Brands get clever on-pack

Grocery brands are investing more in design packaging to give themselves better on-shelf standout as the battle for depleted consumer spending intensifies.

Nowhere is this bid to repackage and reposition existing products more noticeable than in supermarkets, where cost-conscious shoppers are comparing before they buy.

Established brands, including those owned by Procter and Gamble, SC Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline, have tweaked their on-shelf look since the slowdown last year.

Brands like Coca Cola, which is trying to get attention with its Olympic Games glass bottle covered in a black and white image from Rankin, the freelance photographer, have followed.

Explicitly admitting in June that it too wanted to “increase its shelf standout,” Cobra launched new packets for its entire beer range, partly by scaling back “unnecessary messages”.

Typically, brands that put more money into in-store marketing, including package design, will do so at the expense of their glitzier, above-the-line promotions.

Stephanie Brown, a director at Landor, which did the Cobra redesign, said brands that “parade flamboyant, flippant and profligate characteristics” will be the losers in a downturn.

Although she also said brands which ‘treat’ the consumer would continue to play a role, the winners in a downturn would be those that were honest, transparent and true to their values.

“When times are tough, brands need to work harder and invest more in keeping their promise to consumers,” Ms Brown said, responding to questions from FreelanceUK yesterday.

“Exposed by the economic drought and with little to hide behind, brands will be seen for what they are and with ­ the chinks revealed.

“Honesty, simplicity and integrity are paramount and brands that embrace these characteristics will weather the storm and weather it well.”

A glance round any supermarket reveals some brands which have ignored using designers to redo their packaging have not necessarily ignored consumer belt-tightening.

Some cartoons of Tropicana offer two nights’ holiday for the price of one, some packs of Maltesers offer on-pack instant holidays, and some Mr Muscle products offer 50% extra.

All this on-pack marketing hasn’t gone unnoticed by the supermarkets stocking these brands, not least because they all have factories full of their cheaper to buy, own-label alternatives.

In fact, Sainsbury-sponsored research reported by the Financial Times yesterday found that 62% of shoppers said they were more likely to buy own-brand products than a year ago.

Vowing to give big brands “more of a fight”, the supermarket’s chief executive Justin King told the paper that the price gap between brand and own label was “as wide as it’s ever been.”

Ms Brown, of Landor, reflected: “Keenly priced, down-to-earth, honest brands are where it’s at, and [Sainsbury’s rival] Morrisons is a great example.

“Smart brand repositioning has meant that the supermarket is reaping the benefits of the slowdown more than most of its competitors.”

Yet the supermarkets also seem to be latching onto other consumable products, which they might not necessarily stock, which have defied the spending contraction.

Home entertainment, whether rented or bought, such as video games, consoles and DVDs, has proved widely resilient, at the expense of clothes shopping and eating out.

“Jumping squarely on the ‘staying in is the new going out’ brand wagon, Marks & Spencer offer a ‘staying in luxury meal for two with a bottle of wine for a tenner’,” Ms Brown said. [This is an example of an] existing product repackaged and repositioned as a treat. Clever stuff.”


3rd September 2008

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