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This is a self-funded case study using our Packaging Testing solution.
The Laughing Cow (or by its French origins, La vache qui rit) has been crafting its iconic cheese for almost a century. The individually wrapped, spreadable triangles are synonymous with the enormous red cow which takes centre-stage on the front of the packaging – only becoming more prominent across innumerable design changes.
US-based owner, Bel Group, fully understands the inimitable value cultivated in these brand assets – not only the goodwill they foster, but also how they facilitate quick and easy shopper decisions.
As part of a broader campaign encouraging people to ‘laugh more’, the packaging underwent a global refresh. The minimalistic design involved tilting the cow’s head and broadening its smile, in order to project happiness.
We used our three C’s framework to assess the effectiveness of both the new and old packaging designs.
While the current pack set an exceptionally high benchmark, to its credit the new design performed similarly strongly. Both evoked a rich emotional response, generating high-intensity feelings such as ‘fun’ and ‘amusement’.
Although amplifying happiness was a key objective of the re-design, the new pack struggled to build upon these already strong feelings – though still easily exceeding normative benchmarks. The re-design also received minor criticism over its use of more category-generic colors and cues, coming across as a little less unique.
The brand’s iconic ambassador remained highly recognizable, with the red cow proving the most salient design element for two-thirds of consumers. This wasn’t surprising given its record as one of the few assets to have survived decades of redesigns, but its efficacy cannot be understated.
While dialing back the green rolling pastures did make the packaging slightly less fluent with people’s expectations of the brand (this element has been a design feature for the last ~35 years), the red cow and circular shape remained extremely strong conduits of the brand’s heritage.
The new design forwent the green pastoral background in favor of a more modern and minimalistic aesthetic, explicitly calling out the product’s ‘artificial-free’ qualities. While it might’ve been assumed this would translate into stronger perceptions of ‘healthiness’ and ‘naturalness’, this wasn’t the case.
The colorful background imagery actually did a better job of subconsciously reinforcing these associations compared to explicitly emphasizing them – a reminder for marketers that it’s often more powerful to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’. More broadly, the new design didn’t significantly enhance perceptions of The Laughing Cow as a ‘fun’ and ‘family-friendly’ brand.
A new pack design must come very close to – or ideally match – the benchmark set by an existing design before a change is justified, given consumers will always gravitate toward the familiar. The Laughing Cow should feel comfortable moving ahead with the re-design given it performs at a similarly strong level to the current packaging, while also delivering on a number of strategic priorities.
There’s no doubt a marketer’s first priority should always be ensuring a brand’s distinctive assets aren’t disrupted when undertaking a packaging change. However, given the low-involvement manner in which most shopper decisions are made, it shouldn’t be forgotten that packaging must also leave people with a meaningful impression about the product.
These results provide a reminder that subtle changes can have unintended consequences, and marketers should – at the very least – test their hypothesis to ensure they’re clear about what impact they’re having.
We were supported by leading market research technology platform Cint to collect data from respondents in the UK.