Why FMCG Brands Should Take Inspiration from the Toys!

Have your say, share your thoughts with other readers on this article written by Darren Foley, Managing Director at Pearlfisher, London

Christmas is coming, and of course brand owners have started planning as early as possible for the consumer season. With economic pressures and financial speculation still omnipresent, many brands are probably looking at this year’s  traditional prime-sales period with a boom or bust mentality. To be fair, when it comes to the FMCG market, sales seem to stay fairly buoyant via gifting new ‘smellies’ or small electrical appliances. But, isn’t this market now just getting a bit stuck on repeat? And whilst consumers are still spending—exactly what they want to spend on is definitely changing. Interestingly, it appears to be the brand goliath of the ‘entertainment’ sector, covering everything from traditional toys to console gaming, that is better tapping into the zeitgeist and meeting the needs of both society and the individual. Maybe this is because we expect (and require) these ‘entertainment’ brands to tick a lot of boxes. Not only must they entertain in the most cutting edge fashion, but they are also required to be responsible and in some cases educational, whilst still maintaining a desirability and fun factor.

‘Toys’ are now having to consider their world view and societal impact. Mobile phone manufacturers, for example, are having to be transparent about whether their phones are free of ‘conflict minerals’ from illegal mines as otherwise the media is outing them (Source: ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably—the true cost of life in the West, The Guardian Weekend 15.10.11). Whilst for the traditional toy manufacturers, there is increasing pressure to get away from the mass produced, cheap labour, plastic fantastic excess which has been the long-held—and actually accepted—modus operandi. Both The Guardian and Popsop recently ran the story about global leader Mattel adopting new sustainable sourcing policies when it comes to both packaging and product—after being publicly named and shamed by Greenpeace re Barbie. Third party pressure like this is forcing our toy brands to innovate and not get stuck in a rut like some of our most recognised and best-loved FMCG brands.

If we turn our attention to the personal care sector, we could certainly argue that many brands— particularly at the iconic end of the spectrum—are not living up to the name of their umbrella portfolio when it comes to advancing and leading today’s market. And this is largely because — unlike Mattel et al—they are not addressing issues (societal, economical, cultural) through their key touchpoint: their brand design and packaging.

For example, is Gillette really ‘the best a man can get’? Despite continuous global npd and communications innovation, Gillette is still peddling a ‘Top Gear’ aesthetic which—whilst entertainment based—is not promoting the Gillette heritage and expertise as a strong—THE strong—iconic equity. Why not?

Iconic brands such as Gillette— and maybe Imperial Leather and Hugo Boss—have a quality and long-standing charm that few can match. But they can’t just stand still and rest on their iconic laurels. The dilemma for these brands is not just how to refresh their allure and stay focused on their brand truth but also answer new moral and cultural needs by tapping into and cherishing the right part of the visual brand equity.

And for a brand that was established in 1895 and which is, without question, a pioneer of blade technology, Gillette is not seizing the opportunity to use its iconic heritage to fully tell and realise its all-important story and develop a more apposite future positioning in this increasingly competitive marketplace. Unlike Barbie, who —for all her supposed air-head persona— harnesses the attitude and approach of a truly unbeatable iconic brand. The Barbie brand maximises its heritage with the year-on-year launches of its festive ‘Holiday Doll’ (started in 1988) but is still resolutely challenging (sustainability and the future) to build and maintain her iconic status in a relevant way for a fast-moving and changing world. Maybe Eco Warrior Barbie is just on the horizon? And despite criticism to the contrary, she is undoubtedly becoming an important role—and brand—model.

But many of our other fast-movers and shakers have reached a standstill—and they can’t afford to.

About the Author

Darren Foley, Managing Director at Pearlfisher, London, joined the company in 2002 as Realisation Director, inventing the concept of realisation and advocating a design process in which our technical and creative teams work in harmony from the beginning. He has worked in the design industry for close to 25 years, starting out as a junior production artist, and amassing an unparalleled depth of knowledge for the discipline.