Category Archives: Logos

Trick or Treat


Even with snow falling in several parts of the country, Halloween sales are expected to top $6.9 billion dollars this year in the United States, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s a lot of change dropped on candy, costumes and decorations.

Knocking on doors and asking for treats dates back to the Middle Ages, but it’s relatively recently that packaging started to reflect the season. Prior to the 1980s, parents bought the generic bags of chocolates, the usual merchandise that could be found all year long – no matter what the holiday. Now, candy manufacturers go all out with the festive candy packaging, featuring specific Halloween themes, from orange foils to ghouls, ghosts and monsters. The packaging fits right in with the surrounding costumes, décor and pumpkin pails.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that overall sales have gone up every year since companies began seasonal packaging. As mentioned, $6.9 billion is a huge chunk of change, up from $5.8 billion from just two years ago. That certainly puts the boo in booming.

Why are consumers inclined to purchase more Halloween merchandise every year? Seven out of 10 Americans are predicted to be celebrating Halloween this year, spending an average of $72.31 each. Is it the sugar fix? The chocolate addictions?

I’ll go out on a limb and announce that most people enjoy a sweet treat. But when packaging jumps out like a zombie thriller, immediately capturing the consumer’s attention, the urge to splurge is even greater.

Here’s a related example: Anyone of a certain age might remember eating Mike and Ikes. A few years ago, the candy company noticed that sales were sluggish. Why? Probably because the traditional black and white packaging was considered dull and old-fashioned. Boxes were most likely overlooked on the shelves for something more exciting and eye-catching. After re-launching with a more colorful design, Mike and Ikes sales increased 25%.

Remember, Halloween candy is a just a portion of total expected sales. (Although, more than 73% surveyed by the National Retail Federation said they would participate in handing out treats.) Consumers buy outfits for themselves, their kids and their pets. They make jack’o’lanterns, attend costume parties, visit haunted mansions, and enjoy haunted hayrides with their families. They also purchase decorations for their homes and distribute greeting cards and party favors. It’s not one specific thing that makes the holiday a memorable occasion, one becoming more popular each year. It’s the entire package!

What’s in a Name?


All the talk these days is about the economy. Retail sales were flat in August and unemployment continues to lag.

Is job creation coming from the large corporations and conglomerates? Turn instead to the privately owned firms less than five years old. While Bank of America plans on laying off 30,000 workers this year, about 400 smaller firms started since 2007 have hired more than the same amount. Check out Inc. for a list of those companies. The magazine also lists the top 5,000 companies, which accounts for more than 370K jobs in the last three years.

Small businesses are the foundation. Entrepreneurs set things in motion, often putting their own financial lives on the line by investing personal savings, using homes as collateral, paying bills with credit cards and foregoing paychecks for several years until the business takes off.

Every small business that stays in business should be commended. The five-year mark is a major milestone, as many companies fail within the first year.

On the other hand, some businesses become incredibly successful and lose sight of their beginnings. Netflix comes to mind. The movie rental service made major waves this summer, enraging its sizeable client base, after announcing that online streaming and hard-copy DVDs would be split into two companies. And two separate fees. And two separate queues/websites to select movies and geez, two separate headaches. That sound you hear is the voice of millions of subscribers who immediately took to the streets, well, internet, and complained.

This week, the CEO and founder of Netflix, Reed Hastings, sent out an apology. Not to apologize for the decision, but to explain the decision and the way it was announced.

For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn’t make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores – do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us).

The last part is correct. Many big companies that run off track, trying to become a catch-all or hop on every trend, fail if they renege from the core business.

What is Netflix’s core business? Providing entertainment on demand. So streaming and DVD rentals actually go hand in hand, as they complement each other. Subscribers look forward to new releases on DVDs while catching up on older films available via streaming.

Let’s face it, the streaming option just does not feature a ton of recently released films. It actually takes months before a new film is streaming, although available via DVD. Subscribers cancelled in droves when presented with the new price change: either pay for one, the other, or both.

