Brand Strategy & Packaging Design
DOING MORE FARM
Dyfed “Fred” Richards
CMO & Partner
June 13, 2019
I was fortunate to grow up in an especially beautiful part of the world, North Wales. This clean, unspoiled region offers sweeping views of rugged coastlines, breathtaking mountain ranges and verdant fields dotted with small farms. Many brands try to capture the essence of pastoral landscapes such as North Wales in their product packaging. The quaint “down on the farm” image is used frequently to convey family values, small-batch production, natural ingredients and honesty. Add to this mix a healthy dash of nostalgia and a consumer can’t resist placing the brand in their shopping cart, right? I wish the design process was that simple. As I explained in a previous article, you can’t just profess to be from a certain location to demonstrate your authenticity, you have to prove it! Simply placing images of the Eiffel Tower on a package does not make you authentically French. Similarly, using stereotypical images of Tuscany on pasta sauce jars demonstrates a narrow understanding of the rich landscapes that comprise the Italian countryside.
If location-based authenticity has to be earned, why do so many cliched farm images keep showing up on everything from milk to sausage? It’s assumed that, at some point in the brand’s history, the farm in question must have existed; a point of origin that spoke to the brand’s loyal consumers and helped to drive sales. But everyone’s images today seem to look the same: idyllic landscapes of rolling hills and meadows, neatly ploughed fields, a water feature, barn facility, rays of bright sunshine and happily grazing cattle scattered throughout the vignette. Anyone who has ever been to a real farm knows all too well that image and reality are two very different beasts. But we are in the business of building memory structures and fantasies; a better world that can reaffirm our beliefs and visions.
Therefore, most of the farms scenes depicted in today’s packaging are of an era that predates mechanization and industrialization and all of the inherent stress they produce. Let’s rid ourselves of images of horse-drawn farm machinery and cows being milked by some buxom maiden sitting on a three-legged stool. If the location is real then invest in depicting the true story – the who, the why, the how and the when.
As evidenced by the explosion of local farmers markets, U.S. consumers are ready to get back to their roots and face the reality of dirty vegetables and rustic-looking, unsliced bread. Anyone shopping at these venues has made a conscious decision to celebrate that each vegetable does not have to look exactly like the next. They are aware that farms are not movie sets; they are real-life work environments that contain weeds, unpainted fences and lots of manure. Can designers create an idyllic, yet still authentic, image of a farm that resonates with consumers? Of course they can, especially if they “live the location.” Rather than relying on stereotypical imagery and expected category language when designing a product’s packaging, designers should buy some boots, get in the car and visit the farm (if it still exists) or the region the product comes from. Meet the people, sample the local foods, get dirty, feed a cow, drive a tractor, gather eggs, make some cheese. In short, embrace everything about the farm that the brand owners want the consumer to dream about and buy into. Then translate that experience into package design.
Not every farm image has to or should look the same. Granted, there is an argument for the use of category language here; however, each of these farms and locations are truly unique and that is what needs to be respected, celebrated and communicated.