Brands that can offer consumers opportunities to personalise their products – while wearing their ethical and sustainable credentials on their sleeve – will be the big successes of 2008, argues David Benady
The consumer society will unfold along a twin-track path in 2008. Down one route lies the road of customer satisfaction and self-gratification. Along the other, there opens up a sun-lit vista of planet-saving selflessness and caring, sharing, Fairtrade T-shirt-wearing philanthropy.
Yes, shoppers want effective, stylish products luxuriously tailored to their personal tastes. But they also want to feel morally good about their purchases. They won’t stand for even a whiff of guilt-inducing social irresponsibility from manufacturers.
So brands will come under ever-greater pressure to fulfil the selfish wishes of Western consumers, while offering them a strong element of altruism, too. There will be more products along the lines of The Body Shop’s ‘Stop Violence in the Home Hi-Shine Lip Treatment’.
However, some believe there is a shortage of branding designers who can really bring to life the paradoxical desires of modern shoppers. Those who master the art of combining customer satisfaction with compassionate altruism will thrive.
Brands will appeal to the self-interest of consumers by offering them increasing scope to personalise the look and feel of their goods. In the US, Jones Soda encourages drinkers to download their own photographs to its website, then prints the images on to the bottle labels. It will send you a crate of soft drink bottles with pics of you and your cat on them if you wish. Such user-generated design is expected to start making an impact in the UK this year. It is already in action with personalised shopping brochures and the pick ‘n’ mix design of the Mini. Mass-customisation will continue its steady march.
Then there is mass-premiumisation, which is expected to continue this year with an explosion in premium products and upmarket versions of existing brands. Rocketing raw material prices this year will mean many brand owners have to push through price rises. Designers will have to find ways of updating packaging and branding to make these rising prices look reasonable.
A pressing task for digital designers will be to overcome a barrier to the expansion of on-line shopping – people’s wish for a greater physical interaction with the goods they buy. Web designers must find ways of humanising the Internet shopping experience, even through simple effects like creating catalogues with pages that appear to physically turn rather than using hyperlinks.
Another important digital trend is the rise of the small-screen world. As mobile technology takes off and people start using their phones to access Internet and television, designers will have to change their mindsets. Branding and logos must work in miniature as well as on a larger scale. This could provide lots of rebranding work as existing brands do not tend to look good in a small-screen environment and may need to be completely overhauled to stand out in the new, miniaturised universe.
Meanwhile, many brands will be looking for ways to emphasise their ethical credentials, and will highlight the social and environmental impacts of their products. New moves towards product transparency – whether it’s about the environment, labour rights or traceability – are making packaging work much harder. Last year was a pivotal year for responsible marketing with the smoking ban, junk food ad restrictions and the Stern Review on global warming. The pendulum has swung and it will become essential for brands to demonstrate their virtuous aspect. As environmental issues take centre stage, brands will be obliged to use less packaging, make use of biodegradable materials and find ways of reusing and recycling containers.
But some think the burden of new labelling requirements – from the traffic-light system that shows the dietary content of food to details of the product’s carbon footprint – is detracting from the task of creating brands that consumers love. There are those who predict that after five years of labels becoming crowded with information, there will be a backlash against this trend and a significant shift back to emotional branding in packaging.
For design and branding consultancies, much business will come from ethically re-engineering products. Another trend will be emphasising the safety and security aspects of brands. At the same time, more work is likely to emanate from event and location branding. This may make up for the drop-off in corporate rebranding work from mergers and acquisitions, which are off the boil following global financial turmoil.
A crucial issue for the UK design industry this year will be the rise of international competition. While London has forged a reputation as a global centre for branding and packaging creativity over the past two decades, consultancies in Paris, Madrid and Milan are looking every bit as cutting-edge as those in the UK. With the Cannes Advertising Festival throwing open its doors to design work for the first time, British designers will have the chance to experience global competition at close quarters.
But above all, designers will need to excel in the twin-track task of creating goods that flatter consumers’ egos while also ticking all the right ethical boxes.