This is the third post in a five-part series that identifies and details the five fundamentals of great package design.
Mary Zalla
Global President, Consumer Brands and Managing Director,
based in Landor Cincinnati

My first two posts focused on the importance of insight and perception. All great design is insight-based—great designers seek to know and understand for whom they are designing, and powerful insights drive great work. As for perception, it is crucially important for designers to constantly expand the way they see things, look for new opportunities within existing landscapes, and challenge themselves not to fall into habitual thinking patterns.

The third fundamental of great package design focuses on the importance of ideas.

Ideas are foundational

I’ll admit that I am a bit of an idea junkie. I don’t think there is any better start to a sentence than “I have an idea…” Those four small words, none longer than four letters, hold so much potential, so much promise. And for the business of design, ideas are flat out foundational to what we do.

Once we’ve gathered the insights and challenged ourselves to think about all aspects of an opportunity, it’s time to get going on the ideas that will inspire the design. Too often this idea phase is skipped for a number of reasons. The biggest culprits are:

1. Weak briefs: We’ve all seen them, and to be fair to our clients, they have little time or sometimes little experience in writing them. Which is why briefs often end up with objectives such as “contemporize from current,” or “revitalize graphic system,” or “increase traction against appetizing attribute.” I’m not saying these are invalid objectives, but you’ve got a much better chance of both inspiring and selling a great work if you ground it in a bigger idea.

2. Devaluation of ideas: Ideas are plentiful, somewhat easy to come by, so we don’t always appropriately value them or think it very important to consider a broad range of them at the outset of a project. Studies in innovation prove the pivotal importance of not only ideas, but that the development of a broader range of ideas is linked to greater in-market successes. “On average, better ideas lead to more successful products. So you need discipline in the idea generation process to come up with really good ideas…. A big mistake companies make in new product invention is that they don’t explore broadly enough at the beginning…. Better ideas create better products.” (From “Start with the Good Ideas,” January 2013 newsletter from Ideas to Go.) And the same is true of design: Better ideas produce better design.

3. Timing pressures: We all know the pace of business is only accelerating. There is less and less time to complete work and our clients have less and less time to get work into market. The more time pressure we are under, the more tempted we may be to jump straight to designing. I call this condition “premature execution” and perhaps one day one of the pharmaceutical companies will devise a drug therapy for this condition. Until then, we must resist the impulse to execute before we have a solid idea. I know it feels counterintuitive, but the more time we take to innovate sound ideas and territories, the more efficient the rest of the design-generation process will be.

Ideas inspire and have staying power

Ideas are so central to the human condition. Once an idea is formed, we cannot help but start thinking about how we will act upon the idea. Good ideas inspire action and great ideas are accelerants to the design process.

When Landor developed the design for Gevalia as it transitioned from direct-to-consumer to a mass brand, we landed on the central idea of celebrating Gevalia’s Swedish heritage. Not only was this distinctive in the North American coffee category, but the idea sparked an in-depth and fun exploratory of all things Swedish including color, pattern, texture, cultural norms, etc. The ultimate design was chosen because it captured modern and traditional elements of Sweden in a powerful way with everything from brand colors informed by the Swedish flag to hand-drawn illustrations inspired by Swedish folk art.

Gevalia -409

I am not saying that good execution absolutely cannot happen without the basis of a strong idea; sometimes it can. But that work often fails to make it to market because it has a harder time standing up to subjective scrutiny since it’s not grounded in a bigger idea.

Ideas can be inspired or suppressed

Environments, culture, and leadership can inspire the lateral, unfettered exploration of ideas, or they can severely hinder or suppress the development of new ideas. And as much as I love ideas, let’s be clear—they have their place. For instance, if I’m flying cross-country and my pilot suddenly says to her copilot: “Hey, I have an idea. Let’s see what happens when we experiment with the cabin’s pressure.” Or, “I have an idea, let’s try and land this thing without using our instrument panel.”

Now, in the engineering and product development group, I hope people are thinking about safe landings in the event of instrument failure or how to keep passengers comfortable through fluctuating cabin pressure conditions. But the en route from LGA to LAX is not the time or the place for these ideas.

