5 Questions With Paula Bunny, Brother Design

Vertex Paula BunnyThe following is the next in a series of posts in which we ask each of the Vertex Awards judges “5 Questions” about private brand, its future and the entries in this year’s competition

Today’s conversation is with Paula Bunny, Creative Director, Brother Design
Auckland, New Zealand

  1. What trends do you see emerging in this year’s entries?

Overall there seemed to be little less willingness to push boundaries: to take a risk and apply that final edge that marks something out as exceptional. Perhaps it’s a sign of the uncertain times we live in. It’s a tough world out there, and not just economically. When things are uncertain people crave safety and familiarity, and some of the work seemed to reflect that. Whether that’s driven by client demands, research results or designers themselves is hard to know.

On a more detailed level, something struck me in the food packaging area. I noticed a growth in the use of simple, graphic illustration over the recent trend towards slick, beautifully styled food photography. On the face of it, this should result in something less ‘real’. But, in reality, it often helped convey a feeling that was not too overworked and perfect, giving a more authentic flavor.

The same aim is apparent in type. We are still seeing type that is textured and handdrawn, to convey a human touch and sense of personality. The shift in consumers’ appetites towards products that are seen as more artisanal and authentic is well documented, so it’s an obvious path. As I say, it’s not breaking radical new ground.

Those entries that stood out to me were the ones that used minimalism or, more aptly, ‘essentialism’. It’s a genuine case of ’less is more’ with simple, clear messages and less clutter helping to filter out the signal in the noise. I strongly believe that this is what the consumer craves in a world where we are constantly bombarded with too much choice.

  1. How does looking at the entries from around the world impact your perspective on design and brand? Do you see global trends making their way into your own work?

In New Zealand, we are always looking at what is going on internationally. It’s a function of being such a small market: we need to look abroad for new influences and it then becomes part of the methodology. So we look far and wide, and that provides a rich, diverse stream of influences.
On its own, that doesn’t guarantee innovation or creativity. But we have another advantage in our small size: greater access to the key decision makers. There is less design by committee, with an idea getting pecked away at, and more fast, decisive action.

Being aware of those advantages, I try to use them as much as I can. So if something appeals to me or sparks an unexpected idea I will bring that into my work and use it if I can. One of the major clients I work on is all about disrupting categories and not following the predictable trends, so it’s a perfect match.

Also, because NZ is a small market, what’s at risk is often smaller. It’s one reason why we are often used as a test market internationally, and why we punch well above our weight creatively.

  1. Which entry (excluding any you may be personally involved in) is your favorite?

A couple of entries stood out for me.

One was the Ko-Njin Babyworld Jumbo packaging, as I thought they were definitely trying a new approach. I liked the use of toy photography in place of the standard child imagery, and having the toy interacting as a child would. For example, holding onto its feet as a child might on a change table. I liked this as well but it scored poorly

I also liked the Roundy’s Tortilla Chips packaging for its bold simplicity. It’s quite unusual for this category and doesn’t resort to predictable chip-and-small-ingredient grouping shots. Just bold type and graphic illustrative flourishes that conveyed the ‘Mexican’ flavor really well. I would have loved to see some more flavors to see how they treated the rest of the range. I could see they would be quite striking on shelf.

  1. What most concerns you about the future of private brand?

Given what looks like a lower appetite for risk apparent in this year’s entries, retailers playing it safe would be a concern for me. It’s understandable in an uncertain world, but as creatives it’s our job to push the boundaries and stand up for creativity and innovation. After all, it’s the creativity that ensures stand-out on shelf and translates into marketplace success.

A related concern is about not staying ahead. Retailers need to stay ahead of consumer trends and predict what consumers want next. This anticipation and foresight has always been a mark of the most successful retailers. Retailers have an advantage because they have the information at their fingertips, knowing what their consumers are buying, but this needs to inform decisions about the future. It should not be the sole criterion for taking decisions because that’s just looking backwards

  1. What most excites you about the future of private brand?

For us at Brother it’s about Premium becoming more of a focus in Private Label, and about organic and natural products gaining ground. These are real areas of opportunity and ripe for some original thinking.

The other underlying cause of excitement is the continuing trend towards private brand. It still has so much potential. In those premium and organic/natural areas I think we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. The organic food industry is becoming a global phenomenon and the lines between brands and retailer private labels are becoming more blurred. Expect to see huge growth in organic and natural products as private label brings these products to an ever wider audience at competitive prices.

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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.