The Perils of Packaging Redesign

I recently wrote an article for Singapore Institute of Management on the perils of changing branding, citing examples such as the GAP logo change and Pepsi’s disastrous reducing of the Tropicana packaging (which cost them millions of dollars). It seems that brand and marketing managers never learn the lessons of the Tropicana disaster (which I discuss in more detail in Brand esSense) and still love to tinker with brands, moving strategies, changing logos and ‘updating’ or ‘modernising’ their packaging.

Like many men, I don’t pay too much attention to the toiletries I buy. Dettol is a brand I have known for a long time, and have been a great example of using sense, symbol and story in building a distinctive brand identity (again, there is more on this in Brand esSense). But have they lost their touch?

Recently, I have been using one of their shower gels regularly – it smells nice, seems to work and that’s about all I care about (apart from the brand itself). Recently, I got to the bottom of the current pack, and decided that I needed to replace it. However, it proved difficult to find, as the packaging had been redesigned, presumably to make it more ‘up to date’ and ‘contemporary’. Too often, brand packaging changes are all about making things look funky and modern, forgetting the basics of brand identity. Research is guilty of this too, asking the question, “Is the new packaging more attractive than the previous one?”, rather than the more important question, “Can our customer find the product on the shelf and recognise it as the same pack?”.

The Dettol pack redesign fails in this respect, because I had to look very hard to find it (and I only persevered because I’m interested in pack design and Dettol’s brand – in many other situations, I would have just picked up an alternative and the brand might have lost one customer). Why did I find it hard to find? Well, the logo is smaller on the new pack, although I eventually tracked down the Dettol range. More importantly, the range seems to have changed, and all the variants now have more subtle pastel shades of colour, making them more difficult to distinguish. The visual on the pack front has changed too, and rather than a clear splash is now a bit of a mess. I guess the funky new design looks great on a Mac, but when you are looking for something in the supermarket its impossible to see the design from more than a few centimetres away.

More fundamentally, I wonder why they have chosen these pastel shades. As I write in Brand esSense, Dettol’s branding is very consistent in telling the story of a strong, decisive, uncompromising clean. So what would that have to do with pastel shades of colour? The new pack is wishy-washy and weak, and therefore inconsistent with the overall brand story and the other symbols that Dettol uses (in my humble opinion). It may be ‘funky’ and ‘modern’ but it doesn’t fit with how I understand the Dettol brand, which is probably the most important reason for me to miss it on the shelves.

Brands redesign their packaging at their own peril. In other work I’ve done this year, looking at in-store behaviour, it has been clear that many of the problems brands face in getting noticed are not about position on shelf or eye catching offers – they come back to the fundamental issue of having a clear and distinctive brand identity with core brand assets that are known, understood and recognised not just on a Mac display, but when you are 5 metres away in a busy shop.

If you want to know more about building stronger brand identity, both visually and with other senses, please do get in touch!

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