Now that the split is in place, do you think an explanation will placate the subscribers who are angry? I’d still be angry because this is a fundamental flaw. The company is veering from its core purpose and alienating its own customers who will likely seek other rental options.

Plus, the company name itself is changing. The hard-copy DVD rentals will be known as Qwikster while the streaming option will remain Netflix. As someone said, why are they taking a well-known brand name and cheapening it? Netflix is well-known. The new name sounds like a copy-cat, an imitator, or a fake.

If Netflix gets its act together, and starts offering more newer releases online, perhaps this snafu will be just a blip in its company history. Or maybe not. As you may have noticed, the stock price continues to tank.

Monday Musings


The other day I was walking past a row of restaurants and noticed a pedestrian carrying a shoulder tote with the words “medium brown bag” printed in a plain sans serif on the front, in brown block lettering of course. “Did you see what that bag said,” I asked my friend, a resident of New York for the last twenty years.

“Medium brown bag?” he repeated. “I don’t know where that’s from.”


Look up “medium brown bag” on your friend, Google, and come up with 166 MILLION results, none of which may answer where the pedestrian had originally bought the bag.

Although many seasoned shoppers will recognize it as coming from the world famous Bloomingdales, many others will not have a clue and mistake it for a generic catchphrase. My friend, who routinely wears Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Perry Ellis slim-line suits, is not immune to shopping in Herald Square or wearing clothes by brand name designers. However, he still wouldn’t remember where the bag is from without the store name. Is that just him? I don’t think he is an anomaly. Most people have too much on their minds to remember items that don’t interest them.

And it’s not like the bag is new, having been around a few decades already. Designed by Massimo Vignelli, the Big Brown Bag first appeared in 1973, followed by the Little Brown Bag and Medium Brown Bag one year later. The shopping bag series is considered both iconic and a status symbol. Rob Pruitt’s sculpture of Andy Warhol, (on view at NYC’s Union Square through October 30) even features Warhol carrying a Medium Brown Bag.

Bloomingdales can afford to be cute and catchy as it has been in business for almost 140 years and still retains millions in customers. The bag didn’t even appear until after the store celebrated its 100th year in business. Small companies, especially start-ups, do not have that luxury. Small companies MUST make a name for themselves through consistent and recognizable branding, not hoping that a slogan takes off on its own without a company name attached. That means that packaging MUST promote the business first and foremost with appropriate imagery and company name.

Also, just because a particular image is well-known, does not mean the logo is well-liked. Burger King just announced that it is going through a major design overhaul, switching its focus from previous ad campaigns to ones more related to ingredients and food in general. Thank goodness. Yes, the fast-food chain will finally get rid of the creepy King character which showed up in ill-thought out television ads. In fact, the King was thought to be so creepy, it actually drove potential customers away.

Promoting Through Packaging


If you’re dining in a fine restaurant, and love the rack of lamb that’s been served but too stuffed to take another bite, you’re most likely going to ask for a doggy bag. Maybe you will share a piece with your dog when you return home later, but the leftovers are likely for you and your stomach.

I’ve worked with a lot of restaurants so I know this offhand, but snazzy statistics from restaurant associations point to an uptick in take-out over the last 20 years. More specifically, the 2011 Restaurant Industry Forecast predicts record high sales for this year, $604 billion in total revenue, with $195 billion coming from full service restaurants (an increase of 3.1% over 2010).

Let’s forget statistics for a moment. Imagine there are no bags. No one has even heard of such a thing. Your server asks you to hold open your palm and whatever fits in your hands is what you can carry out. That’s “take out.” Who would enjoy that?

When you walk into a grocery store, do you pour a cup of milk, spoon out some Cheerios from a giant bin, and grab a slab of meat from the butcher pile? Of course not. Everything comes in a package, a bag or a box designed to safely contain food without letting it rot before a due date.

