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When Your Favorite Products Are Painted White, They’re Charming

Do these icons still look so famous to you?

What is a Post-it without the highlighter-yellow paper? Is it still a Post-it, or is it just a sticky note? For the past 100 days, Andrew Miller has been painting some of the world’s most recognized objects in white–from Campbell’s soup to U.S. pennies–and sharing the results on his blog, Brand Spirit. The only requirement? It has to cost $10 or less.

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The experiment was sometimes funny, like when he painted a bottle of White Out in white (and you could still totally tell it was White Out), and sometimes just a bit strange (if an albino Twizzler doesn’t give you the creeps, I don’t know what will). But it was always fascinating, an equalizing litmus test to which of our favorite objects are brands, and which are just objects.

For instance, Red Bull is one of the most recognizable drinks on the shelf. But without its blue/red/yellow/silver color palette, it’s just a skinny can of something…maybe a Starbucks coffee drink? But a Corona, despite being shaped exactly like every other beer bottle on the market, is instantly distinguishable, thanks to a lime sticking out from the top (yes, that’s technically a bit of a cheat, but I’ll give it to them–Corona has clearly used the beer bottle to brand the lime).

Marlboro cigarettes, generic. Kleenex, horrifyingly identical to Puffs. Tabasco…absolutely unmistakable, even without the fire engine red contents showing. Elmer’s glue, a Pringles chip, Pez and a Reese’s cup and even McDonald’s fries–all are instantly recognizable.

In some cases, of course we’d recognize the white products, because it’s their form that makes them marketable and valuable. (Pringles are a perfect example of that idea–it’s the potato chip that’s stackable–as is the original NES controller, which imagined 2-D controls in an elegant way.) The most fascinating objects are those that should just be like anything else, like the Blow Pop sucker or OXO peeler, that distinguish themselves through otherwise mundane packaging, permeating our social consciousness to recognize their branding, even though it hasn’t been marketed to us through ads every day.

Indeed, there’s at least a college course worth of design lessons to be taught from Brand Spirit, but then again, like so many of the products in its collection, the idea sort of speaks for itself.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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