Soft sell

Brands are abandoning the hard sell in favour of a softer, more feminine approach that is designed to trigger an emotional response from consumers, says Trish Lorenz

Vibrandt’s packaging for Surf

‘Younger consumers want emotional engagement,’ he adds. ‘Everyone is susceptible to it – you prefer brands you engage with and feel right about.’

‘For Surf we’re talking to consumers who look on the bright side of life, consumers who are optimists. That makes a hell of a difference to the [design] than if we were targeting a demographic.’

Brands taking up the baton of inclusivity aren’t limited to those primarily targeted at women. CPB is working with a mainstream male grooming brand on a range due to launch later this year. ‘The products are very much targeted at men, but even in that category brands are looking at more feminine messages to differentiate themselves,’ according to Bell.

The brand in question is softening its values, moving away from ‘selling the technology’. ‘[The positioning] is all about how it makes you look and feel, not how it works,’ he explains – an approach that Bell maintains is much more feminine in its assumption than products geared at men currently take.

And it’s not just fmcg brands that are getting all emotional. Start Design worked with Vault 49 in creating an ad to promote Virgin Atlantic’s on-line check-in options to its passengers.

The campaign launched last month and features animated flowers, butterflies and cloudy sunsets combining with planes and technology in a feminine swirl. It’s about as far away as you can get from images of businessmen striding through airports.

‘We were looking for an execution that was visually engaging and focused more on what technology enables you to do, as opposed to the hard functionality,’ explains Virgin Atlantic head of advertising and communication Breda Bubear.

Bell believes the trend is still in its infancy. He points to feminine hygiene products as an example of a category that is, bizarrely, aimed at women, yet still predominantly masculine in its design values.

When the consultancy revamped Kotex, research found women across Europe perceived brands in the sector to be ‘designed and marketed by men’. Walk down the supermarket aisle today and you’ll see why – strong primary colours and angular graphics predominate and there are few overtly feminine signals or much sense of emotional engagement.

‘Big corporations are looking more at themselves and their identity, but there’s still further to go in terms of considering how they talk to consumers in a more approachable way,’ says Bell.

It’s time perhaps for brands to heed another piece of soul advice and try a little tenderness.

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