When I saw the first image of Walmart’s latest and greatest attempt at a private label brand, I felt personally insulted. I was thinking to myself: How could they? That’s really it?
Maybe it’s because I’m one to believe that design has the incredible ability to elevate our environments, to change the way we see the world even. It’s because of this belief that I feel that “brands” with no regard for aesthetics—such as Price First—are ruining our evolution. But with its shameless display of low quality, does Price First really even deserve to survive solely because it’s the cheapest option in the category? With private label brands such as Price First and Great Value (sorry, Walmart), their only real “value” is the money you save. So, does this mean that value has to result in utterly awful design?
It seems as though in the world of private label brands, there are two common approaches to answering this question.
The first is private labels competing on a CPG level and asserting themselves as brands. These are brands that may or may not have a low–quality product, but that isn’t always obvious. Think Trader Joe’s. All the products within the store are under the Trader Joe’s private label, yet you see variety through names such as Joe’s O’s and Trader Giotto’s. Some products feel premium while others appeal to foodies, but above all else, each and every package has an individual design. For Trader Joe’s, these designs often convey humor, appetite appeal and creativity. Although the packaging might not make the cut for a design blog, it still attempts to reach for a connection (though it may be minor) to the consumer.
Another example of this approach is Kroger—private label brand that competes at the same price level as Price First. Kroger’s products are more than likely to win in relation to competitor products at price point, but they cover all of their bases by refining their packaging to appeal to consumers in a more meaningful way. For example, their packaging for Beef Skirt Steak Fajitas is bright pink and orange with illustrative type. The color scheme borrows from the bright colors found in the textiles of Mexico. The type treatment feels ethnic and hints at bold flavor.
The second private label approach is the one that Walmart has clearly chosen. This approach can be explained by the following: make the process, product and packaging—and get price as cheap as possible. It doesn’t matter what it looks like; people will buy it because it’s $1.98. They might hide it in the back of the fridge or disguise it in a different box in the pantry, but who cares because they bought it anyways. With this approach there is no regard for consumers‘ emotions, inspirations or aspirations. There’s no effort put towards packaging or making a deeper connection to the market or consumer. With its Price First label, Walmart offensively generalizes the consumer nearly suggesting that they’re as unsophisticated as the “brand” they’re purchasing.
The second and seemingly common approach discussed here creates “brands” that disrespect their consumers by assuming and forcing them to only see the price point. Which brings us to the question: Can these types of Private Label brands be considered brands?
David Ogilvy defined a brand as “The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised”. With private label brands such as Trader Joe’s or Kroger, their products easily fit within this definition of a brand. They display creative naming, fun packaging and a low price, which ultimatelybrings value to the consumer. With Price First, the product lacks more than half of what makes a brand, sustaining itself only within this definition by its low price, so in reality private labels that take this approach shouldn’t be deeming themselves as brands but rather utilitarian commodity products.
There’s no shame in appreciating your consumers, take a look at some other private label brands that agree:
1. Morrisions M Savers – Image
2. Garant Private Label – Image
3. Whole Foods – Image
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