Most of the time in design environments, ideas are almost always valuable. In fact, Sir Ken Robinson’s definition of creativity is “original ideas that have value.” And we can create the conditions where our coworkers feel very comfortable sharing their ideas.

Things that inspire ideas:

  • Collaborative work arrangements
  • Cross-functional team building
  • Pollination across categories
  • Respectful rapport
  • Active approach to inspiration
  • Acknowledgment that great ideas can come from anywhere—and anyone
  • Cultures oriented toward learning
  • Cultures that promote and celebrate innovation

Behaviors that tend to suppress ideas:

  • Putting people in functional silos
  • Appearing to value the ideas from only one group or type of people or function
  • The stigmatization of failure
  • Snap judgment on an idea’s merit
  • Rigid management structure and style
  • Elevation of the status quo

My next post will talk about the fourth fundamental of great package design: story. Once you have an idea, a great story can help put flesh on the bones and deliver your idea with the appropriate context and emotional punch. Human beings are drawn to stories and story can be a powerful way to ensure your great idea will see the light of day.

Until next time.

Category: Packaging design
Welcome to the NUDE Report, outlining new, unusual, developmental, and experimental packaging materials and techniques.
J. Scott Hosa
Associate Director of Graphic Technology,
based in Landor Cincinnati

Brand designers are challenged to differentiate their product on-shelf—most often with eye-catching design, impressive packaging, or special decoration. If the product itself is visually exceptional, the challenge then becomes how to best display this unique formula to yield maximum results.

Successful product formula examples include Olay's Total Effects tone correcting moisturizer with its cool, multicolored swirling product fill. This stuff looks magical. But, as good as it looks, it has to work, right?


Image courtesy of Flickr user Maegan Tintari.

With product innovation or fill manufacturing expertise as the star, branding is best when it gets out of the way and enhances only the experience with selective, subtle messaging.

You would think that 500,000 Scoville units would be enough to set a hot sauce apart from its competitors. Think again. That shelf is a profusion of catchy names, off-color references, and stylish designs.

Magma hot sauce stands out on-shelf by being different from its neighbors. While idle, it is a clear liquid on the shelf, a dramatic departure from the red wall of competitors. 

Magma On Shelf

The design is subtle but still does a good job of hinting at the product's unique properties. This clean, minimal decoration provides an unobstructed view as you tilt and shake the bottle to activate a fiery "magma" eruption. 


The new Viniq Shimmery Liqueur does a masterful job of highlighting a mesmerizing concoction of purple liquid and metallic particles that create a fairy tale elixir in a towering decanter that must be seen to be believed.

Now the challenge is whether my next occasion is good enough to deserve Viniq!

Bottle Copy

Image courtesy of E.J. Gallo. Permission being requested. 

Category: Packaging design
How does Airbnb manage its brand when its hosts control most of the experience?
Shekha Wilson
based in Landor Dubai

In recent years we’ve seen a proliferation of brands that successfully let go, allowing their customers to define and deliver brand experiences for other customers, becoming the enabler rather than the doer.

Airbnb is an extreme example of an "enabler brand." Unlike the likes of eBay, Uber, and Lyft, which offer relatively standard products and services, the experience of staying with an Airbnb host is determined by hundreds of factors beyond Airbnb’s control (for example, whether the sheets are clean and the place is tidy or whether the neighbors are noisy or quiet). In addition, with Airbnb the stakes are higher and extremely personal. A bad experience could impact days or weeks of your precious vacation, and even your perception of a place and its people.

So how does Airbnb manage its brand when its hosts (who are sometimes also its customers) have so much control over the brand experience? I see the solution in four parts.                                                                        

1. Airbnb over-delivers on all of the things it can control. 

  • Its website is functional and beautiful. You want to use it.
  • The payment process is relatively seamless, using the latest and best in e-commerce technology.
  • Places are categorized and described fairly accurately, helping to manage people’s expectations.
  • Social rating systems help to keep hosts honest, too.


2. Airbnb vets hosts—not just for functional requirements, but also for alignment with its mission. This is a huge part of the Airbnb onboarding process.

