Ethical lipstick on the face of a gorilla

Why purpose-driven design can’t be faked

Most award ceremonies feature a people’s choice award where members of the public vote for their favourite to win. But as we know, if you want to understand the real drivers of consumer behaviour, you need to go beyond what people say.

So, this year’s FAB awards used behavioural science to identify how people genuinely responded to this year’s best packaging.

The idea was Derek Johnston’s, co-founder of design agency Family (and friends). He’s chaired and judged many international design awards and wasn’t surprised when Smirnoff’s Choose Love limited edition bottles won.

“They were a hit with consumers not because they were well-designed,” he told the Mindlab Academy, “but because purpose-driven products increasingly resonate with customers. These bottles have incredible appeal because they connect the brand with something emotive. The best packaging is no longer about beautiful design and standing out on the shelf, but also meaning and purpose.”

Why do you think this is?

“There are two reasons. Partly it’s because younger generations want more purpose in their lives and clarity about what brands stand for. They want companies to do good and be good, and brands are responding.

“At the same time, for the bigger corporations, there is more pressure from shareholders who want to be investing in only the most sustainable businesses.

“As a result, there’s been a real groundswell of companies changing how they operate to do things in better ways. For instance, companies like Cafédirect are doing everything it takes to become certified B Corp, or ensuring they’re entirely fairtrade. Coca-Cola has created biodegradable packaging, while many are reducing the amount of plastics they use.

“And this is trickling down into branding, as companies change the way that they represent themselves to reflect their new and improved approach.

“I don’t think that many companies have cracked it yet in terms of convincing people to spend more to buy something that has been sourced ethically and has a strong supply chain – but we are at that tipping-point. Companies like Pukka Herbs are doing a good job of balancing doing the right thing with standing out and ensuring people will pay a slightly higher price.”

How difficult is it for big businesses to be purpose-driven?

“I think Unilever has done an incredible job despite its colossal size, changing whole swathes of the business – such as dramatically improving its supply chains.

“The supermarket Iceland has really adapted to being purpose-driven, and without any posturing. It’s not a new, small company that can be greener than green, whiter than white. But it has created a purpose in its own unique way.

“So it is possible, but it’s not easy.”

And how can businesses go about it?

“My main advice to companies looking to become more purpose-driven in their packaging is that you can’t graft it back on. You can’t fake it or buy it in. What I mean by that is, it has to be authentic. You can’t put lipstick on the face of a gorilla.

“In the Smirnoff example for instance, Diageo has a long history of creating and sponsoring events and celebrations for diverse communities. It has a genuine claim to being part of this story, which is why consumers are comfortable with the brand association.

“Another approach to consider is the one that Hellman’s mayonnaise has taken – rebranding and going back to more traditional roots. For long-established brands, digging back into their history is a clear way to claim their space and define their purpose.”

Before co-founding Family (and friends) in 2009, Derek Johnston was a board-level creative director at Landor Associates and creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi Design. With more than 30 years experience in the design business, he is in charge of brand strategy development for companies including Cafédirect, Seed and Bean, Graze, and Allinsons.



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