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Enduring Brands: Avoiding the Brand Obsolescence Trap


Adrian Collins, managing director of Ziggurat Brands discusses how to achieve brand longevity.

It is hard to think of a food brand that has kept more or less the same packaging since the turn of the century. Most have suffered from continual tinkering, and many have been transformed beyond all recognition.

Yet, MiniCheddars is one example. When we designed it back in 2000 we had little idea that it would be such an enduring design, but it has lasted. Where other snack brands haveallowed their brand equity to dissipate in an ongoing process of design and redesign, MiniCheddars has barely changed at all. It has remained a consistent performer with little or no advertising support.

It remains the same bright, recognisable, appealing package that it was 15 years ago. And that has produced rewards for owners McVities, who have enjoyed ongoing sales success with the product. It has diversified flavours but kept the packaging consistent.
How many food brands can make the same claim? Think of a product, and then try to remember how it looked 15 years ago. Almost certainly it will have been through so many evolutions - or even complete overhauls - that the packaging it wore at the start of this century is almost unrecognisable from that it currently uses – just 15 years later.

The most obvious objection to this is the cost involved. What is the return on investment on packaging design that lasts and succeeds for 15 years? Yet there are other reasons to try to achieve an enduring brand.

Tinkering disasters
Consider some famous examples. The most notorious is of course Coca-Cola’s 1985 attempt to rebrand Coca-Cola Classic as New Coke. More recently, in 2009 PepsiCo tried to overhaul an established design of Tropicana, phasing out the well-known orange with a straw in it. After a month of complaints and a 20 percent drop in sales, PepsiCo announced that it would bring the old carton back. It was a mistake that was reputed to have cost $100m.

In the snacks world, also in 2009, Kraft held a competition to rename Australian icon Vegemite. The resulting name – iSnack 2.0 - was nothing if not a surprise, but what was even more remarkable was that Kraft agreed to go through with the change. It lasted a full five days.

Causes of the tinkering
Despite these cautionary tales there are many reasons why brand managers continue to put the packaging design of even their best loved and most successful brands through a process of almost continual change. The first, and most important, is that packaging matters. It is the opportunity a brand has to make a connection with a consumer at the point of purchase.

Poor products with great packaging can succeed and great products with poor packaging can succeed. It is as important as that, and we are of course not suggesting that FMCG brand managers never review or update their product packaging.

However, it can be too easy to do. A brand manager knows he or she will be in post for two to three years. They want to make their mark in that time, and there are few levers at their disposal that are as quick, affordable, and often effective as packaging design. We can cite a long list of brands that have spent £100,000 with us and seen a profit surge in the millions of pounds. What brand manager does not want that on their CV?

It should be noted that this enthusiasm for packaging evolution and revolution is by no means confined to those brand managers. Branding and design consultancies have a significant vested interest in persuading their clients that the design they did two years ago would benefit from an update.

Designing for brand longevity
Why should brand managers resist these siren calls for a redesign? After all the disaster stories are relatively few and far between. There are a great many more examples of sweet and snack brands that have quietly evolved over the years with a tinker here, a relaunch there, and continued to deliver good sales. Is it not important to remain fresh and contemporary?

It is indeed important, but it is far better to develop a look and feel that looks fresh and contemporary from the outset and, crucially, remains so for many years. Take Copella. When we began working with Copella in 2004 it was a £5m brand looking for an enduring packaging design that would take its sales to the next level and help it establish its place in the PepsiCo stable.

We placed a solid block of distinctive green across the centre of every Copella bottle. Not only does the strong presence of a distinctive brand signifier help it to get noticed and tried, once consumers have tried and loved the product they can easily find it again.  Having located the brand it is then relatively simple to shop within the brand for the specific variant.

Today Copella turns over more than £40m a year; it has never advertised on television. Crucially Copella has one of the highest repeat purchase rates of any product in the PepsiCo range.

Clearly, brand longevity is about more than avoiding disaster. By creating a brand that endures, FMCG products can reduce consultancy spend, build long-term brand recognition and awareness, protect margins, and achieve astonishing return on investment in branding and design services.

Achieving brand longevity
How, then, to achieve this first time round? How do so many of our designs endure? The key is to focus on the authentic thought at the core of a brand. It is simple to say and far harder to do, but over the nearly 30 years of our agency we have refined our process so that we are able to do it time and time again.

One of the best examples of this in action is Sunbites. Launched in 2007,Sunbites had initially achieved strong sales and high repeat purchase rates in the ‘Better For You’ segment, but by 2010, once advertising support ended they were plummeting from a £17m high to just £8m four years later. We were brought in to address the problem.

It was abundantly clear that the packaging was too focused on the wholegrain content of the product. With its preachy, hectoring style, it was failing to engage its primary target audience of females. We established an original, exciting, colourful illustrative style and language to reflect just how tasty, light and enjoyable Sunbites actually are and to engage new consumers who were attracted to the idea of trialling a healthier, tastier snack.

This shift in packaging design from didactically healthy, to inherently healthy but also tasty, expressed the authentic thought at the core of Sunbites and produced startling results: sales surged by 26% in the first three months, and now sales have risen from £8m to more than £40m now. The packaging design has not changed in that time.

The value of doing nothing
It was Winnie the Pooh who famously said: “Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering.” More recently a paper from business school INSEAD has argued that successful individuals are often those who understand the value of doing nothing.

The same can be true of packaging design. Resist the urge to tinker. Remember the cautionary tales and the stories of those who got it right first time round, and resolve instead to invest the resources in discovering your authentic thought, and then communicating that with skill and craft in your own packaging design.

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