This is the first in a series of interviews Christopher Durham, founder of My Private Brand and VP of retail brands at Theory House, will conduct with private brand leaders around the world. Today, he discusses retail-owned brands and their evolution with Gaemer Gutierrez.
Gaemer is a creative director at CVS Health, and has championed brand innovation and design thinking across emerging healthcare segments. He has led the design transformation of its small group of private labels that helped it become an award-winning portfolio of brands.
He attended Parsons School of Design in New York and Paris, and has worked on some of the world’s most recognizable brands in mass and prestige, including Estee Lauder Companies, Gillette, Gap, Old Spice, Dolce & Gabanna, and Valentino. In addition, he has provided creative vision for celebrities such has Tommy Hilfiger, Salma Hayek, and Andre Agassi on creating their namesake beauty brands.
Gaemer extends his passion for design by speaking at branding conferences and is on the board of directors for the In-House Agency Forum, the preeminent organization for in-house agencies. He is a design mentor for master degree candidates at School of Visual Arts and has been an adjunct professor at Fashion Institute of Technology.
CD: What is your first memory/experience with Private Brand?
GG: I grew up in a suburb of Detroit and I remember my parents buying me Stafford brand oxford shirts at JCPenney. At the time, I didn’t think of them as ‘private brands’ just a name brand on a shirt that I liked. In the 80s they had polo shirts with their own little icon, but it was not nearly as cool as wearing Ralph’s (Polo). I unconsciously started to learn about the power of a brand.
CD: How has the creative development for your private brands evolved over the last few years?
GG: In 1964 our first store brand was a bottle of mineral oil under the original Consumer Value Stores name. It was extremely successful resulting in the CVS brand expanding into other categories such as household, edibles and beauty for continued growth. In recent years, there has been an increased awareness that those 3 letters carried a lot of meaning and credibility. We began looking at product categories as separate brands. This new brand building approach allowed us much more freedom to improve the quality of our design and create brands from the ground up. Historically, our primary focus was on package design. This is still an important part of any initiative but we now think of it as a 360-degree brand experience giving us a much larger canvas to work with on creative development. It has been an exciting challenge to be part of transforming this part of our enterprise.
CD: What role should design play in solving private brand/retailer problems?
GG: We live in a visual world. Design plays a key role in making all those bar charts and business strategies come to life for our customer in all of its forms, from packaging to campaigns and promotional materials. In this highly competitive and confusing shopping environment, designers can cut through all that visual clutter to communicate key benefits effectively or make a strong emotional connection.
CD: What do you look for in great brand design?
GG: I love those visual tests when only a small part of a package or logo is shown and you still know the brand. For me, that is the apex of brand design because it has gone beyond an aesthetic and holds tremendous meaning and recognition. I realize it takes decades to get to a point when you see white squiggly lines on a red background and you know it’s Coke. Another aspect I look for is if design effectively communicates key emotional or functional benefits.
CD: How can design help retailers and their brands differentiate?
GG: It is important to understand your customers and your selling environment. When I was in the prestige fragrance industry, I would design packaging with gorgeous shapes, beautiful printing, and minimal typography. They would be merchandised in luxurious environments surrounded by impactful videos to tell a full brand story. Mass is an entirely different world. Shelves may not be lined up in perfect order; environments are competitive with packages sitting right next to each other with no space to tell a compelling brand story. There is no single solution in this situation. Sometimes being minimal will standout, sometimes it’s better to shout. For example, we decided to go with an extremely bright green for Gold Emblem Abound. That color is very disruptive in our stores and was one of the key design elements that helped this be one of our most successful launches.
CD: What advantages does private brand have over national brands?
GG: They both have challenges and need to adopt different methods on how to build credibility and appeal to customers. National brands have the ability to focus their resources on one category and own every aspect of it. For example, the idea of Tide-scented candles would be ludicrous. However, a private label may go do scented candles, glass cleaner, and dish detergent within one brand name. One of our main challenges is how to do great design and communicate a singular promise that can effectively extend across a diverse group of categories.
CD: What advice do you have for retailers trying to take their brands to the next level?
GG: Stop thinking as a private label and start thinking as a brand. In fact, I’d like to eliminate the distinction between national brands and private labels. They just have different challenges to solve. Identifying yourself as a private label may trap you in a ‘copy cat’ methodology and merely follow standards and guidelines. It limits possibility, kills your passion, stifles creativity, and keeps you from achieving truly breakthrough results. Plus, dreaming big is much more fun.
CD: What does the future of retailer-owned brands look like?
GG: We could have a 2-hour discussion on this topic alone! Retailer-owned brands have come a long way from being a collection of ‘generics.’ I believe retailers will continue a brand building approach to their portfolios and shift further away from that “me too” mindset I mentioned. This can allow their agencies and creative teams more freedom to be innovative and take more risks. Whether on shelves, social media, mobile, or any other screens people are looking at, the competition to get attention is fierce. Out of the box creative can cut through all that clutter and make a stronger impression. Retailers are getting better at this everyday and the distinction between national and retail-owned brands will continue to be blurred. Yes, I see a bright future.