Lending a Helping Hand for Innovation

The payoff for a packaging innovation is almost impossible to quantify beforehand. Nevertheless, truly helpful ones, like this great example of a trigger sprayer incorporated into a bottle design, courtesy of Packaging World.

Innovation is not easy. It’s usually very hard. It’s not a flash of inspiration out of the blue. It’s a flash of recognition after 1,000 other ideas hit the cutting room floor. But when it connects with consumers at an intuitive level, the package itself can become the biggest marketing asset that brand can leverage.

The Wet & Forget Shower Cleaner succeeds on many levels. The trigger is functional and appropriate. It’s easy to remove from the handle and easy to install. The cap doesn’t even have to be removed, saving one small yet significant step. But maybe most importantly, shoppers “get it” right away standing in store aisles.

The biggest hurdle to innovation is not the creative spark. Instead, it’s managing the usually-too-many cooks that tend to spoil the stew. Ideally, all the cooks should have cross-functional capabilities that make communicating between departments efficient and effective. In addition, establishing a chain of command is essential to get the recipe right.

But always start with consumers. What are their unmet needs? What could make life easier for them? What new value can you add? Only then can you determine what innovation might mean in the real world.

Here’s a list of things to consider when developing an innovation mindset that I put together for Packaging World magazine. This article was pulled from a series of “Playbooks” I wrote and edited that came out in April 2013. Check out the “Package Development,” “Labeling,” and “Flexible Packaging” editions for more brand and package development tips from yours truly.

Good and Good for You…Cheerios

Studying the history of heritage brands always turns up some odd plot twists. Cheerios, for instance, first built its point of differentiation around taste and convenience. Over the years, the brand position has moved with the times, and is now firing on many “healthy” cylinders simultaneously. Its authentic positivity, resolutely stated, has kept the brand highly relevant through the years.

“Heart-healthy” has been a main product feature in recent decades, but the brand has not always fully embraced what has become a matter of fact. That is, for the many parents who avoid processed foods for infants at all costs, Cheerios is the first packaged, branded product that those parents trust.

The brand is returning again to that message on several levels. First, with a “controversial” TV ad that should not have been controversial in this day and age. More engaging on a personal level, though, is a bold new packaging campaign that breaks convention with a spare back panel on Cheerios boxes. Words like “Trusted” and “Smile” are writ large and centered on a wide yellow field that glows ever so slightly behind the text.

The “Trusted” box proudly states: “Tried and true, Cheerios is the first finger food so many moms trust for their little ones.” The “Smile” box says: “Perfectly familiar and crunchy, there’s something about the taste of Cheerios that kids never outgrow.” These messages are authentic and resonant to brand loyalists as well as consumers that may be thinking about returning to the brand.

The original “Cheeri Oats” recipe was 75% ground oatmeal and 25% corn and rye flours. Today, the first of seven total ingredients (only seven!) is still whole grain oats. The oats are now combined with corn starch and wheat starch, and just a little sugar and salt.

The convenience angle in the early days was that kids and adults could get their morning serving of oats without having to cook them. That should make the whole family cheery! The brand promise was in the brand name, deftly combined a few years after its introduction into one word, Cheerios.

Dropping the “oats” from the name was a tradeoff. It served one targeted purpose for the times, as it downplayed negative associations with healthy food to compete head-to-head with sweeter competition. Yet, in the long run, it negated a broader gain, that of its hearty, healthy position. The brand would have to wait for the culture pendulum to swing back before pushing that benefit hard again.

I may be an anecdotal anomaly, but I didn’t realize the relative healthiness of Cheerios until my toddler’s doctor approved of the cereal. This was a funny realization after eating and loving cooked oats for breakfast… for decades! For whatever reason, the oats connection in the “o” of Cheerios didn’t come through to me, an oats lover.

Nevertheless, Cheerios succeeds in many positive messages, whether it’s a heart shaped bowl on its front panel or a campaign that promotes reading at a young age. One last positive, sustainable message on the package is given rather low prominence, at the bottom of one side panel. In a small rectangle, the text says:

Our Mission is Nourishing Lives
We guarantee your satisfaction with the quality of our products, and we are committed to nourishing lives, to protecting our environment, and to giving back to our global communities.


