For drinks, even more than food, the packaging and branding have to do the lion’s share of the work. Most soft drinks are very cheap to mass-produce—basic ingredients are water, corn syrup, coloring, and a few drops of actual juice—and there is only so much a producer can do to differentiate one sugar water from another.
As consumers become more health conscious, the market for plain water is booming, matched by a boom in water brands. Evian, a well-known pioneer of the trend, has done a remarkable job of staying relevant as a brand in an increasingly crowded category.
Other categories of FMCGs are even more dependent on branding because their contents (being inedible) are often more mysterious. Who knows what their shampoo is really made of? Personal-care products often take advantage of positioning and lifestyle associations. “If you use this cream, you will be more glamourous,” they seem to say. Proctor & Gamble’s Ivory Lady (featured in the brand’s first color ad, in Cosmopolitan in 1896) was a pioneering use of this strategy. In the twenty-first century, many products aim at the highest tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—the need for self-actualization—with an appeal that includes not only well-being, but also concern for the environment, and harmony with the natural world. (Maslow proposed his theory of human motivation, with the hierarchy of needs, in 1943. (The imagery of nature that is a mainstay of personal-care packaging has a soothing effect that counteracts our fears of artificial chemicals and their possible consequences.
The drug industry comes up with thousands of new products every year. All of them need names—unique, catchy names that can be pronounced and remembered. Along with the successes, such as Prozac and Viagra, are thousands that only pharmacists know. The imperatives of the drug business dictate that made-up names, generally with Greco-Latin roots, predominate. Unfortunately, such names tend to be abstract and difficult to remember.
Drugs packaging tends to adopt a generic look for prescription medicines that don’t need to sell themselves off the shelf, and a bold, brightly colored look for those that do.
There is a third approach, used by many natural and herbal remedies, which is to opt for a gentler look, using finer typography and images of plants or people. Because of the volume of work and the highly specialized nature of pharmaceutical branding, some large branding agencies have separate operations, each devoted exclusively to a different “set” of clients.
The marketing of music, books, and film has to solve some inherent conflicts: the work is linear, and in the case of music, nonvisual, but it has to be sold using instantaneous visual impressions. The most successful marketing images have become icons of their times, like the cover of Abbey Road or a classic orange-and-white Penguin paperback. There are three ways to approach branding a work like this:
• promote the work itself, its genre, or its literary tradition;
• promote its author; or
• promote its publisher.
Musicians often cultivate a visual style that symbolizes their work. In the case of U2, for example, it is the stark black-and-white photography of Anton Corbijn. In the case of the Rolling Stones, it is the many variations of the tongue-and-lips symbol developed by John Pasche in 1972, and subsequently adopted by fans everywhere as a symbol not just of the Stones’ music, but also of their rebellious attitude.