Then there are high-profile label and packaging efforts that document their importance to overall branding. One of the most publicized recently is the redesign of Nabisco brand Barnum’s Animal Crackers to let the animals out of their cages. Notes Smithsonian Magazine, “A redesign of the crackers’ packaging no longer shows the animals in cages. Instead, a zebra, a lion, an elephant, a giraffe and a gorilla can be seen walking across the savanna with tufts of grass on the ground and trees in the distance…Nabisco began producing the treats in 1902, naming them after the famed showman P.T. Barnum, who exhibited exotic animals in menageries that accompanied his circuses.”
This move was an homage to social conscience resulting from changing consumer attitudes and sensitivities. The change clearly was driven by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Notes the Chicago Tribune, “Nabisco animal crackers set free from cages in box redesign after PETA expresses concern…animal crackers, long depicted behind bars in iconic packaging that resembled circus boxcars, are going cage-free…Bowing to pressure from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – and changing tastes – Mondelez International [which acquired the Nabisco business] is rolling out new box artwork for the small, animal-shaped cookies…”
As a former regional marketing director for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which PETA helped put out of business, I have mixed feelings. The P.T. Barnum-inspired brand is historic and nostalgic. At the same time, “liberating” the animals is a breath of fresh air and visually appealing.
Advocacy from such groups as PETA and evolving customer attitudes create a clear need for change, as part of addressing customer preferences and by association customer service. Increasingly, social conscience about everything from going green to animal protection is causing manufacturers to incorporate this thinking and sensitivity into overall branding. And, one of the most important ways to do this is in labels and packaging.
How do you know when to refresh, redesign or rethink packaging and labels to address social conscience?
Read the big-picture tea leaves periodically. Look at overarching issues that may influence future branding choices. For example, while many consumers don’t seem to care whether or not labels are produced using environmentally-friendly materials and substances, manufacturers going green can make people feel good. It adds to the overall credibility and can help rev up loyalty and trust.
So, in this type of situation, it makes sense to do it, barring major obstacles.
Let your marketplace weigh in. In the case of Barnum’s Animal Crackers scenario, it would make sense to poll the public to establish preferences. While this move likely was a good one (it certainly generated a lot of media and social coverage, as well as a new pleasing design), don’t let special interest groups bully your branding just to avoid controversy. Carefully consider options – including making customer-service friendly moves. The Chicago Tribune reported, “Mondelez has not received any negative feedback from consumers over the box redesign, [Kimberly Fontes, a Mondelez spokeswoman] said.” So, in essence, it seems the marketplace approves of this change.
Take your company’s social conscience temperature. It’s very important to gauge attitudes of employees and other stakeholders, who are in essence “customers,” too. Their insights and ideas about how to proceed in terms of a “social conscience contract” are vitally important.
Think through it from all angles. For example, it’s interesting to note where advocacy groups draw their own lines. In the case of Animal Crackers, the Chicago Tribune adds, “While the exotic animals have been set free from their cages, the end game is still the same: to be greedily devoured whole, often in a single bite, species by delicious species…PETA is apparently OK with that... ‘They’re eating a snack,’ [PETA spokesman Ben] Williamson said…”
In this same vein, it was only a picture on Barnum’s Animal Crackers, and therefore could be considered in a category similar to eating the crackers. That’s decidedly different from the sometimes controversial treatment of live animals. If, after in-depth evaluation, it makes sense to make a change, then do it. Social conscience is becoming increasingly part of this country’s marketing and branding strategies – which is both good and necessary.
But, when someone says “jump” to join their bandwagon, don’t automatically ask, “How high?”
Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels, an all-digital custom label printer in Denver, CO, USA, since 2008. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label printing news.