Sure, some large scale grocery outlets don’t offer shopping bags, (BJs doesn’t – most bulk items are carted off to a car in the parking lot, Albertson’s recently went bagless, etc.), but I know of one only grocery in the United States that doesn’t actually package its food. It’s not even open yet. A store called In.gredients in Austin, Texas, will offer all items with zero packaging starting this fall. Consumers must bring their own containers or can use compostable containers offered by the store.

This may sound great on paper and be a phenomenal failure in practice, or it may sound stupid in ink and be a wild success. Either way, I cringe at how many shoppers will be sneezing over the sugar and spices and inadvertently adding their own strains of bacteria to the yogurt. I’m all for farmer’s markets and supporting local industry, by the way. But even local farmers carton their eggs and offer bags for fresh vegetables. Although many consumers promote minimalism, with smaller packaging being ideal instead of large, bulky unnecessary wrapping, most consumers still want products contained and not exposed to the elements all day long.

The Bottom Line

Custom printed grocery bags and restaurant take out boxes are not only convenient for your customers, but promote your business!

Ever go to a trade show? I’ve been to many, many, many over the years, and there are always hundreds of vendors, different entrepreneurs, small businesses and big behemoths all participating and vying for attention. One thing they have in common is their need to promote to a new audience and retain standing with old clients. They certainly can’t do this by handing out items without a logo, items without a recognizable name.

Giving out generic promotional materials to prospective distributors and consumers is like throwing cash out the window, with products getting lost along with your company name. (I know several vendors opt for packaging their items in custom-printed euro-tote promotional bags, available in various sizes. It’s one way to keep your items separate from the rest, along with promoting your brand through the trade floor.)

Same principle with dining establishments. Your restaurant has an image, so why shouldn’t your bags be a part of that?

Paying to Advertise for You


Almost every small business is looking for a way to get its name out and about without dropping a ton of cash on expensive ad campaigns. Who wants to spend much-needed money with little in return, especially in today’s economy? Companies try giving out customized pens, calendars, t-shirts, caps, you name it, each with varying degrees of success and associated costs. Check out the Advertising Specialty Institute impressions study, which compares different types of promotional items.

Custom printed bags get a lot of bang for the buck, the best way for small businesses to constantly market and advertise their names. The impressions study listed above has more specifics.

Consumers want bags they can use a dozen times more for different reasons. Not only does customized packaging serve consumers by providing reusable bags, but it also reinforces the company’s image and promotes the business name every time the bag is used. Yes, every time the bag is noticed, on the sidewalks, at friends’ houses, at the office or on the subway.

It’s similar to a walking billboard. Pedestrians who see a well-designed bag will turn their heads for a second look. Don’t believe me? Just sit on a park bench and observe. The pedestrian is not likely to remember the stranger carrying the bag, but the image of the bag itself will resonate. Or maybe the friend or co-worker will inquire about the store. Better to have that great image associated with your company than your competitor!

And by the way, according to the Advertising Specialty Institute, 187 people will see that bag in the United States. The cost to make those impressions is lower than other forms of marketing.

Speaking of marketing, a number of small businesses try to go the online route by blanketing the web with promotional comments. I’m talking about those who drop links to their blog or website link on tons of forums, regardless of whether these are appropriate avenues or not. Believe me, it’s more than okay to market your business online, it’s encouraged, through signature links and mentioning your store when appropriate. It’s not okay to derail threads! No one likes a spammer, or ad bomb, the type of poster who leaves one self-serving comment and a URL link no matter what the forum topic. Or worse, illegible posts created by auto commenting software. Ever see those? Like obnoxious word salad. Grammatical nightmares that make no sense in any context. Don’t associate your company with that kind of marketing. To promote your small business in a positive way, it’s much better to be part of the online discussion than a sideline hack. Just my two cents.

Brand or Bland?


Which bag above are you immediately drawn to?

