#19 Why Evolving Your Brand’s Packaging and Identity is Often a Bad Idea

For this week’s post, I am going back on memory lane to my old days as a brand manager in the evil tobacco business. It was a tough job, the government set maximum selling prices, consumer media advertising was banned, product sampling was unheard of and habit induced taste preferences made switching between brands unlikely. Left without any major levers to pull, marketers started to invent consumer needs. Our favorite was the consumer appetite to see a brand new packaging redesign. In most cases, we did that to cure our marketer boredom. I doubt consumers genuinely wished for “more modern” brand typeface that made their favorite brand harder to spot on the shelf.

Packungsevolution Lucky Strike – Design Tagebuch
Evolution of Lucky Strike Packaging in Germany

The best method to recognize brands on the shelf is to recall their distinctive assets visually. These are design elements surrounding your brand that generate memory structures in the busy minds of your consumers. Advertising’s role is to show those distinctive assets and build the memory muscle continuously. Think years not days here. Altering your distinctive assets frequently is a recipe for confusion, and rarely needed. Your packaging is one of your most prized distinctive assets, don’t play with it. The orange juice brand Tropicana learned it the hard way (read the case study here). But if you are short on time, the bottom line conclusion of the study is “don’t do it”.

Tropicana label Fail - Robert's Graphic design

Recent Black Lives Matter protests stirred some ripples in the advertising and brand world too. Brands started moving away from images that could generate a PR drama, and packaging redesign became trendy again. While in this instance, playing with your packaging to “update” your brand could be a wise move, in all other cases it’s probably not. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Ten years since I left the tobacco world, I wonder what marketing departments are busy with these days in BAT. In the context of more countries moving to plain packaging with non-distinctive branding communication, marketing teams must get bored with something else. What could that be?

Guidelines for plain packaging changes
Guidelines for plain packaging changes – Singapore

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

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