A Package Design That Remains True

      

As package designs go, few in the marketplace stay true to form as much as Frito-Lay’s. That Dallas firm has recognized their customer better than most.

Sure, there are others such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi, those long standing brands from way back (more than 100 years). As history records it, Coca Cola has been around since 1886. Likewise, Pepsi Cola emerged from a local drink—originally “Brad’s Drink” from a pharmacist in North Carolina—in 1898.

The Frito Company was born in 1932. Charles Doolin bought a recipe from a local corn chip manufacturer in San Antonio for $100, and along with a manual potato ricer and an oven, started making his own snack. I had a tough time running down the history of the name, but he called them “Fritos”—I would imagine meaning “fried” or “fritter”.

A year later he’d moved upstate to Dallas and by 1945 granted a license to H. W. Lay & Company (Lay’s Potato Chips) to make and distribute Fritos in the southeast. By 1961, the two merged into Frito-Lay. Then in 1965, Pepsi and Frito-Lay merged, and things were sunny for both companies after that. A year later, Doritos was born.

The name Doritos was derived from the Spanish “doradito”, meaning golden brown.

The thing about Doritos, as in all the Frito-Lay brands, is that it’s maintained the same design flavor, meaning it’s kept its brand design equity in two distinct areas: color and style. The red-orange-yellow color palette tells the consumer that the taste is bold and spicy, and the design style of the type and graphics tells us it’s festive.

Experience just one taste of Nacho Doritos and you won’t forget it. Just seeing the package on the store shelf reminds your taste buds of the spicy flavor.

Looking at the history of the package from left to right reinforces all this. From the 70s’ color blocks through the freeform scribble designs of the 90s reflect the zapping taste inside the bag. And lately the lightning-esque triangle shape of the chips reminds us of what’s inside, that true-to-form snack that remains true to itself.

How many brands across the spectrum can you honestly say remain true to form such as this? Relatively not many.

 

Letterspacing With Initialed Names

  

It’s probably one of those things you rarely look at. And even if you do, do you really see it?

Graphic design has many facets, many parts. One of the most overlooked areas is typesetting. Back in the day, before the personal computer came to the fore and applications made possible what became “desktop publishing”, we relied on professional typesetting companies to format our text into conventional norms of appearance, flow, proper punctuation and letterspacing.

And now that those typesetters are gone, it’s up to us—the designers—to set our own type according to those time-honored conventions. We still follow things like paragraph conventions (flush left, justified), single-spaced sentences, etc. Why not proper letterspacing with initialed names?

In the visual at the top, which is the correct way to typeset the name? I combed the Internet, that bastion of reference material that holds tons of information, and the reference guides that held sway were these:

• The Penn State Visual & Editorial Standards

• The Modern Language Association Formatting and Style Guide

• The American Psychological Association

• The Chicago Manual of Style

And in all those widely accepted references, it was found that the across-the-board standard is the first example. In other words, spaces after each period. The only exceptions are U.S., abbreviating United States, and P.O., abbreviating post office. But those of course are not proper names.

Funny, because when going to the Internet’s foremost search engine and typing in P. G. Wodehouse, you subsequently get the visual at the bottom. Note the differences in the way the author’s name is listed, all on the same page in Google (the color highlights are mine).

I even found one listing with no punctuation at all.

Either we have two schools of thought on this subject or we have half of all people being largely ignorant of just how to type a name such as this correctly.

The Latest Trend in Asian Automobiles

       

I’ve written before about Lexus’ designs and how their front-end grille contours are not reflected in the lines of the rest of the body styling. With the possible exception of the LC500, this remains so into the coming 2018 model year. And regarding Lexus in particular, their fleet of vehicles does exhibit the front grille motif throughout, the SUV looking the most ridiculous.

I’ve collected a few pics here. Although Lexus’ designers have augmented the grille’s contours and have added an attractive texture to the grille itself, the lines around the headlamp area make for an even more aggressive, squinted look (see my previous article entitled “Let’s Talk Visual Sensitivities” from April 7 of this year).

What I find strange is that this design trend is getting traction elsewhere. Toyota, the parent of Lexus, is getting its grille enlarged in a similar fashion, its contour like that of Lexus with that modified hourglass shape.

Having mentioned Toyota and Lexus, Mitsubishi (lower left photo above) has also adopted the look, although to a slightly less obvious degree.

Moving to South Korea, although the Hyundai Veloster Turbo has had this open-mouthed look for a while, the Sonata is about to show it (lower right photo) in the coming year.