Cheerios through the years

Sustainable packaging initiative video

National Cereal Day

A Conflict of Two Branding Maxims

I’ve always been a conflicted person. Passionate on the inside, but reserved on the outside; Cautious in the long term, yet impulsive in the short.

Like anybody, I love a good aphorism or maxim. But what happens when two of your favorite maxims come into direct conflict?
Maxim #1: “Look before you leap.”
Maxim #2: “He who hesitates is lost.”

What should I do? Is there a compromise here? The corollary to #1 to make it more compatible with #2 would be: “But don’t look too long.” The corollary to #2 to make it more compatible with #1 would be: “But if you’re you’re near a cliff, some hesitating and looking would be advised.”

With branding, the warning against leaping without looking is a serious one. Critical mistakes are made when making changes just for the sake of change. The warning against hesitating is a warning to avoid “paralysis by analysis.”

Many consumers probably don’t notice that packaging “refresh” design campaigns happen all the time these days. For instance, without thinking, guess which of these two packages is the “old” and which is the “new.”

To combine the two maxims in a less-absolute, more reasonable fashion, one might say: “He who hesitates is lost, but take a quick, deep look before you leap.” When to revitalize branding and packaging is a critical business decision that should be analyzed through many lenses. This takes time and discipline—and patience.

Of course, product or packaging innovation that creates new value requires a leap of faith. Finally, getting it done in the real world requires management and political skills.

Here’s a list of things to consider when revitalizing package designs that I put together for Packaging World magazine. This article was pulled from a series of “Playbooks” I wrote and edited that came out in April 2013. Check out the “Package Development,” “Labeling,” and “Flexible Packaging” editions for more brand development tips from yours truly.

The Pen Is Mightier Than…

…well, a lot of things, actually. A sword, for one, metaphorically.

In this case, the B2P “Bottle 2 Pen” by Pilot is mightier than the virgin plastic industry. The B2P pen is made from recycled plastic bottles, and proves that the performance of a plastic product need not be compromised when using recycled content.

Though the package is pretty heavy with marketing, a combined graphic and structural element tells the whole story quickly. The right side of the package features an image of a plastic bottle, and the die-cut edge follows the contours of a “typical” plastic bottle. I’m sure many consumers get the product concept at the very first glance.

But the package backs up the concept with plenty of benefit statements. The first hurdle of many eco products is to reassure shoppers new to the product that it works just as effectively as established, non-eco brands. The performance benefits follow category conventions to downplay any doubt. “Smooth Writing,” “Comfortable Grip,” and “Refillable” could be found on any pen package.

Top of the package, though, is a differentiator to get shoppers excited: “World’s First Pen Made From Recycled Bottles!” Placed on the “shoulder” of the picture of the bottle, the claim adds legitimacy, as does the B2P icon/logo. The power of icons on packaging is undeniable; however, more is not always better. Discretion is the better part of valor and the like, and but that’s a topic for another time.

I’m Dreaming of an Ivory Christmas…

…just like the ones I used to know. Well, it’s hard not to be cynical when so many illusions of purity in life are revealed for their fantasy. The first big crisis of belief for many of us as we grow up is, of course, Santa Claus. Then usually following quickly after are the Easter Bunny, then the Tooth Fairy, then Reaganomics….

But not Ivory Soap! Say it isn’t so! It was first sold as White Soap in 1879, then branded Ivory Soap in 1883. Ivory was not Procter & Gamble’s very first product, but it was the company’s first true brand. The rise of this institutional brand and its fall from grace closely follow the turbulent trajectory of Western Civilization over the same time. The purity of the Ivory brand has been on a steady decline since it first boasted of being “99-44/100% Pure!”

Of course, I’m joking. Nevertheless, Ivory’s brand history does follow the trajectory of national brand strategy over the last 100 years. The purity of its brand promise has declined as the market has compelled its brand owners to compromise its values. The last two years especially have seen an ill-advised attempt to reinvent the brand as ironically hip—both retro and modern in its simplicity. Yet in this decline I will still try to find hope, as it is Christmastime, and it’s important to be hopeful (I guess).

Christmas Snow
But let’s get the Christmas and Ivory associations out of the way. First, there’s this charming 1912 Christmas Ad:

Next, there’s Ivory Snow. This soap-flake version of Ivory was popular in the first half of the 20th Century for washing dishes and clothes. In fact, Ivory flakes and bars were advertised as the one soap for all cleaning occasions.

