Fast Company

Logos Get Lost in the Supermarket, Here's Why

Logorama

Have you seen Logorama, the movie comprised entirely of animated logos, that just won the Oscar for best animated short film? It's an excellent representation of the technicolor tapestry of branding that our world has become. Whether that's a good or bad thing depends on your point of view.

But what would the world be like if there were no more brands to differentiate products, inspire us, or give us a good feeling about a company or product we've never tried before? I'm one who thinks it would be bad for brands to meld together into a homogenized mess, and I see that starting to happen in places. At the rate things are going, someday soon all brands will look like Walmart 's Great Value label.

Why is this happening? It's partly because value is in great demand now, with unemployment still in double digits throughout parts of the country. It's also because retailers are putting pressure on manufacturers to differentiate their brands inside their stores, so that a brand doesn't look and act the same in one store chain as it does in another. If brands fold to this pressure, they become diluted and change what they really stand for. This erodes brand equity with consumers and eventually, retailers decide they don't need certain brands anymore and can easily outsource the product cheaper themselves to increase their margins. So now those manufacturers are out, and jobs are lost. And so is the brand.

Great ValueWalmart 's newly-redesigned Great Value products

Private label brands grew at twice the rate of national brands over the last decade, according to a Saatchi & Saatchi X and POPAI study. Retailers like Walmart, Target and Costco are narrowing consumer selections everyday. Walmart recently took out Glad and Hefty storage bags to give more space to their Great Value brand. They then brought Hefty back, once the company agreed to manufacture Great Value bags for Walmart.

That sort of manipulation will continue to happen unless brand managers, strategists, designers and manufacturers stand up to big-box retailers and reinforce the naturally differentiating attributes of their brands. They must build their brands so the retailer depends on them and the manufacturer, like the good old days.

Publix
Private label cereal at Publix, in-house branding that's won design awards

Over the last 100 years, brands have played an important role in our society. The danger of private labels taking over the national branding landscape is the loss of meaning and value in the brands we love, prefer and recognize. Not only do our favorite brands help us distinguish product attributes, they inspire and motivate us, and give us a sense of individualism and choice. People who buy computers and products from Apple, for instance, usually believe earnestly in the company's position of thinking and being different.

If price is the only thing we as consumers are driven by, then sure, just make all the brands the same, Big Brother. But understand that what starts at retail can mushroom to other industries. Soon, we could all end up buying gas from one brand of gas station. Bank at one brand of bank. Wear clothes from one clothing company because they're all alike anyway. Reminds me of old photos I've seen. Doesn't it, comrade?

Publix photo by MSLK

Jamey Boiter's Brand Innovatr blog
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Jamey Boiter is a nationally recognized brand strategist and practitioner. As BOLTgroup's brand principal, he oversees all brand innovation and graphic design teams. He has received numerous awards, ADDYs, and citations for his work in brand development, packaging, and corporate identity, including award-winning projects for AirDye, Lowe's, IZOD, Nat Nast, G.H. Bass, Marc Ecko, and Forté Cashmere. Jamey has been involved in strategic brand development and design management programs with world-class brands such as Kobalt Tools, Ryobi, Coca-Cola, Kraft, IZOD, and Phillips-Van Heusen, and has been a featured speaker at national conferences and college campuses on the subject of brand strategy, innovation and development.

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9 Comments

  • Phaedrusnyc

    You're seriously equating store brands with totalitarian government? For someone who is supposed to be a "brand expert," I find it amusing that you have muddied your own brand with ridiculous hyperbole. Store brands have always been around- they are an ADDITION to a competitive marketplace. You're not worried about communist government- you're worried about savvy consumers.

  • Alexander Thomas

    The presentation is great, the logos are great too. As a consumer, I find the packaging itself more appealing. Well, since I know more about business, I'm also aware of the product that will hit the market or not. Most especially now that more consumers are after of the quality than quantity. They are more wiser now compared before.Alexander Thomas

  • Gene Pascual

    right. those brands wouldn't be where they are now without their logos. they are essential for businesses. for identity and purpose. it's how they became popular, right?
    http://assistmepro.com - great logo makers.

  • Yannig Roth

    Very interesting point of view, I recognize that our tendency to chose cheaper private-label products could lead to pale-looking shelves and all similar products...
    Brands still drive marketing and merchandising in supermarkets (from incremental changes to real innovation) and this generates trafic for retailers like Wal Mart or Publix, which should not push it too far.

  • Jacob Davis

    I'm not concerned about 'store brands' but Wal-Mart's squeezing is a bit scary. I to like the look of the boxes though - clean and fresh looking - something I think other companies should look at if it is catching more eyes (see Campbells).

    The only way we shop is with coupons and deals. Maybe we grew up not really give a crap out brand loyalty.

  • Christopher Zodrow

    "Private labels" taking over the branding landscape? As compared to government labels, public labels? It's called competition.

    Do I care if it says Glad on my trash-bag? Do get a sense of identity when I blow into a Kleenex?

    It's not brands, it's quality that plays a role in shaping a society. When quality or desire is not there, who cares if the logo says something unique?

    Branding as a business is such a major hoax that should really just die. Products of lasting quality will always be around: Apple, Levis, etc. Their equity is in their quality, not the design of their logo.

    All the branding firms are becoming a thing of the past- thank God.