Mistaken Identity

Ever been held for armed robbery? I have.

College, Philadelphia, the Rizzo years, and a long and twisted tale of mistaken identity and something about matching the description of a bank robber. White kid, late teens early twenties, medium height, medium build, blond hair, blue eyes, driving a gray foreign sports car convertible, blue license plates, and wearing a red plaid hunting jacket. That was me!

They got over it, I never did.  Here’s what it taught me.
1. Make sure you have an alibi if you are going around looking like a bank robber.
2. Don’t ever assume that you have a truly unique and memorable identity.

Which brings me to private label brands. When I started in this industry, it was not unusual for the work we developed for major brands to be copied relentlessly by retailers in all categories for their own private label brands. Clearly the idea was lets confuse the consumer by stealing well-known identities left and right. If you were a major brand, this was a form of armed robbery.

While this still happens, mainly in the drug store for some reason, things have begun to change radically in the last decade. For those who follow the retail industry closely this is not a new story.

There are lots of good business reasons why retailers are increasing the shelf space for their own brands. And it doesn’t, in most cases, have much to do with decorating their shelves with “pretty” packages. Something about higher profits too!

Full disclosure, we happen to be doing a lot of great work in the private label area, for clients as diverse as Ahold, Federated Stores, and Brookstone so we are very attune to what is going on in the stores. And there is some really great stuff.

Here are just 4 examples of some work we admire, and work that could never be accused of being a case of mistaken identity.

Simply Enjoy, designed by Sterling Brands, for Stop & Shop and Giant is a wonderful example of the recent trend toward elegant simplicity.

Via Roma, by united dsn, for A&P is a magical example of classic European influence with some visual wit.

Rocketfish, by Worrell, for Best Buy and does a good job of breaking away from the overly complex approach taken by so many technology brands.

Vertical, by Elizabeth Linde, for Victoria’s Secret is a great example of straightforward product design highlighting a simple masculine visual theme.

None of this work could be accused of armed robbery.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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