So it’s not a big stretch to use Ivory Snow as, well, snow. Ivory enthusiasts sprinkled Ivory Snow on their Christmas trees and other decorations to simulate indoor snow. It also had the added benefit of being easy to clean up—it even aided in the clean up.

More recently, people with too much time on their hands have been using Ivory to produce “flocking” for their trees and decorations. This is a simulation of wet snow that starts out wet and dries for a clumpier, wet snow effect. A good recipe is here.

Ivory Snow flakey laundry detergent is still sold today, but there’s even a more fun way to make snow from Ivory—and it involves a microwave! Make sure you have a big enough plate, or use only a quarter of a bar. Microwave the Ivory bar, or segments, for 60 to 90 seconds. What you’ll get is an airy, foamy, dry concoction that is about 20 times the size of the dry bar you started with. Crumble that up and sprinkle it like snow on all your Christmas decorations.

Back to the story…
The spark for this lengthy diatribe occurred only a few weeks ago when I grabbed a fresh bar of soap out of the plastic-wrapped grocery ten-pack. After unwrapping the paper wrap, I noticed the soft-edged rectangle felt different in my hand. It looked to be the same length, but it was narrower. The brand experience, over 100 years old, was immediately tainted forever in my mind and soul. In this season of giving, P&G took away .5 ounces from the original 4.5 ounces.

Brands keep disappointing me. I don’t believe in the purity of Santa Claus anymore, especially because the big guy became who is today by shilling for Coca-Cola.

Ever hopeful as I am, though, I know brands can be used for good as easily as they can be used for evil. (Okay, I’ll grant you, it takes a little more effort.) Sad to say, Ivory has been a victim of its own iconic success. It’s not easy to reinvent yourself when you’re already the purest of the pure. But when it slipped to number three behind Dove and Dial, I guess something had to be done.

So, a rebranding campaign last year and a bold ad campaign this year hoped to revitalize the tired brand.

I originally thought the new branding was influenced by the trend toward generic packaging and another national brand stooping to private label’s level, however fast that level is rising. But thanks to a rare “Beauty Bundle” Ivory ad from the 1950s and the astute brand observers at UnderConsideration.com, it appears that the new logo is as much an homage to a 1950s design as it is a new direction.

Does Purity Equal Floating?
When my brother told me there was no Santa Claus, I started questioning everything. As a young boy, when Ivory told me it was so pure that it floated, I wondered: Does “floating” really prove “purity”? And does purity of product mean a cleaner clean?

Ivory’s first slogan in the 1890s—“It Floats!”—was not necessarily boastful. It was just a point of differentiation. Often the two claims of floating and purity were separate, and the floating claim would precede the purity claim.

But, over time, the claims were joined together, and the floating-equals-purity connection was made permanently, suggesting causality. Of course, it’s small air bubbles in the soap that make it float. Today’s slogan is: “Keep it pure, clean & simple.”

Ivory’s progression over the last century reflects the history of many brands and the progression of advertising strategies of each era. From mass marketing, brand promises, points of differentiation, appeals to simplicity, brand extensions, modernizations, returns to heritage, etc. etc. etc., through cycles of economic prosperity and decline.

Of course, cleanliness is next to godliness, as well, but the 20th century advertising industry’s ungodly, misguided obsession for the cleanest hands, whitest socks, and the greenest lawns is a topic for another time. But finally, I just wish the soap photo on the plastic wrap for the new diminished bars would represent the new shape, at least to be more honest about the change. And maybe P&G will realize the error of its ways and return to the fuller shape, so on future Christmases, I won’t have just be dreaming of past Ivory Christmases, “…just like the ones I used to know.”

Hope among the ruins
Like I said at the beginning, since it is Christmastime, I am duty-bound to find hope among the ruins. My suggestion then, is to just buy Dove, which has been, after all, a symbol of peace and hope for centuries, and, as a brand, offers hope to many young women with an ambitious Self-Esteem improvement campaign.

Wishing All…
Peace and Hope
During the Holidays!



A brief history of P&G.

Consumer Reports – Other Packaging “Gotchas”

1920s Ivory Ad – “The Best Taste Is the Simplest Taste”

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