Guest reviewer Tim Lapetino is a brand strategist and designer at Hexanine. Today he takes a look at a recent beverage packaging reboot.
Dr Pepper Snapple Group has recently given its flagship citrus beverage, Squirt, a facelift, and we're going to look at the new look from a package design perspective. Did DPSG meet its objectives, set itself apart, and basically spend its Squirt marketing budget wisely?
There are so many factors that influence the success of a beverage brand that have nothing to do with the actual flavor or taste of the drink. In some sense, the way a drink tastes is last in a long chain of events leading up to purchase and guzzling. Every step that leads up to the actual drink pouring down your throat is what brand designers call a "moment of brand engagement," a singular opportunity for beverage makers to connect with you, the prospective audience/purchaser.
Advertisements, commercials, product placement in movies & TV, logo design, the label style, and bottle shape – even the color of the cap plays a part in either attracting people to the drink or pushing them away. It's not an exact science, but there are some things that we graphic designers look for when evaluating package designs, whether it's work we've done, or the offerings of a competitor. (Of course, if someone hates or loves a beverage's taste, few forces on earth can change that decided mind, but that's beside the point today.) Below are some major points we consider when judging whether a beverage is doing a good job of selling itself on the crowded shelves of the modern marketplace.
1. Appetite Appeal
In a nutshell, this is about taste. Does the package design look like something that would make you hungry or thirsty? Do the colors and graphical elements suggest flavors or flavor cues that you're familiar and comfortable with (like slices of fruit or bunches of berries)? Is it easy to tell what the main flavor ingredients are (regardless of whether they're artificial or natural)?
2. Design Craft
Is the design created with a high level of craftsmanship? Is the logo (and the brand identity) well-executed and unique in its market? Do the elements fit well together? Is the color palette harmonious? (A fancy way of saying, "Do these colors work well together?") Is the printing executed well, making it easy to read and simple to understand? Is the logo being supported by appropriate design elements, like photography, illustration, patterns
3. Shelf Power
Does the design help it pop off the shelf? Does it use basic design principles of contrast, gestalt, and hierarchy to deliver a clear and powerful message? (In the case of beverages, this would be something along the lines of "Buy me and drink me!")
4. Competitive Differentiation/Distinctiveness
Is it easily discernible amongst the competition? How does the brand identity measure up? Is the overall design communicating something that none of the other soda brands can claim? How does the branding carve out a unique niche for itself? Does the bottle shape stand out from others – i.e. Does it have a texture that separates it from other flavors in the same line, or even other brands? Does the drink protect and retain its brand equity – the essential brand elements that have built equity and connection with buyers over time?
So, those are the ground rules, and I'm going to go ahead and walk through them with the new Squirt packaging, to see how it fares when held up to these broad standards.
Squirt Appetite Appeal
The new Squirt doesn't do a terrible job in this area, but the redesign has certainly left some crucial flavor elements by the side of the road. Some of this stems from the issue that the makers of Squirt have never come out directly and said what sort of "citrus soda" it is that we're drinking. Is it lemon? Lemon-lime? Grapefruit? Some sort of blend? Hard to tell. But if you look carefully at the previous designs, and even do some digging into historical imagery, you'll see a clear line of grapefruit styled images as part of the branding.
Notice that the grapefruit images have gotten significantly less prominent in the new designs – on the actual bottles they are very hard to spot. The previous package design uses a stylized grapefruit (or is it an orange? A lemon-lime? See, it's that nebulous "citrus" flavor!) as a prominent art element, and the typography is centered on the slice of fruit.
But the new design seems to be doing its best to marginalize the fruit, instead relying on the old "citrus" standby pallette of yellow, greens, and red. More about color schemes in a moment. So, it's not simple to tell what flavors you'll be getting from the new Squirt, but that's sort of par for the course in this sub-section of sodaland. The competitors share many of these same colors.
Squirt Design Craft
Sadly, it seems like this is the place where the DPSG design team has really dropped the ball. Overall, they took a powerful, bold type treatment and turned it into a weak, less-effective logotype. The logo lettering has gotten thinner and more vertical, while also being tilted counterclockwise. This makes the whole affair far less readable, lessening the shelf impact.
Where the previous logotype was bold, thick, and powerful, the new Squirt lettering seems weak and a little antiquated. Perhaps the designers were reaching back into the brand's history to tie into some long-held nostalgia, but I don't think it's working in this case. Also, by placing the type against a solid yellow background, with very little white outline, the new type doesn't have enough contrast to "pop" off the bottle the way the previous version did.
A thick white outline and green keyline really set the previous logo apart from its fruit background, giving it some visual punch. But the lower-contrast current packaging just comes off as simpler, weaker, and skinnier – like it's just asking to get beat up by a tougher beverage like its rowdy Mountain Dew cousin.
Squirt Shelf Power
Because of the design choices we mentioned above, it's clear that the new Squirt isn't standing out on the crowded shelf the way it once did. The design has less visual energy, less readability, and a visually-weaker logo. The design team has seemingly tried to replace the now-marginalized grapefruit images with a more prominent "squirt spray" of citrus drops, but theses come across as seeming whimsical, rather than promising bold "citrus bursts."
In fact, the "citrus burst" line has been removed all together from the new packaging – perhaps we're witnessing a kinder, gentler Squirt. This could all be by design, but we'd have to get our hands on the prescriptive design brief to know for sure.
Squirt Differentiation and Distinctiveness
This is an interesting area, because a look at Squirt's competitors (Pepsi's Citrus Blast, Coke's Fanta Grapefruit, Fresca, and Canfield's 50/50) reveals that they are all basically playing in the same ballpark.
Pepsi's Citrus Blast seems like it has copied, almost note-for-note, the previous Squirt package design. From the outward-shooting citrus starburst graphics to the small "spray" coming out from the "i" in Citrus, Pepsi has unabashedly echoed its competitors previous design. In this tight drink market, this isn't unusual, but it's still rather lame.
Of interest, however, this newer Squirt design does differentiate from the Citrus Blast look, albeit slightly.
Fanta Grapefruit and Fresca have distanced themselves visually from the red-heavy designs of Squirt and Citrus, preferring to stick to a palette of cooler colors – greens and blues, though I'd argue that designs that are predominately blue or green aren't going to have the same appetite appeal unless they're heavily focusing on the lime flavor, and that doesn't seem to be the case. 50/50 seems to stand on its own, with a mostly white and silver packaging.
By de-emphasizing the citrus fruit imagery and playing up the "spray" art elements, I think Squirt has abandoned some of the visual equity it had built, trading it for a much weaker set of elements. Overall, the design doesn't work as hard as previous iterations, and I think that in the non-cola drink arena, this could cost DPSG some sales.