Shades of Meaning

Posted: January 13, 2010 by
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For sun worshipers, tanning is a simple matter: simply go outdoors on a bright day and disrobe as desired. Non-heliophiles sometimes resort to sunless tanning products: preparations that temporarily darken the skin without the need for potentially harmful UV exposure.

But, there are nearly as many brands and varieties of these cremes, gels, sprays, and lotions as there are dermal shades of brown, gold, bronze, and—in some unfortunate cases—orange. Thus, a product line that hopes to shine through this many-hued spectrum of consumer choices needs a branding message that's as warm, authentic, and reassuring as the sun itself.

Stage, a Boston-based brand design firm, knew that getting the message exactly right would be critical when it took on the challenge of finding a place in the sun for a sunless tanning line from Aviva Labs, a Waltham, MA, maker of skincare products. Sharron Menninger, a principal at Stage, says that because the message is the touchstone for all the creative effort that follows, "we really believe in putting time into the positioning statement." Her partner, Dominic Jones, agrees that everything must start from an accurate branding premise, even if it means "getting the client to see their own product differently."
 

High-end aspirations
The project for Aviva Labs was a rebranding initiative aimed at boosting sales of the product line, Aviva Organics, in spas, beauty salons, and other high-end outlets. Besides emphasizing the products' unique formulas—skin-friendly blends of natural ingredients and FDA-approved tanning agents—Aviva Labs wanted to bring them to market at a price point commensurate with the upscale segment it was targeting.

After conducting a preliminary "branding workshop" with the client, Menninger and Jones decided that meeting the objectives would mean going in a completely new creative direction when it came to designing the packaging. In keeping with the quest for a natural, organic product persona, they persuaded Aviva to drop "Labs" from the brand identification that would appear on the new containers. Then, with further input from the client, they hit upon "healthy confidence" as the positioning statement from which the rest of the rebranding strategy would flow.

"Healthy confidence," explains Menninger, is about making the consumer believe that with the help of Aviva Organics, she can achieve "inner beauty" along with the glowing patina of a natural-looking sunless tan. The line's cartons and labels evoke this theme with an understated yet rich golden-brown color that's meant to be seen as the antithesis of the "flash" look of competitive products that promise a tan but leave the user orange with embarrassment. It's a standard Pantone color, but Menninger says "we tweaked it a little" during scrupulous press checks at the printer.

Another way the packaging radiates healthy confidence is in the graphical pattern printed on the both the outer and the inner surfaces of the carton. The upward-spiraling design, says Menninger, is a "feminine" motif that highlights the perceived contrast between Aviva Organics and "fake bake" brands. The logotype, a capital A, sprouts green leaves to underscore the uplifitng qualities of the line's natural formulation.

Stick to stock
Jones says that the creative process from development of the positioning statement to final approval of the design took about three months—typical for a project of this kind. Along the way, Aviva decided to drop its initial request for a custom bottle shape, a choice that production cost constraints wouldn't permit. To achieve a high-end look with off-the-shelf components, Jones and Menninger spent two weeks evaluating about 50 stock bottle and closure samples until they found the combination that suited the design brief.

Because of a change of ownership at Aviva Organics, five months elapsed between the end of the creative phase and the distribution of the products in stores. But, no harm was done by the delay: newly packaged, the line increased its average sales transactions with retailers by 22%. The number of monthly accounts climbed by 132% as spas and other high-end outlets warmed to the line's new look and its heightened consumer appeal. As for Menninger and Jones, they earned major professional recognition when the Aviva Organics repositioning won an Award of Distinction in the 2009 REBRAND 100® Global Awards Winning Brands competition.

Menninger attributes the success of the project to Stage's insistence on "working from the product up" until all of its key branding characteristics have been properly identified. "Don't rush into design," affirms Jones. "Don't go for trend." It's better to work patiently toward the "that's it" moment when the client recognizes what the brand's potential truly is—a strategy that turned into a walk in the sun for Aviva Organics.
 

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