Packaging: Faced with the threat of insurgent brands, how can established brands adapt?

Guest Column: Rashi Goel, VP Consumer Communications & e-commerce, Nestlé India and Dominic Twyford, Business Director, FITCH explain how It’s time to redefine packaging

e4m by Rashi Goel and Dominic Twyford
Updated: Mar 11, 2019 3:09 PM
Rashi Goel Dominic Twyford

Packaging: Faced with the threat of insurgent brands, how can established conformists adapt?

By Dominic Twyford, Business Director, FITCH

In India, for too long packaging has been the most overlooked and underutilized marketing tool, a perverse statement when you consider its vital importance.

The pack is the best-owned media that a brand could wish for, delivered directly into a customer’s hands when they are in a buying mind-state. There is no intermediary or third-party involvement, it is purely a connection between brand and consumer. An effective pack is next in importance only to the product itself. Yet, for most, it’s a mere container, with its true value and effectiveness ignored. It’s time to redefine packaging, for starters let’s call it a marketing channel, not tool.

Enter ‘Insurgent’ brands.

With typically less budget to spend on brand building, these are new brands that are willing to challenge and fight traditional ‘conformists’, or more established brands and are choosing to do it through packaging.

Insurgents look and act differently

While bigger brands might initially attract shoppers to the aisle via multi-crore marketing campaigns, insurgents are backing themselves to come into consideration at the actual point of purchase - the ultimate moment of truth for a brand.

This thinking is liberating. Gone is the obsession with category conventions and what the competition is doing, instead, the new focus is single-minded and wonderfully selfish. The end results are clearly targeted propositions and genuinely disruptive designs.

Bira 91 is proof that thinking like an insurgent brand can create significant value. Bira has single-handedly established the craft beer category in India by creating a brand that resonates with India’s young, aspirational urbanites.

The brand identity and packaging doesn’t obsess with cueing provenance or traditional brewing techniques, instead, it concentrates on promoting fun and proving its accessibility by using a very funky monkey as its identity. Not only has the brand created a new category, but it has also raised millions of dollars of investment and according to press reports intends to enter five new international markets.

From a global perspective, take for example Van Leeuwen, artisanal ice cream in the US. Faced with increased competition the brand took the bold decision to de-clutter their packaging, removing all superfluous graphics. What remained was a statement in total confidence, a perfectly crafted identity and a sumptuous colour palette that dials up taste and communicates the purity of the product.

Proof of their success

A new metric, that identifies great packaging? Instagram posts. Whether by accident or design, when worthy, consumers are now taking pictures of their packaging and posting them on social media. Given the fact that consumers are now directors, editors, and publishers in their own right, and that the content they generate is a reflection of themselves, their status, beliefs, and values it stands to reason that brands become part of their personal narrative. Forget functional packaging, or even an emotional response to packaging, their packaging transcends both to become self-promotional.

It isn’t only about social media likes, research numbers support the success of insurgents. A recent Nielsen study discovered that from 2011 onwards, the biggest food and beverage companies have driven just 3% of the total growth in the industry. The largest contributors, by far, have been the small insurgents, adding to 50% of the growth.

How are traditional conformists reacting?

Scale, larger marketing budgets and more developed supply chains used to protect big brands from smaller challengers, but these advantages are being eroded. Social media and digital channels provide the means to create buzz and establish reach cheaply, and online shopping provides a sales platform irrespective of a physical retail footprint.

Some big brands understand the threat and are reinventing themselves or rethinking how they operate. Casting a view across the globe, Unilever are choosing to acquire new brands by prolifically spending on disruptive brands like Dollar Shave Club, The Vegetarian Butcher and the T2 gourmet tea brand.

Other big brands are choosing to masquerade as smaller, more artisanal brands. Fever Tree have turned the mixer market upside down by placing as much focus on the mixer as the premium alcohol that it accompanies. In response, Coca-Cola-owned Schweppes has created the 1783 range of mixers inspired by the “alchemy” of founder Jacob Schweppe. Diageo owned Guinness is confronting the popularity of new craft beers by launching new experimental beers that use low key branding to promote traditional brewing credentials.

But, a long term solution?

Takeovers and pretense seem to be working for now, but are these sustainable solutions? Brands need to start looking beyond the current horizon and focusing on ‘inside out’ solutions. This is something that Nestlé India has understood very well. They are finding ways to become proactive rather than being merely reactive like other conformists.