3. Airbnb creates strong incentives for its hosts.

As with other businesses in the sharing economy, Airbnb creates financial and social incentives for its hosts to create a great experience for customers—bad ratings make hosts look bad and they also hamper future earnings. 

4. Airbnb is a purpose-driven brand, not a product-driven brand. 

Airbnb’s mission is not just about providing a roof over your head when you travel—there are tons of hotels that do that already. It’s also not about delivering one specific experience. The offer can't describe “high-end boutique rooms in the heart of the city” or “simple, affordable family cottages” when so many different experiences are available. With 425,000 homes rented out each night in 190 countries across the globe, consistency is not something that Airbnb can, or would want to, promise.

Airbnb’s hosts and customers are united in their mission to make travel personal. They want to participate in a sharing economy, where travel is human, experiences are unique, and where it's the people (not just the famous buildings) that help to shape one’s experience of a city. 

When you're able to excel at providing services under your control, and when you can provide strong incentives for your customers and brand representatives to also live up to your brand standards, your brand can let go a little and still achieve your goals. 


Category: Brand strategy & positioning

Horrible Harvest

November 04, 2014
It has been five short days since the Fourth Annual Haunted Cellar and I am still trying to return to normal. Many know the Haunted Cellar as our annual family and friends service project. This year’s theme was Horrible Harvest, all about the frightening things that take place on a farm. While I look back fondly on every Haunted Cellar, this year’s theme resonated with me in a very special way.
Mary Zalla
Global President, Consumer Brands and Managing Director,
based in Landor Cincinnati

I grew up on a farm and the kids and I still spend quite a bit of time there. Our farm was the inspiration for this year’s Haunted Cellar and the place from which I sourced about 80 percent of our props. In a matter of two days we packed 50 hay bales, hundreds of stalks of corn, two pitchforks, a gang box, hay hooks, four gates, a dozen country hams, two galvanized steel tubs, one seed barrel, barbed wire, wood clamps, animal traps, seed spreaders, and more into the cellar. Of course, this meant all of these same items had to be carried back out of the cellar as well.

Which made this year’s experience the most physically demanding by far. But even the physical demands were consistent with our theme, Horrible Harvest. The experience we created was basically turning what most people know about farming inside out, or upside down. My nieces were half human/half vegetable, growing out of a feed trough. Our corn maze was suspended upside down from the ceiling. Our butcher was a pig and he was about to butcher children, and our Horrible Harvest table featured demonically hungry pigs about to feast on a human being whose hands were wood-clamped to the table.

Horrible _harvest -02

I enjoyed greeting our visitors, explaining to them that we chose this year’s theme to help people better understand where their food comes. I talked about innovations being made in food technology, and the blurred lines between animal and vegetable.  

Horrible _harvest -03

The experience continued outside with Farm Evil, full of agrarian-themed carnival games, food and beverages, our pop-up Thriller Dance experience, and a new photo opportunity we added just this year.

I am pleased to report that we made $3,000 for the Children’s Home, our biggest year yet! I am very proud of what we managed to put together in just a few short days, and the kids at the Children’s Home will be better served as a result of our efforts.

So, while it is always good to have the Haunted Cellar in the rearview mirror, this year I am so thankful for: 

  • The family, friends, and colleagues who helped put all of this together
  • The farm connection I have had since my childhood, and the lessons and the fun it has brought to my life
  • The physical health that enabled me to carry all that stuff in and out!
  • The opportunity to concept, design, build, and market such a fabulous experience, all while working shoulder-to-shoulder with such fun and talented people

Horrible Harvest was a great example of the magic that can happen when you combine a great concept, hard work, and earnest execution. Thank you to all of the many people who helped make this year’s event such a success!

Horrible _harvest -04

Category: Customer experience
Lessons from P&G, General Mills, and others
Allen Adamson
Chairman, North America,
based in Landor New York

Feeling overwhelmed? Experiencing stress? Join the club. As a culture, we are overscheduled, overstimulated, oversubscribed, and over plugged-in. While we sit with our coffee, emailing, tweeting, surfing, and texting, there is no time, it seems, to actually stop and smell the coffee. We are so consumed with daily activities that we’re unable to focus on what really matters. This is not a revolutionary idea, of course. Philosophers and all manner of mindfulness experts have been saying this for years. So too have sage marketers, especially in reference to the often-overpowering deluge of big data. And with good reason. It’s paradoxical that with everyone so hyper-connected, it has become increasingly challenging to stay connected to consumers in meaningful ways.