As we discussed in previous posts, your company logo, from its lettering to design and choice of colors, immediately makes a statement about your business, for good or bad. Your logo is what your business stands for, what your particular style is, and what a consumer or client can expect. It’s a vital form of communication, an instant visual image that will either resonate or repel. If you have a million different emblems used in advertising, packaging and marketing, changing styles from one week to the next, it certainly makes it difficult for customers to associate any particular motif with your company. How will they recognize your business when it’s constantly changing image?

Consistently using the same carefully crafted logo is a much better bet to building your brand. In a tight economy, consumers are extremely leery about shelling out dollars for a brand they know nothing about or do not trust. When money is falling from trees, they may be less hesitant to try every product under the sun. But when the wallet contracts? So do the extra expenditures and the risk taking. Yet brand loyalty remains, as consumers perceive value in its purchase.

So what message is sent when packaging has next-to-no design? I’m talking generic packaging here, plain bags and boxes. Perhaps nothing comes of it. Maybe no one gives it a second thought as they head out the store door. Maybe a consumer assumes that the retailer is doing so well, the retailer ran out of customized shopping bags. Or maybe the consumer wonders if the stockroom forgot to re-order or is a disorganized mess. Or maybe, there is no message, because the store doesn’t have one, because it’s not important enough. That is a wasted opportunity. Maybe someone likes the red bag handles. But is anyone going to remember where that bag came from? Is anyone going to feel compelled to ask? Of course not.

Who wants to be anonymous? Small businesses that prefer to hide don’t make the Fortune 500 anytime soon. And just like companies take their logos and packaging seriously, very few businesses set out to be confused with a generic store brand. Everyone wants to stand out from their competitors and catch a shopper’s attention, for the most part. So when department stores and national retailers set up their own lines, they treat them as separate entities, including their own particular design and logos. J.C. Penny promotes a lot of its floor space to its own private clothing label, Arizona, while Target prominently displays its own food lines, Archer Farms and Market Pantry, near the name brands. Each brand has its own look and continues to attract and retain its own market. Those are just two examples, I’m sure you have a dozen of your own.

By the way, I’m not saying that logos are the be all and end all to a successful business. That is ridiculous. Start-ups can’t rely simply on well-designed logos to attract a billion new clients and call it a day. The company has to offer something to begin with, and something that consumers want or need, and let those consumers know the company exists in the first place. But we can’t ignore the vital part that packaging and overall branding plays.

Logo-Less Has No Legs


When customers frequently purchase a product, they become accustomed to that product’s design. In fact, they actively look for the familiar image when shopping. It doesn’t matter what the image actually is, as long as it is positively identified with a brand. What happens when the company decides to modify its brand, changing iconic logos to unrecognizable designs? Sometimes, disaster.

As just one example, take Tropicana. In early 2009, the broadly recognized orange juice underwent a design change, from the identifiable orange with straw brand symbol to a more generic, blander logo. What happened? Customers were outraged, even though the juice was absolutely the same. A number of customers had trouble finding the orange juice on shelves, confusing the new logo with discount, generic brands. Many customers were vocal and complained directly to the parent company, Pepsi. As a result of the backlash, and sales plunging almost 20%, Pepsi had to backtrack a bit.

In 2010, The Gap also badly miscalculated when it changed its long-time logo, going from a serif font on a solid blue background to a bulky sans-serif complete with a small, gradient blue square floating behind the name. What on earth did it mean? A clothing chain without direction? Redesigning logos is not cheap. This looked like a graphic designer out of grade school had fun with the system fonts. Needless to say, the new logo flopped. Customers stormed to Facebook and Twitter, complaining bitterly about the redesign, with good reason. The identity of a clothing chain catering to youth was wiped out, replaced by a hideous block of text without purpose.

Recently Starbucks has updated its logo, to less fanfare than either the Tropicana or Gap debacles. At the start of 2011, the 40-year old coffee chain introduced its new look, changing its logo to omit the words, “Starbucks Coffee” from cup packaging. The logo itself has been tweaked four times now, but this is the first time that the company name has been left out entirely. Coffee drinkers are not exactly inspired by the change and some were actually quite angry, as evident from user comments on the chain’s website. And those are just the fans of Starbucks, the long-term customers who don’t mind shelling out four bucks a cup, at minimum.

