*PS. Below you will find an auto-generated transcript of this episode.
Arek Dvornechuck: Hey, what's up? Branding experts Arek here at Ebaqdesign and welcome to On Branding Podcast. And today we have a special guest, John Nunziato, who has over 30 years of experience working with clients like Burger King, Coca-Cola, Gillette,Johnson &Johnson, and Campbell's just to name a few. So John is the founder of Little Big Brands, which is an award-winning independent branding agency that provides branding and design services for various clients from Fortune 500s to startups, and across the globe in numerous industries. From food and beverage, to pet products, to wellness, feminine care, and much more.And today we are going to talk about branding and design, but specifically we are going to talk about consumer brands and about packaging.
Hello John. Thanks for joining us today.
John Nunziato: Hi Arek. Nice to see you. Thanks for having me on here.
Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you so much. I really like your work and you have a lot of experience working with brand consultancies and then you started your own agency and you've been running this agency for over 20 years. Some of the notable projects I wanted to talk, I wanted you to talk about is, for example, Chicken of the Sea rebrand, or the Burger King rebrand. But can we just start with maybe you talking about, telling us your story, Why did you start your agency? What made you start your agency? And then we can just talk about these re-brands.
John Nunziato: Yeah, sure. let's see, we're coming up on 22 years. And yeah, the agency was started at a time right after, around 9-11. Wanted to go out on my own for a while. I had put in quite a bit of time at some fantastic branding agencies. I learned a lot from those teams. I'm still very much in touch with them. And these people, function as my mentors and guidance guiders, for the business the last handful of years. Yeah. And it was about time I had gotten to a level where I wanted to care for clients myself, put my own stamp on work, help guide and work with some of the people I had developed relationships with over the years more directly. And that's how the company got started. When I started the business, I had three clients that came with me at the time that I had been working with It was a Novartis on the Lamisil brand. I'd worked on Unilever, and Lipton Ice tea and a brand called Lubriderm, which was with Pfizer. So three really great brands right out of the gate. And that's where it went.
Arek Dvornechuck: Sounds good. So I can see on your portfolio that you work with a lot of consumer brands and doing packaging work and stuff like that. Is that correct? Is that what your agency specializes in?
John Nunziato: Yeah, I would say that's the bulk of our work, whether it's in food, fashion, pharma, consumer in that space. We do a lot of work outside of that. Which we're showing a little bit more of these days. We've been hired a lot in the last year to develop ad campaigns for the brands we develop. Asset development for the brands. I think there's nothing better than sticking with the brand agency that you worked with to do the strategic work. logo, identity or upgrade, refresh wherever you are in the project. Same with the packaging tone of voice. And then continue to work with that agency to develop asset work, whether that's animation or imagery for your socials. But more importantly lately, carrying that over into real usable ad campaigns, which we did for Chicken of the Sea and got a great ROI on it. And we're moving into, phase two on that as well. We do a lot of extension work and continue to work with our clients well after the redesign.
Arek Dvornechuck: Sounds good. And it's a good point. So it always starts with, the foundation, which is branding and logo design. Then also if it's a consumer brand and also packaging but also like, I liked what you said about, sticking with one agency and then I think that's beneficial to both, to the agency and to the brand.
Okay. So can we talk about Chicken of the Sea? Rebrand I think is a fascinating rebrand. I like these are beautiful, the packaging is beautiful, so obviously it is a big brand. I love the brand. I buy the brand. It's a great source of protein. So for you guys who maybe are not familiar with the brand it's basically a tuna brand it's called Chicken of the Sea, and it has this recognizable mermaid which is brand mascot. So can you talk to us a little bit about, the process of redesigning the brand, the packaging and so on. What were some of the challenges and how you dealt with those challenges?
