Burn The D2C Playbook
Despite seeing a variety of products all advertising a better, cheaper product over established brands, D2C brands are following a visual playbook that started with earlier successful disruptors like Warby, Thinx and Glossier and it will come back to haunt them.
As a New Yorker, staring at subway ads featuring new D2C products during commutes has become as part of the NY experience as having cake delivered at 3:00 a.m. Despite seeing a variety of products all advertising a better, cheaper product over established brands, the visual language D2C brands are using all look like iterations of itself. There are only a handful of campaigns from D2C brands that have stuck with me because they are simply not memorable. The formulaic approach using san serif typography, solid muted color and photography that embraces the same design simplicity, brands are following a visual playbook that started with earlier successful disruptors like Warby, Thinx and Glossier and it will come back to haunt them.
The D2C space is not a one size fits all approach and I think we will see the market rid itself of those that can’t differentiate themselves visually and meet customer expectations. It’s important to talk through why we are not seeing much variation because it hints at where branding and marketing could go for future D2C companies.
The design has leaned into the digital world so far that the varying sizes of screens combined with social media platforms have dictated design choices instead of brand differentiators. The resulting, pared down aesthetic focuses on product and messaging being legible over creative. Writer Molly Fisher in “The Tyranny of Terrazzo, Will the millennial aesthetic ever end?”, that “Instagrammable is a term that does not mean “beautiful” or even quite “photogenic”; it means something more like “readable.” The viewer could scroll past an image and still grasp its meaning, e.g., “I saw fireworks,” “I am on vacation,” or “I have friends.” This trend is also fueled by content efficiencies. Product design, not just ads, are integrating this use of color and type so the product can be an Instagrammable experience in itself. Which in turn, helps with user generated content and cost savings. But at what cost to brand?
The case for standout design over the herd is made further when considering the customer experience, growing technology and the accessibility of advertising. Stores, sales associates, shopping bags and location all create a connection a screen can’t, placing a greater importance for design in the D2C customer/brand relationship. This becomes even more important for companies who are disrupting through customer experience over innovation. Future technologies will display differently and allow for blended physical and digital experiences that offer creative opportunity for logo, product and brand design.
Individual brands will need to be positioned not only as a better option, but offer additional services that competitors don’t and create a customer experience that goes beyond digital to communicate important values.
The accompanying visuals all have their logos removed to illustrate how design and branding have all merged into an indistinguishable catalog of products.
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