Notice that none of these automobiles has a grille that is light in overall tone or color. They’re all dark if not black. The designers have all decided, as if they’d arranged a meeting and reached a consensus, that black equals a macho, no-nonsense, don’t-mess-with-me look. Add that to the deep-throated contour that goes all the way to the bottom extremities of the front-end and you have the appearance that these cars can eat highway.

I wonder just how the design world will regard this goofy trend ten years from now.

Where’s the Correlation?

  

TV advertising is becoming more and more disconnected. By that, I mean there are many commercials that stretch the correlation between the client’s product and the theme or initial message of the ad.

A prime example of this is the latest T-Mobile ad that shows a couple returning home after an evening out only to find a sassy babysitter wisecracking about her hourly rate increases while wearing the housewife’s shoes.

Then the ad closes with a few taglines for T-Mobile—which has absolutely nothing to do with the couple’s situation nor the babysitter. It’s a complete disconnect. I’ve seen the ad several times, and there’s nothing. It could’ve been an ad for skin cream or home security.

I’m not sure what happens in the minds of the copywriters in this way of thinking. I’m sure they think there’s a minor shock value in the babysitter’s snappy reaction to the parents’ inquiries. You watch the interaction between her and the parents and it does catch your attention. But I had to see the ad a few times to catch that it’s a T-Mobile ad.

If it weren’t for their signature hot pink color branding in the last few seconds of the ad, you would’ve missed it, too. Not a good idea.

I have a brother-in-law who’s done a lot of copywriting for ad agencies, and we discussed this disconnect. His theory is that ad agencies’ copywriters are beginning to hate writing for these kinds of commercials. Either it’s that or this commercial’s editing staff left too much on the cutting room floor. It’s also possible that this way of thinking is the new soft-sell approach. But the disconnect is so wide that it does not work.

Here’s the thing: it does appear to be a small trend. I say small to refer to a small number of advertisers doing this kind of ad, but I also say trend to say there will be more coming, if not a large number. I hope not.

There are however, advertisers who stretch the correlation and yet keep it as a comparative statement. Geico is one.

The latest Geico ad has a scene in a pharmacy with Boyz II Men singing the side effects of a prescription to a woman. Then the voiceover explains that Boyz II Men can make anything sound good (it’s what they do), and that if you want to save 15% or more on car insurance, you can call Geico (it’s what you do).

A small connection, but it’s just enough to make it work.

Observations on Perception, Part 2

    

Watching television commercials is like going on a cruise. You can be bored if you like, you can revile the repetition of it all, or you can look closely and people watch.

Me, I like to think I can look closely enough to see things people otherwise tend to overlook. I tend to not take things at face value.

And so, looking closely at some commercials makes me wonder where they get these euphoric visions of certain items the sponsors are trying to sell us. In some cases, the vision is one of extreme excitement. In some others, a feeling of exhilaration. In yet others, it might be an extreme sense of freedom.

I don’t get bored seeing these kinds of commercials. But I do get curious. And I laugh a lot. Especially when I see the kind pictured above.

At left I chose the Land Rover commercial where we see the vehicle outrunning a desert sandstorm (!), stopping to pick up a team of sailors on their way to whatever is pictured at the end of the commercial—what appears to be an America Cup racing yacht. Yeah.

Here’s a team of guys out in the…desert?…just walking around in the…desert? Huh? And all this to the tune of Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz. Sounds completely and stupidly incongruous. After watching it several times, I still don’t get it. It makes no sense.

Next I chose the Alfa Romeo Giulia ad where the newest ugly car from Italy is being driven down a country road. Ever notice in these car ads that theirs is the only car on the road? Some of the ads for other cars show the vehicle being driven downtown in the same way—all alone. Gee. Do we consumers ever get to drive our cars in a situation like that? Of course not.

Last, I chose the Nordic Track Freestride Trainer ad. This woman is riding her new elliptical exercise machine on top of a building! Not in her apartment, not in her basement in the ‘burbs. Right up there in downtown Metropolis, above everyone else. Does this make any sense? No, of course not.

Which brings me to what goes through the minds of ad agencies when they concoct these things. Of course they’re trying to depict the car (or exercise machine) in an atmosphere of escape from the everyday humdrum of reality. To give that car a mystique that it it really doesn’t have, especially while you’re driving your new baby home from the dealer stuck in rush hour traffic.

That I get. I can even apply that kind of idiom to the Nordic Track, if I squint real hard after another gin and tonic.

But the Land Rover ad escapes any kind of lofty storyline logic. Of course, their slogan is “above and beyond”. Beyond for sure. Way out there.

New Men’s Belts

     

Ever notice the new “technology” with regard to the way men’s belts are cinched? The old way is the peg/hole standard (actually prong/frame in the belt industry). The new way is more of a ratchet method with a track of indents on the reverse side of the belt with a spring-catch mechanism on the backside of the buckle.