John Nunziato: Yeah, absolutely. Fortunately I had a lot of global brand design upgrades and evolutions over the years. It can be really tough as you know, a lot of brands take a lot of backlash for moving too far or not far enough. It takes a lot of experience, talent, and a lot of control to take a brand and move it to the right space. And you're right, chicken of the Sea is 99% household penetration, which means basically everyone knows it. It has a 77, 76-77-76 year old mermaid that's been developed and evolved like other brand mascots over the years. Female, obviously. And it's an interesting brand, right? It's a tuna brand with the name chicken in it, and it has a mermaid as a mascot. Not the easiest one to move forward. But we were hired because we're good at that. We're good at working with. Really big brands with big exposure and have the talent control and expertise to move them forward correctly. So we developed an enhanced and evolved Catalina, the Mermaid and moved her to a space where she was more usable, more printable, identifiable, relevant to today's consumer, female consumer, and there's a lot of nuance in what we worked on with her. Everything from her body posture, the way in which she presents herself, we made her more lean, more proud, more upright. A little bit more, all-inclusive without completely losing the brand integrity of the character herself.
And over the years she followed certain illustrated styles. She was looking a little bit like a Disney princess. Disproportionate so we proportioned her correctly and logo development. So we updated the Chicken of the sea logo. We pulled her out of the center, so we made this a lot more reproducible for the brand. Remember? A lot of the brand is on packets now, which is fantastic. It's a much bigger canvas to work with. But typically people associate tuna with tuna cans, which is only about just over an inch high. Very tiny label and a dark shelf, and they tend to be handled a lot. And they're in shadow.
So something that we wanted to do for the brand was create a mascot, which we could elevate in size, a brand mark that we stacked from a single line to a double line. So we were able to gain more real estate. We distilled it down, redrew that to make it more legible on shelf. And then the graphics are all held within something relative to the sea. Which is that clam shell. It allowed us to control our printability and then control our colors in the background. So we simplified it for the consumer, made it more relevant. We kept the brand equities from the color to brand, logo to character so that when the consumer returns to the shelf, they can find their product. They can still see and feel that it's their product, but something feels and looks different about it. It feels fresher. It looks better in their cabinets or their pantry, whatever they might have at their home, and there's a feeling of happiness and health that goes along with the upgrade.
Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah. It is a great case study and I encourage you guys to actually check out. Just go to littlebigbrands.com because there is a blog post. That you have written right? And there is a before and after, which I think is really fascinating. I think it's just a great example of how, to do a rebrand the right way so you retain the colors, as you mentioned, consumers are still able to find the brand on the shelf. They are used to these colors. They are used to this mermaid, but she looks different. She's more prominent. The colors are more prominent. It's aesthetically more pleasing and all of the other, things that you've mentioned also. And I thought this is just a great case study to talk about the challenges when it comes to, redesigning a big brand, an established brand. What are the other rebranding projects that are close to you and you would like to talk about perhaps Burger King? What do you think?
