Women’s History Month kicks off today and, while the annual commemoration started in 1987, this year’s observance—coming as it does in the wake of #MeToo—is especially pressing and consequential. It follows that brands planning tie-ins to the event can expect to be under greater scrutiny than usual. So it’s a good bet that heads will turn with the unveiling of “Rising to the Occasion,” a just-announced activation from PepsiCo-owned Stacy’s Pita Chips that includes a limited-edition series of special packaging.
Developed in-house by female designers, the three bags are meant to symbolize the triad of “core values” behind the brand, to wit: celebrating, supporting and advancing women. (Stacy’s was founded in 1997 by Boston social worker-turned-restaurateur Stacy Madison; PepsiCo bought the brand in 2005.)
Heavy on shades of pink and adorned motifs including lions and rouged mouths, the bags—which can be purchased online—arrived at Adweek’s office with the following explanation from the press office: “The mouths represent how women are speaking out to celebrate each other, the lion illustrates women’s ferocious tenacity to advance the equality movement, and the single word unstoppable underscores how far women can go when they support each other.”
So there you have it. And to augment its promotion, PepsiCo will make a monetary donation to Step Up, a mentorship and empowerment program for girls. Still, the question is: Will consumers favor these chip bag designs—which include the liberal use of language like “Roar” (presumably as in, “I am woman, hear me roar”) and “We’ve got this”—the way that corporate hopes? Are these themes familiar and meaningful, or just tired and clichéd?
We approached five prominent designers, all of whom have worked on packaging and related marketing materials for brands, and asked them to weigh in.
Jerry Jankowski, founder of Jankowski Design, professor at Otis College of Art and Design:
I teach a couple packaging classes at a college in L.A. and I love to see high school students getting creative and experimenting with what entices a customer to pick up a bag or box of a snack food item and put it in their cart. And, as a matter of fact, I’m an easy grader. I want to encourage young talent, not discourage them by making negative, old-people comments, like, “Needs more development.”
But this does. The lipsticky colors, the oddly illustrated lips and the psychedelia-ish lion messaging “Roar”—something is off here. This is like the first round of class critique. What is the intent of those lips? Rolling Stones? Rocky Horror? Rocky and Bullwinkle? As for that lion, bring in examples of psychedelic art from the ‘60s and African art. And let’s see if we find some other fonts for “Unstoppable” that truly resonate.
Next class, bring in three revisions of each design. Revisit color, typography and style intent. They all need a lot more development. Class dismissed!
Meghan Labot, managing director, Spring Design Partners:
In past years, Women’s History Month was like October when the store shelves are flooded with pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The “Brawny Woman” was a cute and clever way to honor women without getting too political.
However, this year is different. Women’s History Month is embedded in the themes of equality, gender rights and women’s empowerment, considering the many sexual harassment scandals. Women’s History Month is now political. In this context, brands need to be very clear on their position and point of view, when choosing to appropriate the movement. Otherwise, they run the risk of backlash for clearly commercial and marketing motivations.
You have to applaud the effort of any brand that opts to wade into these dark waters. However, I fear that PepsiCo is making the same mistake it made nearly a year ago when Kendall Jenner handed a cop a Pepsi at a protest march. While not nearly the scale of the Kendall snafu, with these designs Stacy’s is appropriating a movement without a point of view. By doing so, Stacy’s really isn’t saying anything at all. They are using the imagery of a movement to sell pita chips. And despite the noble effort in donating $25,000 to Step Up, an organization that supports girls in under-resourced communities, they are not making any kind of impactful cultural statement.
Paula Hansanugrum, executive creative director, Chase Design Group:
I think the designs are bold, striking and unapologetically female. Compared to last year’s series, which featured historic signs or artwork from women’s history, this set feels less overtly political. Rather than featuring specific women’s issues, the messaging and designs celebrate female empowerment in a positive, uplifting way.
Renée Whitworth, strategic director, Flood Creative:
Art is subjective. Although here, the style does not seem to reflect the brand behind the image portrayed by the other bags. There may have been a chance to feature the women behind this brand, or other women from recent history who the Stacy’s employees admire. I don’t see the history connection. The hand-made signs from recent women’s marches show that we are very witty and not afraid to offend with colorful language.
I am one such woman, to be honest. I love the idea of “Unstoppable” and “Roar,” it just takes me too long to connect the dots here. Without being able to know the artist, the lips bag in particular seems a bit frivolous and condescending to me. I think on a personal care brand or in a category that is more whimsical like gum or candy this would be a win.
But, on the positive side, I’m glad they went all-in versus the “slap a pink ribbon” approach others use every October. As a package on shelf, I’m just not sure others will figure out the meaning behind it in 3 seconds.
Simon Thorneycroft, founder, Perspective: Branding:
I am sure those guys at PepsiCo know what they are doing, and Stacy’s is a brilliant brand, and I love the cause, but it all feels like it is trying a bit too hard. Screaming out loud about what you are doing doesn’t feel very genuine and taglines like: “You rock” and “We’ve got this” all sound a little immature and Spice-Girls-girl-power to me—or a bad tampon ad about roller coasters.
Do women really feel like they need packaging that says all those things? Using language on packaging is a great idea and a good way to capture the essence of the brand, but surely, we can find smarter, cleverer lines that make you smile when you get the ‘inside’ joke —it all feels a bit cheap and tacky. Isn’t the point to celebrate the genius of women, their amazingness and enormous contribution to the world?
Looks like this was designed by a 30-year-old guy to me!