This new way makes cinching the belt both easier and also much more adjustable, given that the tracks have increments at around ¼-inch apart.

That’s a good thing. In the old way, the holes in the leather are roughly an inch apart, with maybe five holes to choose from to make that belt fit an ever-widening waistline. So with the increments much closer in the new “tracked” belts, adjusting the belt to how bloated you feel any given day becomes much more accommodating.

There are two manufacturers in the forefront here. Mission Belt offers a fairly sleek design to their buckle, which has a release latch on the back. Comfort Click’s belts look more traditional and have a different mechanism with the way the buckle operates. The Mission Belt comes in a variety of styles. The Comfort Click comes in just the one traditional style, pictured above.

I’d heard about the Mission Belt a few years ago. The Comfort Click, I believe, is more recent. The thing is, the Mission Belt gets an A in appearance, an A- in the way it releases. The Comfort Click get a A in the way it releases, but a D in its appearance.

New-fangled belts are drawing on old tech in the way they operate. Military belts have a plain shield-like buckle that the strap goes through, and the friction bar behind it locks the strap into position. The similarity here is that the buckle hides the cinching. The new belts have taken this as a jump-off point to rethink just how to make the belts work better and still hide the cinch.

The Mission Belt’s appearance is sleek and takes a more fashion approach with different models to choose from. Its release mechanism is OK, but could be a little smaller. The Comfort Click’s release is pretty smooth, but the design of the belt’s appearance was left on the cutting room floor.

Which made me wonder just why a company—which obviously prides itself on innovation—would market a retro-style belt, its only model. Seems to me that you’d want to have your new belt work and look like no other. But here the buckle, with its traditional frame and prong appearance, is fake.

That’s like a car company introducing a new 2018 model with a revolutionary drivetrain, yet on the outside it looks like one from 1965. It’s backward thinking.

Not the Best Western

      

Close to where I live, there’s a Best Western Hotel. And on the side of the building is their new logo.

Plain and simple. But mostly just plain.

I couldn’t believe it. It’s been almost two years since they changed their logo, but it wasn’t until recently that I saw the new monogram. After seeing it, I immediately thought of my childhood when my parents took us traveling during summer vacations and we often stayed at a Best Western. The hotels weren’t the best, but they were good and they fit my parents’ budget.

The logo was similar in feel to the first one pictured above, although this particular one is the most recent before the change.

So back in 2015, they changed the logo. Something about bringing it into the 21st century or some such malarkey. The official wording had to do with making the new logo reflective of all the “brands” offered by the hotel chain.

What got me was the way they worded the change. Apparently it took them two years to do it. Ouch. That’s one. The word “contemporizing” was mentioned. Really?

They actually said this: “Best Western used today’s graphic design and digital printing capabilities to create an array of logos that use special effects to be distinctive and striking to consumers.” I am not making this up. The italics, however, are mine. Read on…

“The design…uses hand-drawn lettering, which is familiar and personable and pulls through the company’s updated blue color. The centerpiece globe comes to life through the use of special effects such as gradient, highlighting and a 3-D treatment. These effects will be distinctive within the hotel industry which traditionally uses two-dimensional logos.” All that is two. Once again, the italics are mine.

These last two paragraphs. Seriously? Couldn’t possibly have been written by a designer. Designers don’t call a circle a “globe” and they don’t refer to gradients, highlighting and a 3-D “treatment” as special effects. Garbage. Imagine a corporation putting out a message like that. OMG.

All that points to two things: one, if that logo took two years in the making, then there were too many meetings with too many people in the decision making; and two, the above explanation was written by either a marketing person or somebody’s wife or partner who thought writing might be possible career. Any designer who’s read that explanation probably sent a text to another designer saying, “LMAO.”

But enough about the goofy explanation. The logos are too generic. Anyone can slap together two letterforms and call them a logo. Criticisms have appeared on the Internet saying it’s too much of a departure from the traditional “crowned” version. There’s a lot to be said for keeping the feel of a decades-old logo going forward.

In this case, even though Best Western was never a premium hotel chain, the new logo cheapens it. Now it feels like Motel 6.

 

Those Pharmaceutical Commercials

    

In the last few years, we’ve seen numerous pharma ads on TV, and they seem to multiply like rabbits in April. Seems like you’ve seen them all only to encounter another one with a pharmaceutical name someone must’ve made up on the way to a board meeting. Names like “Myrbetriq” and “Entyvio”. The names themselves don’t mean anything, because none of them sound like what they’re prescribed for. And the ads are long, some longer than a minute—which on TV, while you’re waiting to see if the new MacGyver will save the day—is like a minor eternity.