Which leads me to this question: What if someone new to the brand is unable to identify the product? Yes, Starbucks is ubiquitous, with a shop on every corner it seems, so it’s hard to get away from the brand. But that doesn’t mean the company should take its audience and potential market for granted. Also, what does Starbucks plan on selling if not coffee??? Sometimes broadening a name allows a company to be more encompassing, especially when that company is in a leadership position. In this case, Starbucks eliminated its name from packaging because it might venture in other fields aside from coffee. Sometimes going in too many directions, or far afield from your core business, is completely ill-advised. We’ll see which way Starbucks goes.

Color Combination


Colors can draw someone in, or repel, depending on the situation. Let’s say a child is celebrating his or her birthday, with a trip to the toy store for a new gift. In most corners of the universe, a child simply can’t wait to go, bursting with excitement at the idea. Now imagine that child walking into such a toy store, and instead of bright, vibrant colors, the walls are black, adorned with dark images and serious fonts. How many kids are going to be impressed by the overall somberness? Many kids might even be frightened. That kind of atmosphere just doesn’t attract or appeal to children, who are drawn to fun arrays of colors, and a constant state of playfulness.

The same applies to packaging. A child might be excited by a toy placed inside a plain bag, once opened of course. But her eyes will immediately light up at the mere sight of a bright box, complete with balloon lettering and ribbons, making that present even more special and anticipated. Conversely, most adults wouldn’t care to receive a high-end sophisticated or romantic gift wrapped in a rainbow bag, complete with cartoonish fonts fit for the circus.

It is often thought that colors affect mood, and even behavior. That red is attention getting while blue is calming and green is associated with nature. Whether you believe such “color psychology” is valid, marketing hype or outright quackery, many successful companies take colors into consideration when designing logos and packaging. When colors are non-complimentary, as the above mentioned situations, the experience is likely jarring. Likewise, when the packaging does not match the original shopping experience, (i.e., the identifiable logo is missing or the colors do not match the store environment) a customer can wind up with the feeling that something is wrong after purchase, but what?

Packaging is communication, always sending a message to customers about your business. As a result, the choice of colors should never be overlooked. If your intent is to convey happiness, sending customers out of your store with dark, black bags, isn’t going to cut it. Colors must also be harmonious. If the colors of company logo clash with the custom printed bags or boxes, the effects can be hideous.

Picking colors for your store’s bags and boxes is not just based on what your personal favorites may be, but what you are trying to convey.

Poor at Presenting


“Failure to communicate” is possibly the best known expression used for when problems arise. According to Andy Lopata and Peter Roper’s book on business communication, And Death Came Third (2006), about 81% of organizations are poor at verbal communication, from networking to public speaking. The effects of miscommunication are negative, to put it mildly, from making hapless errors to just plain old losing the deal. Poor packaging, in turn, is also poor communication.

Why? The results of effective communication are immediate. Take infomercials which fill a need, and fast. More than 75% of calls and sometimes even 95% of calls are made within 30 minutes of the commercial airing. Very few consumers write down the toll free number with the intent of calling at a later time. It’s pretty quick – when they see a product they want, they make the call to buy.

Presentation is persuasive. In a blind taste-test, wine drinkers would not necessarily know the variances between expensive vintages and cheap knockoffs if not told otherwise. Sometimes, tasters can’t even distinguish between types. Served in a specific glass however, taste testers notice big differences among the chardonnays and burgundies. Why? Because the mind is now pre-determining what the wine is supposed to taste like.

