between no compromise, indulgence and health whilst being a brand full of vibrancy, zeitgeist-y humour and joie de vivre. Their ghoulishly disruptive brandmark shouts out and disrupts traditional indulgence codes whilst still contributing to the communication of a creamy, delicious product. Halo Top’s category-breaking approach has given them license and free reign to push their communications, being a millennial brand built from social-media backwards rather than from store back.


And so, the moral of the story. As challenging as it is to be in the business of branding in the 2010s, it is also a time ripe for revolutionary design that truly reflects consumers’ needs and desires – being in the right place, at the right time. Get your brand design right, and everything else will follow.


Halo Top Creamery 

About: Rosie Brodhurst-Hooper, Dragon Rouge

Rosie has a curious spirit that always wants to understand the ‘whys’, and ‘so whats’ of business, brand and consumer behaviour.

She has spent the last 10 years working with global and local brands, helping them plan ahead, understand more and translate insights, data and observations into robust and effective strategies. It’s getting to the heart of a knotty business challenge that drives Rosie, and she has enjoyed working with brands such as Danone, Unilever, Kimberly-Clark and P&G across a breadth of categories, helping to solve problems and pave a new way ahead.


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