Bardahl was established in
1939 and has since risen from its humble beginnings to be leader in
automotive lubrication products. Over the years its product line
had become dated and confused, primarily due to various demands by
retailers. In order to re-focus and improve the brand presence
Bardahl embarked on an initiative to re-stage its products.
(We use the term re-staging when essentially we are
just re-presenting the product without addressing any other aspect
such as size, formulation, format, etc. This is done in order to
constantly create freshness and “buying cues” in the store aisle,
as well as give sales a chance to either introduce or re-introduce
a product to new retailers. Often retailers will not add new
products if they do not present an appealing shelf presence.)
Kendall Ross has been working with Bardahl since 2008.
Initially, we started on a few smaller specialty products and have
been gradually helping the company update all of its product
packaging as well as its brand image.
You can't judge a book by its cover, or so the saying goes;
however, we apparently do this everyday as we wander down the
aisles of our stores. What captures our attention and drives us to
buy is really driven more by the package than what is actually
inside those packages. It seems that consumers, despite the lousy
economy, are more often than not putting their money where their
eyes are. The net result of all of this is that we have a lot of
screaming and jumping up and down on the shelves, especially in the
automotive aisles, trying to attract our overloaded eyes. So how
can you be successful in this noisy arena without adding to the
maddening roar? Well, here are a few ideas developed while
re-staging this line of automotive products for Bardahl.
Starbursts, checkered flags and glowing streaks are all too
common in this market. I get that they're all about cars, speed and
racing. But after a while they all seem to merge into general
clutter and noise. Do they really help us when we're searching the
aisles for that particular specialty product or brand? We thought,
let's borrow a page from the “functional” water category. Consumers
of this category are searching for and buying calm, energy and
vigor, even though we all know they are just selling us variations
on sugar water.
So, in the case of Bardahl, we opted for big-ass type to clearly
communicate the differences between a cleaner or an additive, the
key consumer buying criteria. Extremely visible and readable
despite vertical orientation, the lettering also sets up a
distinctive structure when arranged on the shelf. This, combined
with the clean vivid color palette, not only fits within the
vernacular of the automotive aisle but also offers something a
little different and eye-catching.
Rather than just adding to the noise and trying to blend in with
the rest of the visual clutter, we wanted to address the wants,
needs and desires of the consumer's mind. Let's create a little
friction in order to gain a little traction.
Automotive fuel additives and cleaners are not really
sophisticated or fashionable. I mean, when was the last time one
was included in a celebrity gift-bag at the Oscars? But package it
in black and immediately the hip, cool and sophisticated factors go
up. And the price, as well. You could take flypaper and package it
in black, double the price and the next thing you know, it's on
Oprah or Martha's “best of” list.
Black is not only hip. It is also bold, graphic and downright
manly. Black is about the very nature of the car industry itself.
It's oil and tires. It's grime and grease. And it's the endless
road itself. Black is the perfect background upon which to add the
(unfortunately) numerous bullets, features and claims, while at the
same time maintain a strong presence and visual hierarchy.
Outwardly we might cheer for the hero in the white hat, but inside
we know that the dude in the black is one serious hombre
that you need to pay attention to.
We could have used an image of a dirty head, a greasy gasket or
even a plugged filter. But haven't we've seen enough of them under
our hoods? Sure it works for those before-and-after shots, but do
we really believe them? Do you believe the food pictures on the
This line of products is about fuel efficiency and maintenance.
The only time I think about fuel is when I'm putting it into my
car. And that key, iconic image is the distinctive pump handle.
Icons are shorthand for ideas. So, the addition of the pump handle
image (color-coded green for diesel and red for regular) simply and
quickly tells us not only which one to buy but also when to use the
product. It is the occasion that triggers the purchase and not
necessary the problem.
So, don't all run out and make all your product packaging in
black. Think about your packaging in terms of the stories and
feelings that product conveys—just like a good book. Make the
product one that you want to pick up, engage in and maybe even read
over and over again. Who knows, it may even end up as a best
In addition to clearly establishing a bold, modern presence for
Bardahl, the new look is now hitting shelves around the United
States, Canada and Mexico. More importantly, Bardahl now has a
stronger understanding and appreciation for the power and impact of
design, especially on the bottom line.
Editor's note: The case study above was submitted by Kendall Ross
at AIGA's request. To contribute your own case study, please contact the editor.
Kenneth Carbone and Leslie Smolan were recognized with the AIGA Medal for demonstrating the power of beautiful and
well-reasoned design principles in corporate identity, communication,
publishing and strategy to designers, business and the public across decades.
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