Case Study: Bardahl product re-staging

Bardahl (Seattle, WA)
Project Title
Product re-staging
July–October 2010


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.

The noisy arena

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.

Standing out by fitting in

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.

Black is beautiful

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.

Icons, not images

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 menus? Really?

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.

Make it a best seller

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 seller!

The rubber hits the road

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.