Household Products

Holding the Charge

Posted: May 2, 2014 by
Patrick Henry

Like all consumer product companies, the Energizer Household Products Division of Energizer Holdings, Inc. continually seeks to reinvigorate its brand image by keeping the appearance of its packaging relevant and new. But in view of the fact the last graphics refresh for Energizer products dated to 2004, says Betsy Laakko, director of global marketing, “the time was right” for the new look now greeting battery and flashlight shoppers in stores the world over.

The new design scheme will be seen on Energizer packages in every country where Energizer products are sold, which means, says Rebecca (Becchi) Oesterle, leader of global packaging development, “pretty much every country on earth.” The principal difference will be in the brand icons: the familiar Energizer Bunny for the U.S. and a few other countries, and in all other lands, the equally well known Mr. Energizer. Except for the images of these characters, the new package graphics will be virtually identical across all global markets.

Despite the strong wish for a visual reboot—and in some of the packages, for structural changes supporting sustainability as well—Energizer’s plan to create and adopt a new visual brand identity was no spur-of-the-moment decision. In fact, says Oesterle, the project has been unfolding ever since 2007 when two brand design agencies were asked to propose concepts. Ample time was taken to ensure the designs were both consistent and consumer-validated—attributes to be certain of in a multi-product launch on a global scale.

Leahy Brand Designs provided the creative direction while corporate implementation teams were formed within the various product categories. Leahy Brand Designs, based in the Clerkenwell section of London, was established in 1992. With a team of 15, it serves clients in banking, real estate, and construction as well as in food and non-food packaging. The agency already had a 10-year relationship with Energizer in Europe when it was selected to develop the new visual identity early in 2008.

Thousands and thousands of SKUs
Tim Leahy, managing director, says that thanks to the agency’s prior experience with Energizer, “we were well up to speed with their business,” and the result was “quite a smooth project.” But he adds that despite the familiarity, the agency’s approach to the Energizer assignment was no different from its project strategy for any other client: find out what is distinctive about the client’s products, and understand precisely why the products resonate with consumers.

Eventually, says Oesterle, the project came to involve the efforts of “hundreds of folks around the world.” Laakko says that “thousands and thousands of SKUs” will be affected as Energizer applies the new look to its branded batteries, lighting products, and charging devices. Licensees that place the Energizer brand on consumer items such as video game gear and automotive accessories also will be expected to conform to the new visual requirements. With so many new packages to send to so many different markets, an all-at-once introduction would have been impractical.

Instead, says Oesterle, Energizer gave priority to top-selling SKUs such as four-packs of AA batteries. Adhering to this plan, implementation commenced in April 2009, and by February of this year, the first examples of the new packages were being seen on shelves in Sam’s Club outlets. Distribution to Wal-Mart, Target, Lowe’s, and other leading retailers followed. The phased-in launch will continue to replace exhausted stocks of older packages with new ones until the distribution is universal.

Beaming with brand equity
Although the redesign was comprehensive, it left some basic features intact, such as package sizes and the category-specific color code that assigns blue to Ultimate Lithium batteries, yellow to Advanced Lithium, and so on. The most visually arresting new graphic element is the “energy beam,” an intertwining spiral of light that marks Energizer, Oesterle says, as the brand “where energy, technology, and freedom meet.”

“The energy beam is the key ingredient of our visual language,” says Laakko. “It speaks to who we are as a brand.” She says that if brand is to be acknowledged as the convergence point of energy, technology, and freedom, its packaging must drive corresponding perceptions of innovation and modernity. It must communicate, in a word, the “dynamism” that consumers have come to expect of Energizer products. “It’s about keeping your face to the consumer fresh,” says Laakko.

Leahy says that his creative goal was identical to Energizer’s marketing objective: to simplify on-package messaging in ways that make it easy for customers to choose the right batteries for whatever end-uses they have in mind. Leahy decided that the best ways to accomplish this would be by limiting the typography to two easy-to-read faces—Digital Sans and Helvetica—and by creating standards for the consistent and economical placement of “icons”—his term for package illustrations in full color. (“There is an overload of icons in this category,” Leahy asserts.) What his studio thus created for the campaign, he says, was a “toolkit of parts” to guide the efforts of all those responsible for seeing it through.

