Traditional labels – undifferentiated, unmemorable and uninspiring?

Have you ever thought about WHY so many labels have borders, script, gold foil and seals? Hint: It’s not for a lack of new ideas. Here’s an excerpt from an upcoming article I wrote on the topic for Wine Business Monthly.

Wine and spirits packaging uses a traditional visual language that everyone recognizes: combine a seal and some gold foil on a classic centered layout, add a border and voila! We have a classic label. It meets consumer and trade expectations, and it feels safe to everyone involved. And – it’s too often undifferentiated, unmemorable and uninspiring. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can selectively apply these devices to trigger trust and desire in the consumer – and create packaging that also packs a punch on shelf.

The Emotional Messages Behind the Symbols

Let’s look at why each of these symbols has persisted and still holds undeniable power to sell wine and spirits. First, these elements are familiar. And familiarity creates trust – a key emotional trigger for a product that many consumers find intimidating. Additionally, each element conveys a subtle but powerful message:

Seals = Approval

The seal has its origin in the signets of the powerful historic leaders of church and state, whose seals conveyed authority and authenticity. Seals are also like medals, or awards conveyed by an outside authority, and reassure consumers of superior quality.

Gold = Status

Gold foil holds great sway with consumers – even if we marketers are a bit tired of it. Historically, the rarity and expense of gold made it accessible only to those with wealth and power. Gilded items, including documents, were emblematic of society’s privileged; even today we see gold foil on diplomas and certificates of merit. Associated with valuable jewelry and ornament, gold conveys high value and prestige.

Borders = Serious and Polished

Borders add formality and richness to a label. They frame the graphics so our eyes stay on the label longer, giving a brand more time to make a connection and deliver messaging.

Applying the Symbols Successfully

Traditional labels are not right for every brand. But, if heritage, prestige, and tradition play an important role in your positioning, the thoughtful use of a seal, gold, and/or a classic bordered layout can help you instill confidence in consumers. They elevate your brand image, create a higher perceived value and invite consumers closer with reassuring messages. And, mixing these elements with a fresh layout, eye-catching color and a little asymmetry can help your traditional label stand out from the crowd.



This month we’re reminded that even one of the greatest imaginations of our time was a re-inventor, not an inventor. Steve Jobs created products that delighted us and transformed our world. And yet – he didn’t invent the personal computer, the MP3 player, the smart phone or the tablet. His genius was in seeing possibilities for transformative reinvention of the existing. I think we can all learn from his model. Here are some links to get your juices flowing.

Video Series: Everything is a Remix (i.e. Where Great Ideas Come From)

I recently discovered this brilliant video series that shows how breakthrough ideas come not from a vacuum but from the rich stew of material produced by others. From George Lucas’s Star Wars to Henry Ford’s automobile – appropriating and remixing material isn’t just for Hip Hop DJ’s. Check it out.

Brand Magic through Soft Innovation:

If the folks over at Method can make cleaning supplies sexy, we can certainly get consumers’ attention for our wine. Sometimes a tweak is all it takes to create brand magic. This article in Fast Company outlines processes and thinking for making little changes that drive massive differentiation.


Where do you turn for inspiration and source material? We want to hear from you!

Drop us your comments on this issue, topic requests and anything else on your mind:

Traditional labels - undifferentiated, unmemorable and uninspiring?Sterling Creativeworks

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