John Nunziato on Branding

Nov 30, 2021

Have a Point of View: John Nunziato, Little Big Brands

by India Fizer , AdForum 15 November 2021

Nowadays, everything moves so fast that we barely have a moment for reflection. We sat down for a conversation with John Nunziato, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Little Big Brands, to discuss the importance of preserving legacy brands, from a branding perspective, as we move forward.

Tell us about your role and how long you’ve been working in the world of branding. 

I’m the founder of Little Big Brands, which I started 20 years ago. I actively creatively direct projects, and collaboratively work with all departments, from strategy to new business and design. I’ve been in the branding world a bit longer than that though – working at some well-known firms prior to striking out on my own.

Are there some common staples or tropes that have developed in recent years within the industry? How do these compare to the ones of 10 or even 20 years ago? 

I still feel like design professionals and branding experts are undervalued in the chain. We see a lot of companies that consider their ad agencies the holy grail for handling the integrity of their brands. In reality, branding firms, I think, have a better grasp on it. We create and nuance brands and have a broad ability to play within all fields of brand creation. We have a firmer grasp on the strategic engine behind a brand’s DNA and have been trained to express and evolve that essence and purpose. 

What were some aspects or qualities about brand strategy from the past that you feel modern branding could benefit from adopting? 

Brand strategists back in the day relied less on 40 people in a focus group telling them what to do with their brands. They trusted their branding partners and their internal teams. They had guts and glory in my opinion, which made for much more engaging brands. Today everyone is scared of what “Nancy” in one focus group had to say. Have a point of view. William Bernbach said, “If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some people against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you and nobody for you.” I’d much rather have a brand that a small group was passionate about than be lukewarm to the masses.

Was the work approached differently or have the methods remained the same?

Yeah, I believe they just went for it in many cases. They had an intuitive approach to what consumers might enjoy, it was more positive, more fun and engaging, they weren’t held down by fear. Social media has made it particularly easy to trash brands. 

How has branding strategy evolved to keep up with technological and cultural advancements such as smartphones and the internet?

Technology has made strategy faster for sure. We rarely do ’traditional’ strategy or research these days. Data is readily available to the point of paralysis. Information is more wide-reaching and inclusive. At the end of the day though it’s a consumer standing in front of a shelf or scrolling on a screen. What’s the personal motivation to pick up one brand, or click buy?

Do you feel as though ageism is a problem in the branding/design industry?

Not at all. I feel for the younger generation, in that many of them haven’t been trained properly. For years, some of the larger agencies vacuumed in students and gave them no real training, no access to clients, or even took a moment to teach them how to present and work with people. I was lucky to have excellent guidance along with a healthy dose of being thrown into the pool and having to figure out how to swim. I think many agencies give lip service about culture, but at the end of the day, most of them are motivated by the bottom line, not their people. 

What brand designs do you remember seeing when you were younger that left an impression on you and why do you think they stayed with you?

Man, who didn’t love cereal and cereal boxes as a kid? We had no cell phones or TV in the kitchen. The back (and front) of that box was my world and I loved it – shout out to Fruity Pebbles and Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch. Another brand I’ve always spoken about was the Pathmark “NO FRILLS” private label brand. It stuck with me because grocery money was tight in my house, so No Frills was our go-to. I remember the White can, Blu and red logo, and just a word ‘meat’ or ‘peas’ to indicate what was inside. It made me think about why low cost had to look that way and started my curiosity toward branding.

Looking to the future, where do you think the branding industry is heading?

Sadly, these days brands are mostly built to sell, starting with zero intention of it ever truly becoming something other than a payout. There will be very few new legacy packaged brands. When it comes to store brands, they’re just not built for the long haul these days. Legacy brands need to be preserved but continuously updated, it’s a tricky balance. It’s one of the reasons I love working on heritage brands – it’s much harder than a new organic cake mix from Tim & Sally bake shop that only has to survive for a couple of years.

Reprinted from adforum.

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