Labels & Shrink Sleeves

Humor on the Front Panel

Posted: May 6, 2014

When is it appropriate or advisable to use idiosyncratic humor on packages to promote a brand's message? For example, on the Snapple Lemon Iced Tea label, text explains that the sun is "Not to scale"; the Raspberry Iced Tea label says, referring to the sun, "If you were 100 billion degrees, you'd be thirsty too"; and the Peach Iced Tea label asks consumers to "Find out what the fuzz is all about." Our panel of experts this issue includes David Brier, Bill Goodwin, Tom Newmaster, and Don Childs.

David Brier, president of DBD International Ltd., Menomonie, WI

Humor on packages depends on two primary factors: 1) Is it an integral aspect of the brand voice?; and 2) Is this something that your audience will appreciate?

Tazo, for instance, has done a brilliant job of incorporating humor into their brand, as has Ben & Jerry's. Equally well done is the Pain is Good line of products. Those guys do a GREAT job of not only using humor but making part of the culture and voice of the brand.

So, humor has to be an organic fit that makes sense—and will actually BE funny—while adding meaning to the voice of the brand. Given we do projects for a number of international clients, I can say that certain cultures are NOT responsive to humor and take things too literally, so as a result, no matter how funny we might consider them, it loses reality with the audience.

Certain categories are naturals for humor, such as certain gourmet salsas and others, but the more serious the "problem" that the product is supposed to "solve," the less humor we would tend to suggest to be incorporated into a package design or its text.

Bill Goodwin, president & CEO of Goodwin, Media, PA

I think this is an advisable strategy for nearly any category, and particularly with youth, which is our focus at Goodwin. Of course there are no-go zones. I'd caution against the application of idiosyncratic messaging when trust, health, or safety are concerns that create uncertainty or insecurity among consumers in the category. It also depends on audience, channel, and even retailer.

"Me-too's" are a real threat too. Look at the health and beauty category. Origins and Philosophy were among the first to use this type of approach. Then Salon Selectives, Bliss, and Clairol joined the party, and it has now largely become a health and beauty norm. Method recently introduced an eco-friendly Go Naked line of products, with the tag lines:

"Celebrate Earth Day in your birthday suit"
"We think Mother Nature would approve"
We advise our clients about humor that it simply comes down to authenticity, which should be reinforced at every touch point in an ownable way. We all know that in branding being first is best, and we've come to recognize that the success of brands is tied to emotion and experience. I recommend tempering any strategy accordingly.

Tom Newmaster, partner at William Fox Munroe Inc., Shillington, PA

I have always liked incorporating humor into packaging, when appropriate. I've done it several times over the years, but you have to very careful not to offend anyone, or at least minimize the offense or offenses taken.

Most of the really good stuff gets killed in the concept stage, but every once and awhile, good stuff makes it through. I don't think you can break down whether or not it's advisable by category, it's more of a product specific or brand specific question. Certain brands and/or products just seem to have the right personality for idiosyncratic humor. It can be the main visual or communication, but many times works best as a discoverable aspect of the package communication. One of my favorites is Oral Pleasure, which has symbols of a spoon, a fork, and a knife with tags that read "Breakfast," "Lunch," and "Dinner," respectively. The text on the package also includes these lines:

"Here for a good time, not a long time"
"Active Ingredient: Cocoa 34%"
"For internal and external and internal and external use."
This type of communication can really start a buzz among consumers and can even create a sense of adventure when trying to find the next new humorous message on a package. Snapple has always done a good job with their humor. Jones Soda has succeeded with a similar approach at times, as has Ben & Jerry's with their flavor names and descriptors.

Don Childs, vice president, laga, Cincinnati, OH

It is possible that this tactic be overdone. But if handled well, it's a great way to connect a consumer to a brand's essence. Effective brand design is a balance of verbal and visual and the more completely you can communicate an essence or promise of a brand. Snapple's brand essence revolves around a slight attitude—irreverence that tilts towards whimsy. The addition of ironic comments that appear to be handwritten, almost graffiti-like, do a nice job driving the brand essence forward. It's key to this brand's narrative.

The danger comes when this tactic doesn't support a brand's promise. It doesn't always make sense to add verbal components. Especially when it overpowers the broader strategic communication. I call the dance between all of this brand communication the ergonomics of understanding. Snapple allows these comments to be an afterthought, a neat little detail that the consumer might not even notice until they are enjoying the beverage. The treat adds depth to the brand story.

I'm not sure I'd look at it by category but rather brand by brand. You wouldn't assume humor had a place in upscale beauty care, but the premium cosmetic brand Lush does a wonderful job of using on-target humor to support the essence of the brand. So, when this tactic of adding a personal humorous touch with the verbal component can reinforce the brand communication and elevate the understanding of the brand promise, it's an effective tool. But when it is off-strategy and used as a gimmick, then it detracts from the brand and runs the risk of making the brand disingenuous in the eyes of the consumer.