This theme resonated from one speaker to the next at the most recent Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Masters of Marketing conference. And while I could come up with a term that describes the core challenge facing marketers as they look to connect when, where, and with whom it matters most, Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer at Procter & Gamble and now teacher, author, and marketing consultant, came up with a word that truly does it justice: “activity-itis.” As one of the many leaders of the corporate, agency, and media worlds speaking at the conference, Stengel provided some very good advice on what it takes to succeed in this over-everything marketplace. “Put people at the center of everything,” he told his audience. “This is your only form of competitive advantage—but how much time do you actually spend on this?”

Stengel went on to say that brands that succeed are brands that change lives in meaningful ways. “To do this,” he explained, “you have to do everything with a sense of humanity. Care deeply about the people you are serving. Most likely, the brands you love exude a deep sense of humanity.” 

Among the examples he gave was Skype, a brand known less for its humanity than its technological know-how—until it decided to celebrate the personal connections it makes possible. In part of a campaign called Family Portraits, we meet Paige and Sarah, two girls, each with one arm, who live thousands of miles away from each other. They became fast friends through Skype after their mothers connected through the International Child Amputee Network.  

This past summer, Skype asked its users to send in stories of how they’ve stayed connected with friends and family using the video chat software. When the company read Paige and Sarah’s story it decided to do more than write about it; it planned and filmed a real-time meeting, which it posted on YouTube. It’s garnered more than two-and-half million views. Much like the AT&T Reach Out and Touch Someone campaign of yesteryear, Skype made clear that the benefit of its brand was human connections, not technological features. Or as Stengel said in reference to the campaign, “Brands today should make humanity their umbrella.”

Sharing _Experiences _Online _Web

Tapping into what matters most to consumers was also at the heart of the presentation given by Mark Addicks, CMO and senior VP at General Mills. “You must define your market in human terms,” he declared. “Understand your brand champions and what drives them. Know how they behave, their passion points. Every time we put the consumer first, it inspires us. It drives us. This is the fuel for innovation.” 

Addicks provided a number of examples of how going deep inside the consumer psyche led to major growth for a number of his company’s initiatives. Among them is Box Tops for Education, a program through which millions of dollars are raised every year to help schools get more of what they need—from books to computers to playground equipment. 

“It was when we began to look at this program as a brand with a purpose and not merely a promotion that it really took off,” Addicks said. “Its purpose was to give parents a way to invest in their kids’ schools, to demonstrate they cared about and were participating in their children’s education. We connected with consumers at a deeper level—with their hearts and their communities. Giving their children a better chance at success is what drives this audience. Growth came about when we were forced to think about how General Mills could be more useful to its customers in a way that transcended the product.”

Former president of family care at Procter & Gamble and now president of brand solutions at Google, Kirk Perry was another conference speaker to address the challenge of connecting to consumers in an over-connected world. To do so, he said, “You not only need to organize around the consumer, but you need to reframe innovation. Be disruptive. Do something that’s never been done before. People are so distracted that if you just do something marginally better, they’ll never notice. Focus on a 10-times improvement, not just a 10 percent improvement.”  

As an example, Perry used the Cannes Lions–winning British Airways campaign, Magic of Flying. By tracking flight paths and times of its flights, British Airways created special moments between people on the ground and the planes high in the air through innovative billboards digitally programmed to have a picture of a child on the billboard pointing and following a plane as it flew overhead. In an industry normally associated with price comparison, British Airways created something truly engaging as a reminder of how magical flying really is. “British Airways targeted the moment. It connected the head and the heart to better connect with consumers,” Perry told the audience.

It may be the era of “activity-itis,” of big data, of multitasking, over-committing, over-everything. How are the biggest names in marketing creating success? They remember that marketing begins with relationships with real people. The best in the business put these real people at the center of everything they do and, as Addicks said, they “define the market in human terms.”

Category: Customer experience
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