US consumer tastes are turning on a dime as the recession takes hold, according to Landor Associates’ latest trends outlook report. On this side of the pond, UK branding groups agree that branding is rediscovering a ‘wartime ethic’.
The research, for Landor New York’s 2009 Trends Forecast: Market Trends and Their Impact on Brands, straddled a year of two halves, during which a paradigm shift took place from conspicuous consumerism to modesty and moderation.
‘Earlier in 2008, people were booking luxury vacations and planning big spends,’ says co-author of the report and Landor New York client director Patricia Verdolino. ‘But those decisions have been thwarted by fears about the economy. Flaunting luxury is becoming bad taste,’ she says.
As UK-based manufacturers and their customers tighten their belts, Pearlfisher director Karen Welman observes that there is ‘a sort of wartime mentality pervading branding, in which consumers and brands are suddenly on the same side, bonded by the presence of a common and wonderfully anonymous enemy’.
Designers on both sides of the Atlantic agree that the recession is having a curious impact on branding and packaging aesthetics.
In the nostalgia-prone US, Verdolino observes a flowering of ‘Norman Rockwell-esque’ illustration and design. She also notes designers using a more limited, brighter and bolder colour palette reminiscent of 1940s and 1950s branding.
Here in the UK, Pearlfisher sees that wartime mentality is encouraging manufacturers to reassure customers through the use of comfort branding, or what Welman describes as ‘the visual or verbal equivalent of a lovely, steaming bowl of mashed potato’.
One British design to have made a positive impact in the US is Pemberton & Whitefoord’s 2008 Pentaward-winning pack for Tesco’s tortilla chips, which features a series of photographs of a stereotyped Mexican bandito set on bold, flat backgrounds.
‘The design is fun, not at all politically correct and gives people a break from the norm,’ enthuses Verdolino.
Pemberton & Whitefoord joint founder Simon Pemberton adds, ‘Right now, branding is about being upbeat and forward-looking. The use of wit, as well as limited and bolder colour palettes in packaging, are demonstrating increased confidence and a brighter outlook.’
But while graphic design can paint a brave face on frazzled retailers and manufacturers, packaging design tells the true story. In the US, Landor reports that brands including Unilever, Kraft and Kellogg’s are shrinking box and portion sizes instead of increasing their prices. Verdolino estimates that Kellogg’s Coco Pops and Fruit Loops cereal boxes have all shrunk by about 10 per cent. She says, ‘The packs look the same on the shelf, but once they are in your hand, they feel smaller and lighter.’
Pemberton believes that portion control will become a major trend in the UK in 2009. ‘The past three or four years have seen the introduction of oversized products, but the pendulum is swinging back and portion control is going to be very evident in the future’, he says.
Perhaps the biggest US packaging design story of 2008 was Wal-Mart’s introduction of a new-look four-litre milk carton for its Sam’s Club discount stores. Designed by Ohio-based group Creative Edge, the carton is square, stacks without needing outer boxes and enables stores and transporters to fit 224 units in a space that once held 80. Wal-Mart claims that the new jug has reduced its shipping labour by 50 per cent and water usage by up to 70 per cent.
‘When a giant like Wal-Mart changes the design of something as classic as a gallon of milk, you know that the rest of the world will follow,’ says Verdolino.
Key points from LANDOR ASSOCIATES NEW YORK’s trends outlook 2009
• ‘Acceptable consumerism’ is the new ethos
• Richer consumers will be less interested in displays of wealth
• Flaunting wealth will be considered bad taste
• Consumers will seek comfort and security rather than status
• Rise of old-world sensibilities in branding
• Home-care segment will be well-positioned