But this column today isn’t about the names of some of those medications or about the length of the ads. It’s about the ads themselves and the models they use. I’m not certain just why they bother me. But they do. I look at the perception and the storyline of the ad, but mostly the perception.

My issue is that the model walks through her day as though she’s on Xanax instead of the advertiser’s product. I look at these models and the dopey expression on their faces tells me they might not be allowed to drive a car after shooting the ad.

Of course the models themselves aren’t to blame here. It’s the directors who staged these stupidly idyllic ads. Plus the ad agency probably stepped in somewhere between the concept stage and the storyboards and added their two cents. More committee decisions.

In the Stelara ad, the brunette can’t quite stop smiling throughout the commercial. She’s easily the dopiest I’ve seen in all the pharma ads going. Stelara is prescribed for plaque psoriasis, a skin condition that can be embarrassing in the company of strangers or among people of minimal acquaintance. So this girl is walking along various rural tracks with her beau during the sunlit day and also sits with him among others at night around a campfire.

So the depiction is that she’s enjoying life and not worried about her skin condition because she’s taking Stelara. But the perception is that she’s just too happy. And it ain’t the Stelara.

In the Botox ad, this girl is cruising on something else. Not sure, but the perception is maybe…Vicodin? She’s in dreamland, this girl. Botox is prescribed for migraine headaches. I think she’s using more than is prescribed.

In the Lyrica ad, this model appears confident, alert and very conscious of who and where she is. This is normal behavior, advertisers. Lyrica is prescribed for fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder affecting joints and muscles. So the perception here, because the model comes off as managing her condition with a sound mind, is that there’s no apparent side effect of Lyrica displayed by heavy eyelids and a dopey smile.

I can see a patient going to her doctor and asking if the pills he’s prescribing are going to cause her to look as clueless as some of these models. Advertisers need to be aware that perception is everything. Not just to them, but also to the viewer.

 

Owls for Now

    

Mascots. They’ve been with us almost as long as slogans have (see article from June 16). Whereas slogans probably came from a remark that someone made offhandedly about a product or service, mascots came about in an entirely different way.

Advertisers began introducing characters to represent their products, knowing two things would happen: one, it would distinguish their product from the rest, and two, it would also make it more memorable. Around World War I, we had the girl on the Morton Salt container (1914), Planter’s Mr. Peanut (1916), and Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo on the Cracker Jack package (1918).

In the advertising world, mascots are important for endearing products to the buying public. So like my old design school roommate would tell it, it’s a gimmick. Call it what you will, but it worked back in the day and it still does. Otherwise, advertisers would’ve abandoned it long ago. Advertisers have to be timely and current.

After World War II, animals came to the fore in the ad world. Cartoons came of age in the ’40s, and ad agencies began to see a way to incorporate lovable characters into ad campaigns. Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes started using Tony the Tiger in 1951. Bucky Beaver was the spokesperson for Ipana Toothpaste in 1957. There were other characters besides animals just as cuddly: “Speedy” for Alka Seltzer (1952), Pillsbury’s Poppin’ Fresh doughboy (1965), and Keebler’s elves (1968), for example.

Right now we have owls. One for America’s Best eyewear; one for Xyzal, an allergy OTC pill; and a third for Trip Advisor, a vacation helper on the Internet. Two of them are well-animated, the third not so much.

America’s Best is the best owl by far. He looks real—within most parameters—and he’s articulated very well. Plus he’s wearing glasses, which is of course a necessary tie-in with what he’s hawking (sorry). The fact that he appears out of nowhere—on a roof or park bench—is of no real consequence. And there’s no segue into his sales pitch, telling the unsuspecting and bewildered person that she’s paying too much for eyeglasses.

You’d ignore or turn away from a stranger doing the same direct confrontation. But this is an owl, and you listen to him because owls don’t speak and also, because he’s an owl, he’s wise. That’s the shtick.

Xyzal’s owl is much more stylized, but he’s just as wise. Even professorial. He’s not accosting people in the park—he’s in a library, wearing a monocle, a bow tie and a smoking jacket. Plus, he’s got a British accent, which we’ve noted before implies intelligence.

Then we have a third owl, the Trip Advisor mascot. He’s not as qualitative and not nearly as articulated. He’s more a stuffed owl in an oversized white robe. But the implication of you making wise choices for your vacation or business trip can be associated from dialing up Trip Advisor on the Internet.

Note that none of these owls has a name. But then neither does the Geico Gecko (1999), the Aflac duck (2000) or the garden gnome for Travelocity (2003).

Do you think it’s necessary that these characters have a name?