Monday Musings

Written by Bill Tanzer


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.

August 22, 2011

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