For the last three years, they have partnered with FITCH and together, we have created the first of its kind, ‘Nestlé Design Lab’. The Design Lab consists of a FITCH team working within Nestlé India’s HQ on brand, packaging and POS briefs from across all of their business units.

This arrangement is developing a culture of creativity at the heart of the business by providing an inspirational place where brand and marketing managers can collaborate on a daily basis with design industry experts.

Why this works

The result is a flatter structure and a narrowing of the gap between business strategy and design. New opportunities can be quickly identified, tested, prototyped and launched into the market. The relationship between client and agency is no longer based on a brief, and design is no longer a linear process, instead, briefs are co-created, ideas freely shared and brand teams are now equipped to be more responsive.

The end result is a multinational benefitting from the power of established global and domestic brands (with huge brand equity and valuable histories) employing more nimble practices, more at home in a startup culture.

Just remember

When assessed individually, insurgents remain small in size, but as a whole, they now pose a problem far greater than the sum of their parts. Their approach is redefining the design process and challenging conventional wisdom about category rules and behavior.

Like Nestlé, rather than shy away from the challenge, big brands need to fundamentally rethink how they operate and redefine their rules of engagement.

The first priority should be to build an environment and culture where new and agile thinking can flourish, enabling brands to move quickly and decisively. The second priority involves loosening the shackles of the big brand playbook where restrictive processes and conventional thinking can easily kill fresh ideas. Instead, this needs to be replaced with an entrepreneurial zest that focuses on bold but considered decision making.

Conformists can’t become insurgents overnight and nor should that be their goal, however, rather than fear insurgents, there is plenty that can be learned from them.

Domestic and international brands are benefiting

A good example of such a project would be the recent Munch emoji “Crunch Macha” campaign. The Munch team wanted to find new ways to capture the attention of India’s youth. Quickly, with the Design Lab we were able to rapidly prototype a wide range of themes and ideas that would connect with young India, ideas that we didn’t believe in were just as swiftly cast aside.

The campaign was brought to life on-pack through a limited edition run, the solution that was born from packaging design then went on to influence our social and digital brand communications.

The work is a perfect example of how an initial idea can be turned in to a tangible piece of on-brand work that quickly gets to market. In this case, we were able to showcase Munch’s understanding of how India’s youth communicate with each other and prove the relevance of Munch to this audience by Indianising the global phenomena of emojis.

The effectiveness of the Design Lab has also been felt on Maggi. Unlike Munch, Maggi is a global brand with guidelines that come from Europe. A global shift has seen Nestlé reposition Maggi, moving it from a snacking brand to a cooking brand. Our on-site design facility and expertise meant that we had the ability to redesign the Maggi portfolio while looking at it through the lens of India’s consumer. The end result is a range revamp with a single point of view that balances global requirements with local nuances.

The advantages of creating a common vision between business and agency partner.

By Rashi Goel, VP Consumer Communications and e-commerce, Nestlé India

The creation of the Design Lab within Nestlé’s office has provided our organisation with a number of benefits. Being under one roof has a number of practical advantages including improved turnaround times, greater access to designers and simplified operations. While these are helpful, removing the physical divide with our agency partner is of deeper significance to the wider Nestlé business and our design outcomes.

Consolidating and formalising our relationship with FITCH means that we have created a partnership in the truest sense. The FITCH team that work on our brands are fully invested and over time have built up a considerable understanding of our brands, our business priorities, and Nestle’s culture. Crucially, their presence in the same office means that marketing and brand teams have greater access to the creative process and strategic design and this infuses more creativity into the brand building culture for Nestlé.

Standardised briefing processes have improved the clarity of our thinking and greater participation in collaborative brainstorms and creative discussions have led to a growing number of breakthrough projects.

Design, whether it be for packaging or POS has traditionally been viewed as a bolt on to the marketing function. Finding a home for design within our organization has elevated its importance, the Design Lab is now part of the fabric of Nestlé and how we operate. While we’ve narrowed the gap between our business and design, more importantly, by focusing on how our brands appear in the hands of our consumers we have narrowed the gap between ourselves and our customer.


(The authors, Dominic Twyford, is Business Director, FITCH and Rashi Goel is VP Consumer Communications and e-commerce, Nestlé India)


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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