2010, for me it marks 40 years of being at the sharp end of branding and package design, working with many marketing teams in large and small companies and at all levels both nationally and internationally, so now seems a good moment to look back and to take stock of what has become of our industry. Well, guess what, I’m not as impressed as I thought I would be! In-fact, I’m amazed at just how much mediocrity I now see around me when I visit stores and supermarkets.
You see, I remember a time when marketeers and studios were bold and creative, when there were people in companies making decisions, without being terrorised at the thought of consumer reaction. These were people who brought new ideas to the market, by taking risks and creating new and dynamic branding and packaging, brands and package designs like Tide, Nivea, Coca-Cola, Martini, OXO, Budweiser… are just a few of the many we still talk about today that were created by these great pioneering folks.
So how come everything looks so much the same today? What ever happened to all that enthusiasm and talent that we all started out with? Where are all the marketing big ideas and the design creativity that we all talk about in all the marketing and creative blogs, books, articles and social networks? It seems to me that today, the great branding cases that we do all talk about represent only a small fraction of what’s out there, we can probably even find most of these great examples grouped on one or two packaging websites: But what has happened to all the rest?
I think it’s time for us all to stop listening to what we say, and start looking at “what we actually do!”
Come-on be honest now, you know I’m right, I’m sure most of you young marketers and packaging designers reading this can agree that your best ideas usually end up on the cutting room floor, deleted in the studio process for being too far-out or rejected on the client side, by worried marketing managers who want to “play it safe”, and “please the consumer at all cost”. This indecision can be seen in the way many marketeers today engage a design studio by “hedging their bets” and asking two, three or even four or more of them to compete for the simplest of jobs, and in consequence, indecision can also be seen in the way studios have a tendency to “play it safe”, so as to be sure to be in with a chance of winning! – It’s a loose-loose situation for the brand!
For instance, I bought some dog food the other day, here was a real example of ‘playing it safe’ it was absolutely crammed packed with tables and text, I’m sure it covered every angle and whim of the dog owner’s thirst for knowledge, but clearly, there was no way that I (or I suspect many other dog owner’s), were ever going to read all that stuff. I’m sure if I really cared, I could find all that on the website in any case, so why is it all on the pack! A pack is supposed to do the job of attracting and convincing its target audience in a few seconds, its not supposed to be a book!
Look around you, it seems to be a common occurrence once a profession becomes ‘mature’, we take our eye off the ball and mediocrity creeps up on us everywhere. Take the cinema for instance, we have to wait for independents to come up with a “Notting Hill” or a “Train Spotters” not the big studios, likewise in music, it has always been the wild youth who create our new music at grass roots level, not the mainstream record producers of the big labels. Why? Because it seems the smaller independents are prepared to believe in what they are doing and are prepared to take risks and as a result they change the paradigm.
As we move into the second decennial I think it’s time all of us in the branding community take note of all that is happening around us and learn from this original ‘independent’ style of thinking. If we do, I’m sure we can use this opportunity to take the lead, bring back the spark of creativity and breath new life into our brands and into our profession.
There are those that will tell you, that there is nothing new, that it’s all been done before, but don’t listen to them – this is only to choose the path to mediocrity. Because the good news is that this is definitely not true, there is always a new way to look at things, new un-discovered territories to explore. But, and here’s a real note of caution, once we are enlightened, once we have that ‘eureka’ idea, if we want it to see the light of day, we all need to be brave enough to stand behind it, ‘go with it’ and take a risk.
There’s an old saying that says ‘a good Idea is like a frog, you can dissect the thing, but it dies in the process’, so the last thing we need to do is to over analyse and test every idea until we reach the common denominator and the group thinking of “current consumer behaviour”, ‘category norms’ etc… that then convinces us that we are doing the right thing, when in fact, we are often just reducing the big Idea to a small idea (or even no idea).
2010 has arrived and now we are all looking for signs of hope as we leave the disastrous 09’s behind. But our hopes will only be realised if we become capable of looking at our brands and packaging with a new perspective, of course common sense says we need to be cautious and careful with our brands and respect the relationship they have with consumers, but if we can become bolder in our actions and believe in what we are doing, we will succeed in bringing ‘real’ innovation to the market that will inspire our people and our customers and most of all, ourselves. So, lets not let 2010 be just another ‘graveyard of good ideas’, we have a real chance to make 2010 different, I’m convinced we can make this happen by all working together to bring our brands to life!
© Rowland Heming