• Transform magazine
  • December 07, 2022


Gram Glam: Food brands don’t need to reinvent the wheel to have impact on Instagram

Thomas Herman 1200X1200px (1)

Thomas Herman, co-founder and marketing director of creative agency, Path, explores how to construct a food brand that is as good for eyes as it is for appetite through a visually-led and coded strategy that creates distinctive assets for all communications channels.

No sector should underestimate the power of social media when it comes to sales, whether food, fashion or otherwise. But fusilli isn’t foundation, and doesn’t come with half the glam. So how can food and beverage follow in fashion’s footsteps to make a killing on “the gram”?

The answer is simple: return to basics.

Yes, today’s brands are navigating a very different consumer landscape to their predecessors. While online shopping has existed for decades, social media platforms have only become e-commerce channels in the past couple of years. The pandemic accelerated this exponentially, as social commerce increases by 34% between 2020 and 2021.

But these changes do not mean brands should change tact altogether. The core principles that make a good brand are just as true today as they were in the 80s. It is the way these assets are deployed which has evolved.

According to Jenni Romaniuk’s Building Distinctive Brand Assets, successful visual branding has always been tied to seven key elements: words, sounds, shapes, stories, colour, characters and music. Each of these seven elements need to be unique and – ideally - famous for your brand to be successful across all platforms, social media included.

For food and beverage brands in particular, it might be daunting trying to stand out among the fashion and beauty brands taking Instagram by storm. But as social media advertising becomes increasingly saturated, brands will be differentiated by their ability to optimise distinctive assets for the digital realm and create a synergy on and offline.

Emerging brands can learn a lot from McDonalds, the epitome of masterful food branding. The combination of golden arches, red and yellow palette, Ronald McDonald figure and ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ catchphrase embody intelligent use of all seven elements that unite to create a memorable brand. Coca-Cola has achieved similar brand endurance through its distinctive bottle shape, red Santa Clause and recognisable typeface.

Both brands have stood the test of time by determining their unique brand assets and largely sticking with them through the decades, creating only subtle brand updates to keep up with the ebb and flows of consumer trends. These recognisable assets are strong enough to be translated to the social media realm, successfully playing out on Instagram just as they would offline. 

But what about new brands on the block that don’t have the legacy of McDonalds and Coca-Cola?

To attract digital natives, new food and beverage brands still need to build their brand in relation to the key seven elements, even if they are designing for the digital shelf more than the physical. Social commerce has only emphasised the value of a visually direct and coded strategy, rather than entirely shifted the rules of branding.

Effective branding has always relied on the creation and exploitation of memorable communications assets. Take Noodl Plus, an emerging noodle-pot brand by Westmill Foods. Infused with charcoal, turmeric and other super nutrients, the noodles are wonderfully coloured, the perfect asset to set it apart from competitors. This key differentiator was distilled into a single, central brand icon that works on and off-pack, on social and in activations, creating a red thread throughout all touchpoints.

The result is a noodle brand for the Instagram generation, monopolising the power of social to launch a food brand which is as good for your eyes as it is for your body. Yet, the social-led strategy did not abandon core principles of branding that have existed for decades. It merely adapted what has always been effective and successful for the new consumer market we are living in.

I would urge start-up brands to go back to basics and learn from the old-school masters of branding. Emerging media channels and evolving behavioural trends will of course alter the way in which brands interact with their consumers, but the core principles of what makes a good brand will always remain. As social commerce accelerates even further in the future, brands must be cautious to not over-focus on designing for Instagram and maintain that red thread which runs across all brand touchpoints, on or offline.