On the same page
To make certain that the new visual language would be used correctly in all settings where consumers might encounter it, Energizer created something else that was new: a formal body of standards for the depiction and placement of design elements. Now available, says Oesterle, is a “very extensive design manual” that lets Energizer maintain the consistency of brand messaging in its packages. The result of going strictly by the book, she says, is that “you can tell it’s an Energizer product wherever in the world you see it.”

The campaign, Leahy says, is still in an early stage, with more visual branding elements yet to come. It began with the creation of the “master energy beam” now seen on the packaging, and it will continue, Leahy says, with three additional beam designs for use in web sites, point-of-sale, print ads, and other non-packaging forms of promotion. Each will vary by shape and color in what Leahy calls an “extensible visual language” for multiple branding applications.

Fans of the unstoppable Energizer Bunny will be happy to know that he still has his job and that space will continue to be budgeted for the signature image of his pink fur, dark glasses, and big bass drum on all packages for North America, Israel, and some South American countries. With his purposeful stride, Mr. Energizer personifies the brand in the rest of the world, and his place too is secure in the new design scheme.

Although it’s too soon to judge what effect the redesign is having on sales, says Laakko, Energizer continuously tracks equity perceptions of the brand and will be looking for the new visual identity to enhance its imagery perceptions. Currently, batteries account for about two-thirds of Energizer’s revenues. Oesterle says the company hopes that the new visual identity will boost sales of flashlights and lanterns by giving these products “the same look and feel as the batteries.”

19th-century modern marvel
What shoppers may not realize is that Energizer Battery Company's roots in portable electricity go back to 1896, when inventor W.H. Lawrence developed the first consumer battery to power home telephones—a cell weighing three pounds. In 1905, Lawrence partnered with Conrad Hubert, who was using these batteries to power a hand torch (a.k.a. flashlight), and they launched the company that would become famous as the maker of Eveready batteries. These are well remembered for their glittering silver jackets and the electrified black cat leaping through the numeral in their "9 Lives" logo.

In 1980 the company launched the Energizer brand for its alkaline cells, introduced in 1959. The company eventually took Energizer as its corporate name as well. The Eveready brand still exists and is a major player in many markets alongside the Energizer brand.

One new feature of Energizer flashlight packages that shoppers should take a shine to is the “FL1 Standard” icon, a package graphic that uses symbols to specify the product’s brightness, battery life, and beam range. The icon is one result of work by an ANSI committee formed to establish basic flashlight performance measurements that end-users could easily understand. The committee, representing most of the leading flashlight manufacturers, was chaired by a technical marketing manager for Energizer.

As it turned out, the publication of the ANSI standard in August 2009 was serendipitously timed. “We wanted to incorporate the new icon into the redesign,” Oesterle says. “Fortunately, the standard and the icon were ready when we were.”

Drastic cuts in plastic
The palette of Energizer’s new visual brand identity also includes a distinct shade of green—the green that comes from reducing the amounts of plastic and cardboard used in Energizer product packaging, and, in the cases of some of the lighting products, completely eliminating the enclosing plastic.

Since most of the battery packs already made highly efficient use of their structural materials, says Oesterle, opportunities to take weight out of these packages were limited. Nevertheless, Energizer did manage to reduce card stock and blister film in some of the larger ones, such as the 16- and 20-count battery packs and the packaging for 9-volt cells.

With the lighting products, on the other hand, it was possible to eliminate as much as 95% of the plastic by doing away with the plastic clamshells that had surrounded flashlights and lanterns in the older packaging. Shipping weights from Energizer’s manufacturing plants in Asia were correspondingly reduced, and there was an added benefit in terms of shopper satisfaction. “We knew that customers like to touch and feel products such as flashlights,” Oesterle explains.

The 360º Area Light, for example, now goes to market in packaging consisting of nothing more than a header card attached to the handle—the lantern is fully exposed and available for inspection as soon as the consumer picks it up. The only plastic remaining in many of the flashlight packages is in the ties that secure the lights to their cards, and even this remnant, Oesterle says, is something that Energizer is looking at eliminating by replacing it with a recyclable alternative. It reflects, Laakko says, Enegizer’s wish to address all consumer touchpoints in the development of its new visual brand identify, graphically design-driven though it may be. With the rollout of the new Global Brand Identity, Energizer hopes that customers will never feel an impulse to change brands—even though they may still have to change batteries from time to time.