Once seen as a breath of fresh air in the world of brand aesthetics, the minimalist “blanding” trend of the mid-2010s is on its way out.
Over the past year, multiple DTC startups founded in the past decade have been undergoing rebrandings in a shift away from the minimalist style that has dominated the DTC era until now. Thanks to competition from a wave of new brands and the pressure to stand out both online and in-store, brands are turning to bold, colorful branding. According to some, this is one signal of a new era of maximalism.
Feminine care brand Cora, which launched with organic cotton tampons in 2016, rebranded this month with a bold new color scheme and logo. Its boxes used to be white and feature a sans serif font, but they now come in shades of red, blue and pink, and feature a much larger logo.
“When we launched the brand, we launched really purposely with a very simple, minimalist design, which was in stark contrast with what was available on shelves at the time,” said Dana Cohen, CMO at Cora. The brand’s updated aesthetic, however, takes inspiration from beauty packaging. The hope is to create a tampon “package that’s beautiful enough to sit out on your counter alongside your favorite skin care,” Cohen said.
“Our hope is that consumers [consider] this a luxe product and something that feels elevated, and not something they want to hide,” said Andrea McCulloch, head of creative at Cora.
The era of “blanding,” as Bloomberg describes it, has led to a wide array of DTC brands with extremely similar minimalist aesthetics. While early adopters of the style were a marked contrast from established brands, the market is now saturated with startups using it.
Now, a wave of new brands entering the market are all about color, with brands such as Ceremonia, Kinship, Innbeauty and Youthforia launching with bright, bold branding. And the earlier generation of DTC brands is following suit.
“The time of these cold, isolated white backgrounds is done for now,” said Rinat Aruh, CEO and co-founder of design firm Aruliden, which has worked with startups including Ilia, Supergoop, Vitruvi, Merit, Glossier Play! and Whoop 4.0. “Design is a really strong vehicle to heal and to soothe. It can play a lot of emotional roles, and there is a craving that people have for [something brighter].”
Branding shifts by DTC brands can be quicker than that of established giants because they have a bigger “appetite for change” and are “open to taking more risks,” said Aruh. They also “know how to use their data really well,” and “can get really great insights as to what’s working and what didn’t work.”
“Consumers — from the research and the conversations I’ve had — are bored. It takes more to get our attention,” said Sara Panton, co-founder of oil diffuser brand Vitruvi, which underwent a rebranding overseen by Aruliden earlier this year. “Black and white minimalism and Scandinavian design are a little bit tired.” Instead, “color and maximalism” are trends that she’s seeing throughout the design world, including in interiors and branding.
Vitruvi, which was founded in 2015, originally “went hyper-clean, with a lot of black-and-white, Scandinavian, clean and minimalist design,” said Panton. It changed everything except its logo, adding color to the side of its packages through a color gradient used specify the aroma type.
“You are seeing [more of] these poppy colors. People are being a little bolder, which is just so fun and so refreshing after so many years,” said Denise Cartwright, co-founder of skin-care brand Crude. It rebranded last year from an aesthetic that was “very minimal, sans serif, white and black, and simple to branding with more color, artwork and a bold logo,” she said.
Brands’ logo and other text fonts are changing dramatically, moving away from thin, sans-serif lines.
“We designed a completely unique serif font that would be used as our brand font, and it has a movement in it,” said Panton.
Cora’s formerly minimalist, sans-serif logo “served us well, particularly when we were direct to consumer. But once we got to retail, you can imagine how that logo would just disappear on the shelf,” said Andrea McCulloch, head of creative at Cora.
The entry into physical retail is a big reason for rebrands, said founders, especially when it comes to brands that started out via DTC e-commerce and now must capture attention on shelves.
“When you get into retail, you’re all of a sudden set against your entire competitive landscape. There are some challenges there, and trying to stand out on shelves is where color becomes incredibly important,” said McCulloch.
Panton echoed the sentiment. “[Vitruvi] is going into many more physical stores and that was a big proponent of us launching this rebrand,” she said.
While millennial tastes drove the original DTC revolution, Gen Z is helping to fuel the current shift as they have abandoned the “millennial pink” minimalist look in favor of boldness.
But brands shouldn’t be so quick to jump on the trend just for the sake of a shifting aesthetic, said Aruh.
“If you’re talking to a generation that’s a millennial versus someone who is approaching her 50s, they’re looking for different things. It’s really important to actually not follow the color trends, but to actually [consider], ‘Where’s the opportunity?’” said Aruh. “Brands need to have that discipline. Otherwise, you lose your way very quickly, and then you’re just following trends that have nothing to do with what you’re trying to message.”
Many brands have been tapping into their unique propositions when creating their new looks. Cora, for example, is emphasizing its “organic” theme with colors inspired by those found in nature, such as amethyst. Crude, meanwhile, created package artwork inspired by bacteria for its probiotic messaging.
Ultimately, brands should look to their consumers to drive their choices of branding, said Aruh. “Users of these products have a very active voice. They’re creating their own content, whether these brands like it or not. And [brands] should really pick up on some of those cues and what [consumers] are doing visually and graphically.”
Her biggest advice to brands: “Any company going through the [rebranding] process should be very true to who they are, what they’re trying to solve and what their overall strategy is as a brand, versus chasing a trend that may be temporary. Because we are very fickle as human beings. We’re excited about one thing, and then we get bored, and we’ve abandoned it.”