Have your say, share your thoughts on the article written by David Rogers, owner of packaging and brand design consultancy We Are Pure, UK
With trading conditions still relatively tough, many packaging design agencies are fighting it out to win the lucrative big brand contracts. But, is it wise to focus all of their attention in this area, and is there actually anything to be gained from working with those who are yet to make their mark?
I think that the last few years have shown that specialist and niche agencies are a thing of the past. Of course, as individual designers we all have our specialism, but for a business to close itself off to entire markets, is practically financial suicide.
My belief is, and always has been, that an agency should work with clients from different sectors and of varying sizes. Not only does this approach keep the team creative and fresh, but it also makes for a much more rounded business, providing a crucial overview of each sector as a whole and the restrictions and challenges being faced at all levels.
Operating a business in this way helps to equip the team for any kind of work and, at the moment, most agencies are finding that adaptability is vital.
In order to prove this point, I would like to set out the benefits of working for clients of varying sizes and propose where I think the middle ground lies.
Big brands, big bucks
Let’s face it, not many business owners are going to look a gift horse in the mouth, particularly in the current economic climate. The most obvious benefit of working for established, large brands is that they provide a fantastic revenue stream. Alongside that, there is a certain kudos attached to the more iconic brands, providing lucrative PR for your own business.
This kind of work also tends to offer a lot longer lead times and tighter, structured design briefs. You will normally be working alongside people that have an in-depth knowledge of marketing and it can often be a blessing to be dealing with those that fully understand and have experience of the creative process.
Is the work the most challenging for a designer? If I’m honest, probably not and it normally just involves tweaks and range extensions. However, sometimes you can luck out and get involved in something a lot bigger.
If you look at the work that my own agency has done for the likes of hair care specialist Trevor Sorbie in the UK and confectionery giant Slavyanka in Russia, you will see that it is possible to be involved in the development of whole new ranges for those with a huge high street presence.
The new kids on the block
I consider challenger brands to be those that are trying to make a name for themselves and these can range from medium sized operations, right the way down to ‘cottage industries’ operating from home. The pros and cons of this kind of work are basically the polar opposites of those attributed to the big brands.
When it comes to brand guidelines, they are basically non-existent as you are being tasked to create a brand from scratch, which, in many respects is a designer’s dream.
An open brief can be a little daunting, particularly as lead times tend to be fairly short, but that is all part of the challenge. You normally find yourself working alongside the brand owner, which allows you to establish a greater sense of the brand essence and position. On the flipside, they normally have little marketing experience, so you have to take the lead and a more lengthy, simplified explanation process of your work may be needed.
Personally, working for challenger brands will always have a special place in my heart. For me, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing something you created really taking off. Done correctly, design work for challenger brands can result in a massive sales hike and a rapid increase in popularity. The ideal situation is that one of these brands is so successful that it suddenly becomes a big brand and, of course, you are already part of the team.
Photo: Natura Siberica, range of shampoos
To show this is not a hypothetical situation, this is exactly what happened to us when we started work on Russian health and beauty brand Natura Siberica. It is a brand that we created and took to market, taking it from a standing start to achieving a turnover of £30m in the space of three years.
The middle ground
It is obvious that big brands and challenger brands are at opposite ends of the scale. One offers money, status, stability, but limited creativity, whilst the other offers a wealth of creative potential, but comes with a degree of uncertainty. With this in mind, it is probably hard to consider a best of both worlds situation.
I suggest that this actually lies in own brand products. Not only do you have the security and financial backing of a well-known brand, but you also tend to get more of a creative license and are basically designing something from scratch.
Own brand offerings tend to be about injecting designs with emotion, humour and a quirkiness that means they will not simply blend in when placed on the shelf. It is about giving the product its own environment through the packaging, and own-brand and NPD give a much greater scope to do this.
Our work with DVD rental leaders Blockbuster is a prime example of this in practice. We were tasked with creating an identity for the company’s own confectionery range.
Photo: confectionery range for Blockbuster
We wanted to use the packaging design to reflect Blockbuster’s reputation as a movie specialist, and by doing so, position the confectionary as a natural choice for film fans. The tag line ‘Movielicious’ was developed to create a natural affinity between the big screen and the confectionary and we used 50’s black and white imagery to hark back to the iconic age of movies.
This also presented us with the opportunity to inject some of the tongue-in-cheek humour associated with the 50’s, adding slogans to the packaging to tie in with the images. For both parties, it was about creating a fun, humorous and quirky offering that fitted in with the relaxed nature of a movie night at home. This range has been incredibly successful and, five years down the line, we are still refreshing and developing more and more products for Blockbuster. The British public, in particular, engage with packaging that is humorous or emotive, this is our task everyday, to create a little piece of magic for the shelf.
I am certainly not saying that taking this varied approach will be the solution to all problems for every agency. All I am saying is that it is an approach that has worked for us and could well be something to consider. For us as designers, the last thing we want is to be pigeonholed. They say ‘variety is the spice of life’ and for me, when it comes to packaging design, not a truer word has been spoken.
About the Author
David Rogers is the owner and creative partner of Nottingham-based packaging and brand design consultancy We Are Pure, which works with some major national brands such as Unilever, Trevor Sorbie and Blockbuster and many international/local brands, specifically, in Russia.