Authentic, Private Brand – Really?

The following is an excerpt from a gust post by Michael Colton the Directory of Design Strategy at Brandimage, Desgrippes & LAGA on the packaging blog The Dieline, it features a number of Private Brand examples including Target’s Archer Farms and A&P’s Greenway.

When You Say “Authentic”, What Do You Really Mean?

By It’s the nature of supply and demand. The better we get at persuading consumers to buy, the better they get at identifying the difference between hyperbole and truth. As consumers look more astutely for evidence of proof of investment in quality, marketers further optimize profits by limiting investments in their brands. As a result, designers are often left with the challenge of advancing renderings of authenticity. The visual language of quality investment, honesty and trustworthiness are getting more conspicuous.

From the advent of packaging goods for sale, the trustworthiness of a product was depicted as a symbol of perfection. There really wasn’t much to prove or promise to consumers because there were few competitors. The more beautiful depiction of fruit on that can of peaches, the more dramatic the highlights and the more drippy the dewdrops, the better it seemed. But today things are much different. Consumers have unlimited choice. And the competition for their pocketbooks has forced communication tactics to become overly solicitous and imposing. Consumers are on their guard and armed with greater access to information—information like product recalls, corporate malfeasance, brand acquisition and the quality of ingredients. They have become suspicious of front panel overtures and savvy enough to spot the fakes—the egregiously insistent ones with heroic-looking logos, the mimicking me too’s and the schmaltzy romancers with overly enthusiastic typestyles and showy ribbon decorations.

The stakes have risen, the game has changed and the expectations for design are higher. Yet how many times have you seen a creative brief or brand tenets that offer you little to work with in making the experience of the brand more meaningful and genuine? When the personality traits are verbally defined as authentic (or optimistic or premium or contemporary) it’s time to ask, “what do you really mean?” Chances are, your client cant answer or they’ll know it when they see it. This moment—This gap between business and design is precisely where we, as designers, can add value. This is where we become more than a service provider. We become an invaluable translator that can visually articulate the alternatives.

I thought it would be helpful to take authenticity (one of the many overused, rarely second-guessed descriptors of brand personality) and explore the realm of its interpretation. The distinctions we make that lead to a more precise definition of the brand not only have implications for design. They have implications for the tenets of the brand. The insight I hope you gain isn’t from analyzing the style of each approach. Most of the examples will be quite familiar to you. The remarkable thing to me has to do with the way a single adjective can actually be so inadequate, misleading and a killer of design efficiency and effectiveness. Enough said…let’s get into it.

  • Neutrality
  • Care in Crafting
  • Primitivism
  • From the Source
  • Innocence
  • Ideology
  • Predictions for the Future

Read the entire post and see all the accompanying illustrations for the examples.



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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.