Nobody in the packaging business doubts the value of a brand. Winning the business of a brand marketer is a plum from a high branch. Keeping that business, or getting it back when it goes, is the mission of an industrial platoon. Packaging needs for each brand are well fragmented, and vendors change. It’s nonstop competition.
The reason many label converters are secretive about their businesses, and shun the limelight offered by the trade press, is that they believe their competitors will learn too much about their operations and client base and descend upon their customers with sweeter bids. Creative converters try different approaches to attract brand owners, and one of those is to spend time and money to present alternative packaging ideas to the prospective client.
A label printer in the American South has a design center within its walls to come up with concepts to place before customers, potential and established. The artists examine the labels with an eye toward brand enhancement and trends in design concepts, and package the results for a pitch. Sometimes it ends up being a nice try, but the company has landed some big fish over the years with that practice.
As with all businesses, brand marketers want to lower costs. The good ones will listen to ideas from label and other packaging people. Converters, of course, know about consumables and processes, and they are worth listening to. Costs of substrates, inks and other materials tend not to drop, however, so finding savings can be a challenge.
Sylvain Boyer, a graphic artist who lives in France, came up against the print cost challenge a few years ago after the birth of his first child. He designed an announcement card with many colors, but the price from his local screen printer was prohibitive as designed. He went back to the drawing board, reduced the number of colors and doctored the type, and was able to lower the estimate.
In the process of altering the ink volume on his card, he understood that the reduction of inks is an ecological benefit, as well as a savings in production costs. Since then he has been at work on his “Ecobranding” concept, campaigning to attract the attention of brand marketers – in particular, some very large corporations – who want to cut expenses and practice social responsibility.
Over the past few years, Boyer has worked on some of the most world-famous logos with an eye toward reducing ink volume without affecting the integrity of the brand. His method of modification is to start with a logo with one or two colors printed over a fairly substantial area and reduce the printed area. Among his published examples are the golden arches of McDonald’s and the curvaceous lettering of the Coca-Cola brand. Boyer’s versions remove ink from a minor portion of the inside of the images to create bold outlines without changing any part of the logo’s shape and pattern. His Coca-Cola design, he says, would use 13.25% less ink, and the reworked McDonald’s logo would save 34.11%.
For a global producer, a small and subtle change to a logo would amount to an enormous savings at scale, he says. “Every creative decision taken in brand design has a direct impact on our environment,” Boyer argued in a recent CNN Style interview. “When you draw one logo for a big company, in fact you draw millions of logos because it will be reproduced millions or billions of times in many formats, with a major ecological and economic impact.”
It is difficult to know in advance how much ink such revisions would save, but Boyer has made the attempt with his redesigns, including the Starbucks logo. “Last year, Starbucks produced about 670 million paper cups, with its logo printed on each one. We can estimate, and I insist that it’s only a speculation, that a single logo print could use 0.06 ml of ink. Our redesigned logo uses 38% less ink, or 0.0228 ml per cup, which could save nearly 4,000 gallons of ink a year.”
Boyer notes that his designs for these global logos are his own work, and were not contracted by the represented companies. He is, however, making pitches.
Ecology and economy
Others have had conceptual ideas along the same lines. A Dutch company called Spranq began designing eco-friendly fonts a decade ago, and since then developed an application called Ecofont for desktop printer cartridges, which modifies a typeface by inserting minuscule holes in the solid ink areas.
London’s Grey advertising agency worked with stationer Ryman to produce Ryman Eco, a font said to use 30% less ink than many popular ones. The basic idea was to develop compact and readable type that reduces the overall surface area of the printed letters. Ryman Eco utilizes the same approach to ink coverage as does Sylvain Boyer.
One of the greatest stories in recent times about ink savings came in 2014 out of a middle school in Western Pennsylvania. Suvir Mirchandani was in sixth grade – around 11 years old – when he got an idea for a science project. The school system was handing out piles of printed papers in the course of educating students, and Suvir wondered how the school could cut waste and save money. It so happened that the young man was interested in applying computer science to promote environmental sustainability.
He focused on ink and fonts. He noted the occurrence of commonly used letters in three popular fonts, and how much ink was used for each using a commercial software app. After a fair number of trials he came to the simple conclusion that the use of Garamond typeface, which has thinner strokes, would reduce ink consumption by 24% and save his school up to $21,000 a year.
Suvir submitted his work to the Journal for Emerging Investigators, founded by recent Harvard graduates, which published his findings. The journal’s staffers then encouraged the student to apply his work to a much larger printing operation: the US government. He did so.
The Government Printing Office (GPO) in Washington DC has an annual printing outlay of $1.8 billion dollars. Suvir applied his font test methodology to five sample pages from documents published on the GPO website, and his results were the same. If the government changed its font it would save money.
How much money? The US government’s annual ink cost is $467 million, as estimated by the General Services Administration. According to Suvir’s findings, that number could be reduced by 30% – $136 million a year – by switching to Garamond.
There’s more. If all 50 US states made the same font change, an additional $234 million would (maybe) remain in taxpayers’ pockets. Now, apply all this to other nations’ print expenditures and do the math.
Creative as they are, novel ideas are slow to take root, because businesses and governments are not crazy about change. The former, many of them, find comfort in profiting from successful branding achievements, costs aside. The latter sometimes move slower than rocks. Still, the idea mill always churns out a winner, and maybe has a couple right here.
The author is president of Jack Kenny Media, a communications firm specializing in the packaging industry, and is the former editor of L&NW magazine. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.