John Nunziato: Yeah. That's a, it's a brand I did a while back before I had started the business and I worked with a fantastic team and an agency at the time. I'm always happy to talk about it cuz people love talking about a global brand like that. And there was a lot of work and care again that went into developing a mark and a logo mark, like a Burger King that's global. Whereas, the Chicken of the Sea is, within the usa. And, you know, it survived the test of time. I think it was right for the time, the move forward, the way in which we handled it, the applications to the street signage that you see all around. We moved from into a can sign at the time developed a new typography and we made it more contemporary and it, I think it worked really well. Again, I know that the logo the last year has kind of gone back to that 1972 feel. Yeah, it's been a tough roll at it. It takes a while to roll a brand out like that, and sure there's materials shortages. I'm a fan of the work that the typography and some of the advertising work that was done. Not necessarily the step back with the logo, but that's a whole other story, I'm sure. Another brand that on our site that if people are interested in the Chicken of the Sea, that I think is, again, relative and a really tough one is Angel Soft, a tissue brand. In a category that's very congested. It's a very confusing category. And Angel Soft is a tissue that we again took logo mark, the iconic baby and the package design so again that's one where we were working on really difficult substrates that are reflective. They're hyper inconsistent. So unlike a cereal box that you know is always gonna be that perfect rectangle shape, you never know what you're gonna get when you shrink, wrapping a bunch of round rolls, right? Of all different sizes. That's something we had to take into consideration. The category being a really difficult category to figure out where people are getting their value. You almost have to be like an expert in math to figure out what you're getting in the tissue category. So we really wanted to clean that up. And again, the client at the time had printability issues, reproduction issues with their logo, the colors they were using. So we dove in again, respectfully upgraded the Angels Soft logo identity to two versions, horizontal and stacked. We do that a lot with really big brands aimed at adding an element to the Angels Soft logo. The halo, which made sense for the brand. Didn't deviate too far from what they had, but again, a fresh upgrade. And then the packaging and clarity of communication was distilled down to a really pure form for the consumer. And then the upgrade and move away from, and how they were using that baby, that iconic look for them in a more usable and fresh way. And this really took some time to hit the shelf. I think, We always joke that, the baby that we started with on the project was, in middle school by the time we got this woman out. And when we did some revisions on it, we had to re-shoot a baby and parts of the baby. So it was actually cute because the original baby, the baby's face on there, their mom sent us a photo of the babysitting there on the package on shelf, which was great. And that baby was about, several years older. So just so you know these bigger projects like that, they can take it, they can take a year and a half, two years sometimes. Yeah.
Arek Dvornechuck: No, that's an awesome rebrand. I love the aesthetics. And again, it's a script font, similarly as to the Chicken of the Sea but, it's right for the brand right here. And as you mentioned with this halo and I see what you're saying, horizontal vertical version of the logo. Yeah. Beautiful redesign and so, this was actually one of my questions that you basically answered. How long these projects usually take. Because there are many different challenges that brings in brands face, as you mentioned, with the manufacturing and stuff like that, the production. So can you just talk to us, a bit about, what's the typical timeline for a rebrand?
John Nunziato: Sure. It really does depend on the brand and the team and the needs and what they have. Whether it's gonna be a hard launch, meaning everything removed from shelf and new stuff, or a soft launch where they're gonna roll out what they continue to have and soft launch that. Marketing budget, and then just the time of year that always plays into how long it might take for the project to roll out. There are other brands like a little Spoon Baby Food, which we were original part of the creation of the brand. And equity partners with that and something we developed over the last decade, the last 11 years actually. And put a lot of heart and soul and multiple redesigns up to what we currently have now. So we developed everything from scratch for this brand. The logo mark, the illustrations as it's evolved over the last decade with a typical client project like a Chicken of the Sea or an Angel Soft, you're looking at about 15 to 18 months, I would say. It's not for every agency, I think there are agencies, branding agencies that do what we do that are real good in the short run that can do real quick work and get you to a place. Being able to really stick with a group of clients in a team that might evolve over the course of a year or a year and a half where you might lose part of your client team and gain people. You've gotta learn to really. Get along well be super flexible, remain creative throughout the process, work with changes and personalities that might come on to get over the finish line. So it takes. I think a special agency, a special leadership count, leadership creative, leadership to take a brand where that has massive exposure like the two I went through, through a full redesign like that where everyone feels satisfied from the brand team to the marketing teams, to your CMOs and ensure that the brand is continually successful after that. So as some brands don't move far enough away and there isn't an increase in sales and some move too far. And then there can be a hiccup and sometimes they panic and go back to where they were. Fortunately at Little Big Brands, we haven't had that. We know how to respectfully move really big brands to a new space where consumers feel comfortable. Yeah.
Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah, which is extremely important when it comes to consumer br branding, and packaging. So I have bit different question. Maybe for those who are listening and they wanna start a branding agency. Perhaps they're an art director or a senior designer or even a creative director working at some other branding agency. Do you have any advice for, aspiring branding professionals who want to start their own branding agency?
