Crudely put, Product categories offer lots of choices of similar things delivering similar benefits. Food that brings nourishment, fragrance that promises romance, cold drinks that will refresh. So it’s no wonder that visual clichés develop that signify these core promises.
Let’s consider the refreshment of a cold drink. From Coke to every beer on earth this has been heralded by the use of ‘spritzing’ – the addition of cold water droplets in photography, or (odd when one stops to think about this) drawn onto the cardboard packaging. Onto this we see brand emblems as metaphors – the ice-cold mountain of Coors, or the contrasting sea and sun references in Sol or Corona. Then there is the semiotically appropriate choice of a lively and light colour palate, with plenty of vignettes and visual zest.
The limitation of this approach is that one is unlikely to win a ‘visually refreshing’ arms race with a silver box featuring a glistening ice mountain. So what is the creative alternative?
In advertising it tends to be about a unique journey with refreshment as its reward – think of those hard working peasants in the Stella Artois advertising of the 80s and 90s, which tipped a hat to the trials of Jean de Florette carrying water down from his mountain spring. And perhaps the most famous film about a beer ever, Ice Cold in Alex, where a group of soldiers doggedly cross a desert with the promise of a nice cold one at journeys end.
But the really refreshing solutions approach the topic more obliquely – it’s no accident that ‘Heineken refreshes the parts other beers can’t reach’ stood out. It used surreal metaphor in place of literal minded clichés. Or Orangina, with its orange peel sun visually fizzing in a Côte d’Azur sky. Or Coke, which has made its ‘dynamic ribbon’ synonymous with quenching thirst and sharing joy. And interesting that this is the brand who has led the charge towards graphical simplicity, and away from graphically fussy spritzing.
I guess the point is that originality is one of the most refreshing things on earth. Sure, we can all use the right colours and stylistic gambits to suggest a category generic value. But only the really smart brands invert this relationship, to present a world of their own creation, rather than one that is shared by all.