Presentation is not everything however. Something must be behind the package. Back in the 1870s, would anyone have bought “Snake Oil” if the concoction was sold in a clear, glass bottle, and no one around to sell you on its contents? At the time, original Snake Oil tonics were actually pain-killing opiates mixed with non-essential ingredients. Half a million pounds of opiates were sold annually, so it was pretty popular. Similar, competing tonics even offered swigs of alcohol with every sip. Then travelling carnival barkers began selling inferior, useless potions. Since carnivals blew into and out of town, angry customers weren’t able to alert potential customers from being swindled. Now, Snake Oil is a term used to describe something fraudulent, a product that will never live up to ridiculous, over-the-top claims. Outright lies will always seal the fate of a useless product.

Presentation also has to be seen. It can’t hide waiting for someone to notice. Many companies frequently lend products and attire to celebrities. Why? These wealthy celebrities certainly can afford to buy such items on their own. It’s to build or maintain brand value by association, a theme that is also prominent in films. James Bond wouldn’t be caught dead driving around in a minivan or spotted wearing outlandish and unfitted shirts. Everything about Bond is specific, evoking class and sophistication.

For many parity products, meaning that items are similar to others on the market, you cannot change what the product is, but what it means. Vodka, which tends to taste the same no matter who manufacturers it, relies on packaging to capture an audience’s attention and imagination. How do perfumes advertise without offering samples? By selling an image associated with the scent, a storyline and an appropriate package. Some sneakers are not popular solely because of the style, design or material but because of the endorsing athlete. (A conundrum for companies when that athlete goes astray or gets arrested.)

Packaging is not everything but it is a pretty big something. Back in 1987, Forbes magazine tried offering readers a box of Marlboros, sold at half price. But the cigarettes were presented in a generic brown box.  Only 21 percent responded. That’s a terrible response rate. So remember, presentation, presentation, presentation.

Paper or Plastic?


No one walks into a convenience store expecting a candy bar to be placed in an engraved Euro tote with corded top handles. Instead, customers pretty much expect to take home that chocolate in a thin plastic bag. The cost of anything more would drive up the price of a simple snack. That would enrage possibly anyone walking in. Shop in an upscale, organic grocery store and receive a sheer plastic bag at purchase? That’s an instant turn off. Where are the brown paper bags? Where is the quality? Retailers catering specifically to eco-friendly consumers will alienate the client base. Would a new customer want to return to such a store again?

The right material makes all the difference. Showing that you know the customer is by showing you care about his or her values. Also, the psychology behind packaging cannot be understated. How customers see the packaging is how they see your product.

Try this. Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, conducted an experiment in the cafeteria of MIT. Students were served a free cup of coffee after answering a few quick questions. Along with the usual condiments, (milk, half-and-half, sugar), several unusual condiments were also on display. No one would ever associate paprika and cloves with coffee, yet there they sat. On some days, all of the condiments were presented on fancy serving trays. On other days, the same condiments were haphazardly stacked in a bunch of Styrofoam cups.

No student ever chose those oddball ingredients to pour in their coffee. Not surprising, since who enjoys a little paprika with their coffee? However, when asked how much they enjoyed the brew, students were much more positive about the taste…..on days when odd condiments were placed on upscale trays. Guess what happened on days when weird condiments were placed in Styrofoam cups, thrown in like an afterthought? Students were less enthusiastic about the coffee and even less interested in recommending the drink to their friends. Even though no one poured the paprika!

Lesson? Packaging is not just important in terms of convenience for the retail outlet, or the products sold, but how customers see those products, and what these customers come to expect.

In 2008, Barneys New York fashion retailer won a design award for its Dallas store. Barneys is well known for being a premium option. So how does the store present its clothes? As if the sales floor was an art gallery and every item was a curated piece. Another example: Williams-Sonoma consistently has its stores strategically designed and lit as if visitors are not in a store but in a “dream home.” Would it make sense to send customers away with their high-end kitchen purchases without a shopping bag? Of course not. The store offers large reusable totes with matching handles, its logo prominently displayed.

Some products are meant to be showcased. What kind of impression does it make when bagged inappropriately? That the item is next to worthless? Maybe some consumers won’t notice or care, but are you willing to take that chance?

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