Industry Info

Brand journalism elevates the marketing conversation for a connected world.

Posted: June 6, 2015 by
Linda Casey

Larry Light, former global CMO of McDonald’s, former chief brands officer at InterContinental Hotels Group and current CEO of marketing consultancy Arcature, kicked off this year’s Package Design Matters Conference with a call to arms.

“When I was Global CMO at McDonald’s,” said Light. “We launched new packaging worldwide before we launched new advertising. This was a change in mindset, and I’m concerned that when I attend meetings on marketing communications now about how rarely package design is represented at those meetings. Design is critical to brand management, whether it’s restaurant design, merchandising design, uniform design, advertising design, and, of course, package design. Design helped us at McDonald’s to bring a coherent message to 119 countries every single day to every guest.” A message developed through the lens of the consumer and helped pioneer an approach to brand communication, called brand journalism.

“Packaging became one of the ways in which we told the brand story using the new concept of brand journalism,” Light explained. “Brand Journalism is here. It’s a powerful tool for marketing, and we must navigate through the world-changing forces of mobile and sharing and co-creation in an information-rich, information-now world.” Because in that information-rich, information-now world, it’s the relevant messages that rise above the cacophony of communications.

“The ‘own-a-word positionistas,’ still to this day are hanging onto their out-of-date old-fashioned marketing concepts,” Light said. “They cannot see or will not see that the world has changed. They cannot accept or will not accept that the digital, mobile, social world is radically changing the way we communicate, changing the way we relate to one another, changing the way we live our lives every day. “


Since Light’s powerful speech, Package Design spoke with four business, marketing and design professionals about how they are embracing this new reality for consumer packaged goods brands. Here what Kristi Bryant, global design director at Kimberly Clark Design; Allison Koller, creative director at CBX, the agency that worked with Bryant on U by Kotex launch; Loren Levinson, vice president, director of marketing for ProFoot Inc.; and Terri Goldstein, CEO of The Goldstein Group, the agency that worked with Levinson on ProFoot’s rebrand. Not surprisingly, the conversation quickly opened to the opportunities and challenges of the latest generation of adult consumers, who grew up in this always on and always connected world.

“Let’s face it, the young millennial woman has an undeniable presence in social media,” Bryant remarks. “She lives and breathes it. She expects it. For U by Kotex, it isn’t an elective, it is mandatory. It is simply the way we work and communicate to her to create a seamless brand experience.” And it’s not just the younger consumers who are plugged into this hyper-connected world. “Mobile and social communications are not used only by Millennials either,” Levinson says. “For example, 63% of online adults aged 50 to 64 years use Facebook.”

Like Light, Koller sees some marketers forgetting to invite package design to the table for these integrated marketing campaigns and says it can be a lost opportunity. “For example, Always just came out with their high impact ‘Like A Girl’ campaign, which is all about female empowerment and abolishing nasty stereotypes,” Koller notes. “[The campaign carried a strong message of] get off the screen and into the store, find the Always pack on shelf. But the package looks like the epitome of the stereotypical pink, flowery feminine care category. So while the campaign’s message is important and strong, it doesn’t ring quite as loud as it could have if the packaging reflected the brand story.”

Goldstein adds, “After the ProFoot redesign, the brand and its story come home to live with the consumer, often in the most intimate rooms of their homes—kitchens, bathrooms or bedrooms. The storyline is more carefully dissected and it grows into a love affair where the story telling becomes romanticized in a language of color, shapes, symbols and words, so they can share their new brand with other people.”


Koller notes, “As the most tangible experience that a consumer has with a brand, packaging provides the one opportunity for consumers to hold, touch and feel the brand and its meaning in their hands. It’s an opportunity for the brand to clearly convey its message before a social conversation begins. As a result, you better make sure that your messaging on pack is crystal clear and consistent with what you’ve communicated in the rest of your brand’s marketing mix.” Building on that idea, Goldstein says, “As a result, the first goal is to have an abbreviated storyline that can get the brand preferred over its competitive set, and purchased quickly often in 5 seconds or less! These purchase triggers include comprehension of the offering; an immediate reason-to-believe this offering is “right for me” and fulfills a want, need or desire; a competitive benefit often referred to as the unique selling proposition; quality perception, in relationship to the price point; a positive touch and feel to the substrate for once a package is touched or turned over it has a 41% chance of becoming purchased; and personification, which is the association of ‘my brand’ meant for me or my household member.”

Using all the tools available to designers from copy to graphics to structural design and materials was also stressed by Light at our conference. “Package design is a form of photojournalism,” he noted. “Your designs capture the core essence of the brand and bring it to the forefront at the point of purchase. So every picture is precious. Every icon is special. Every color needs consideration. Every texture. Every shape. The whole sensibility of the brand has to be designed to fit on a cup, or a case, or a bottle, or a bag, or a box. It’s an amazing challenge. Photojournalists have a very similar challenge, how to capture that story in one photo.”

This can be seen in the Kotex project. “The U by Kotex package is a three-dimensional, multi-sensorial experience for our customer to engage with,” Bryant says. “Stripping down any U by Kotex package, you will see that design is integral and we pay attention to the details. The black package stands out on the shelf with bright pops of color and trendy patterns that are accomplished with matte-and-gloss printing techniques that create layering and dimension. As she picks up the package, product information is communicated in a simple, clean, fun and educational manner. She will get a glimpse of a variety of myths and facts, as well as how to engage on the website to learn more. When the package is opened up, we surprise and delight her with the discovery of multiple designs and colorful patterns on the pouch. Designs are continuously updated to reflect current trends, which allow her to be self-expressive through variety and choice. Once the pouch is opened, the innovative product carries the same design theme with coordinated colors and prints. This entire experience and attention to detail let’s her know we thought of her.”


When Light coined the term “brand journalism,” he started McDonald’s on a journey that delivered strong business results. “Following the adoption of brand journalism, McDonald’s sales turned around,” Light explained at the Package Design Matters conference. “McDonald’s was recognized as a ‘marketer of the year.’ It won awards around the world for efffectiveness, and the part I like the most: The stock price went from around $12 to more than $60 in 36 months.”

Communicating through the lens of the consumer helped Kotex revitalize the feminine care product category. “When U By Kotex was launched, it reframed and reinvigorated the feminine care category from clinical and institutional to personal and self-expressive,” Bryant recalls. “This was achieved by making feminine care more appealing, breaking down barriers related to period stigmas and enabling women to become more interested and engaged in their own vagina care, personal health and well-being.”

A more shopper-centric approach to package design, with its “unique question/answer elements,” Levinson reports, “is also helping ProFoot simultaneously inform the consumer about each products’ benefits while mitigating the potential for brand confusion. Our retail partners all had extremely positive reactions to our new package design.”