John Nunziato: Yeah. Starting an agency now is definitely different than when I started mine 22 years ago. I would say that at the time when I started my agency, I did everything. So I did new business, account management, design, and production and strategy. So I did a little bit of everything and I worked 24/7. And when you get to a point when you're doing good work, people are happy with your work, you really need someone to account manage you, and really satisfy the client and maintain all of the moving parts because that's where it goes wrong. I know designers can only do so much and be creative. They really do need someone to help manage the client. They can still work with the client, but really meet expectation cuz there's nothing worse than doing amazing, fantastic emotional and inspiring work for your client, but when you miss a few blips or nuances or typos, it can sour the whole process. So finding that additional person to work with you that might be a little bit more of a business mind and help account manage is really integral to getting to the next step. I know designers like to link up with other designers and be a team of designers, but I wouldn't wanna work with an agency that had two designers, or three designers or four designers. I think it might get you some good work, but that's as far as it's gonna go. They really can't go any further in the process.
Arek Dvornechuck: So the advice to young aspiring agency owners is to. Actually team up or hire someone who is going to help you with the business side of running an agency, right? So dealing with clients, an account manager and things like that so that you can focus, because if you're a creative person is going to be, as you mentioned already, it's quite challenging, especially at the beginning if you do it all by yourself. And I have a question about the recent, revolution in if we may say in the design space, you probably heard about, all those AI tools. Do you think it's going to affect the way we work on design projects, on packaging projects, on any type of, web design projects? How do you see, branding industry moving forward, considering this big revolution with AI tools in our space?
John Nunziato: I think it will work for some. For others that need the human connection on a brand to truly understand what's going on the brand. Ultimately, you could input that information, but when I consider a project spanning the course of a year or a year and a half, the AI tool, which I see this as a tool I think it'll be good to have in our portfolio. I don't think it's gonna solve anything or become a self-functioning agency or really solve the needs of how brands need to connect with people. I think can it generate something new and interesting and maybe beautiful based on the input that, that team might work into it. Yeah, I think it can, I think it can open people's minds and get us to some interesting new spaces. Not unlike how stock photography and stock websites change the branding industry. So before that, we looked through books or we would photocopy stuff for inspiration or we had artists in the studio literally airbrushing painting what we needed for concepts. Stock evolved that, right? We can go in and anybody can be like a designer now. But it doesn't mean you can be a really good brand designer and work with clients and evolve a brand to the right space. So I see it as a good additional tool. I think everyone should embrace it, learn it, but I wouldn't rely on it. I wouldn't rely on it.
Arek Dvornechuck: That's a good distinction. Yeah. It's a, it is just a tool. But still, branding is all about, attention to details is all about unique custom solutions. We are nowhere near, a place where, we can get replaced by AI tools. We should probably learn how to use them if we can incorporate that in our work, perhaps in the brainstorming phase, right? Just collecting ideas and exploring some design concepts and stuff like that. But ultimately it can be a long process and it's a lot of tweaking and refining and working with client. And so that's a good point that you made here. And look, I really enjoyed talking to you. What is the best way to connect with you? Is it on LinkedIn?
John Nunziato: Yeah, so me personally on LinkedIn, our Instagram is Little Big Brands. Obviously the website, but that would be the best to connect with us, connect with me
Arek Dvornechuck: Okay. So for you guys who wanna learn more about. John and his agency. Just visit his website, littlebigbrands.com. That's easy, right? And then you can find John on LinkedIn, which is @JohnNunziato. So first and last name on LinkedIn, and same with clients. If you wanna work with John, just check out his portfolio. Beautiful work. I really like the style, the minimalism, the simplicity. Yeah, thanks for coming on the show. I really appreciate that.
John Nunziato: Thanks, Arek. Nice speaking with you.
Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you.
Arek Dvornechuck is a strategist and designer who helps brands grow by crafting distinctive brand identities, backed by strategy. Need help with your project?—Get in touch
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