Published 4 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: In a circular economy, brands may engage in a battle over the most desirable vessels for their products. | All images credit: Nice and Serious
While a circular economy will present huge challenges to most brands' conventional business models, there are huge opportunities for those who embrace and adapt to this change — while those who drag their heels with incremental changes will undoubtedly fall behind.
For centuries, we have relied on a linear model — take, make, use, dispose — at
the expense of the environment. A circular model, on the other hand, will
require us to design waste and pollution out of products, by keeping materials
within a closed loop. This will dramatically change the way products are
As FMCG companies grapple with the implications for their business models, it
also raises the question, what will a circular economy mean for branding?
Let’s take a company that makes shampoo — valiantly saving civilisation from dry
and frizzy hair. In the linear economy, the packaging is the prime real estate
of the brand at the point of purchase. It’s the shiny exterior that
differentiates what is otherwise an indistinguishable product.
In a circular economy, this will change. The shampoo may be dispensed from a
large vat into a reusable bottle (either provided by the brand or consumer), or
directly delivered to a consumer in a reusable bottle via a delivery /
collection system such as
By removing the cheap and cheerful, throwaway plastic bottle from the equation,
it will force companies to rethink how consumers interact with their brands in
store and at home.
So far the response from brands has been fairly predictable. Unilever’s
household cleaning brand, CIF, acknowledging that the vast majority of its
product is water, has drastically reduced the amount of packaging by creating
capsules — they use 70 percent less plastic, while giving enough space for a healthy
splattering of branding. Other brands are partnering with services such as
which offers the delivery and collection of products in reusable packaging — for
instance, brands such as
are creating reusable, insulated, metallic containers that are flavour-agnostic.
Delivery / collection systems will increase the importance of durability and
product interchangeability over unique, eye-catching designs. While in store,
brands will have little control over the vessel consumers decide to use with
refill solutions. In these scenarios how can brands respond to maintain a place
in our hearts, minds, cupboards and shelves?
Here are five predictions:
Brands will develop beautiful, distinctive, durable bottles to contain their
precious product. Much like Coke’s original, glass hobbleskirt bottle,
Aesop’s brown glass or Stella’s
a battle will be fought for the most desirable bottle, elevating the importance
of shape, colour and texture.
Stripped of its glitzy plastic clothing, brands will put more emphasis on both
the quality and qualities of the product, ensuring it shines through whatever
container it’s in. Brands will also have to work harder to differentiate their
products, through stories of provenance, craft and sustainability.
Those who can’t afford to develop beautiful bottles will have to think like
hermit crabs. They will offer sticker packs to enable consumers to customise
their chosen vessel, or to graffiti over the residual logos of competing brands.
Product dispensers will be a battleground for brands at the point of purchase.
Not only will they offer prime real estate in supermarket aisles to advertise
the product within, there will be competition for the most memorable refill
experience. Sonic branding and sound design will also play a key role, as brands
seek to engage their customers as their products are being dispensed.
Alternatively, if retailers own the product dispensers, they will restrict the
brandable area, and push sales towards unbranded products that make more money
for the retailers themselves — forcing brands to compete in other areas.
Brands will have fleets of electric refill trucks that will roam the
offering a premium refill experience; replacing damaged bottles with the latest
designs, and pushing new product offerings. Those who operate a House of Brands
will win, being able to offer a wider product offering; from tea to cleaning
products. The trucks themselves will be works of art; milk floats on steroids.
While a circular economy will present huge challenges to the conventional,
linear business models of most brands; there are huge opportunities for those
who embrace and adapt to this change, seeing it as both a necessary and exciting
change in the relationship between their product and the citizens who choose to buy it — while those who drag their heels with incremental changes will undoubtedly fall behind.
Published Jan 28, 2020 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET