We have a new friend who told us he spent 3 years designing a label for his new Spanish olive oil product. He asked us what we thought. We had to tell him it wouldn’t work. Ouch! That hurt both of us!

He created a lovely logo. It was a Mucha-style art nouveau depiction of the head an elegant looking woman. Around her head was a sun burst made up of radiating leaf shapes.

The brand name he chose, which was prominently displayed right under her, was Albores, Spanish for dawn. With bright olive green and muted gold, it was beautiful! But it wouldn’t work if he wanted sell on store shelves.

Why? Because the customer in a store is in a hurry, quickly pushing her cart four feet away from his product. On his beautiful label, the words “Olive Oil” were in the smallest font, but his brand name was big and bold. The artwork of the woman’s head could not be readily identified with olive oil. In other words, the customer could not determine what was in the bottle!

Now, if he intended to sell that elegant label at his olive ranch, the customer would know what was in the bottle. Here all that great artwork would be more effective. It would be appreciated as elegant, sophisticated, and stylish, and a great addition to any table.

But his goal was to sell this product in the supermarkets, and label rules there are different. In this venue, any product would be lucky to be seen, recognized, or purchased. Here the priorities are different.

The supermarket shopper has a lot on her list, very limited time, and a short attention span. The label now must satisfy her requirements:

1. Product Identification. What is in that beautiful package anyway? In this case, “olive oil” should be in the largest font size used on the label, larger even than the brand name, and large enough that it can be clearly seen from four feet away.

2. Distinguishing Attributes. “Organic, Spanish, Extra Virgin” should be the next largest font size. Now the customer knows what it is and why it’s special. Initially, she doesn’t care much about the brand name or logo. Only once you have her attention do you have the opportunity to sell her on your artwork.

3. Graphic Product Identification. The image she is looking for is an image of the product inside the package. In this case, it would be olive oil, olives, or olive trees, not necessarily a woman’s head.

4. The Brand. Ideally, the brand name (as well as the image or logo) should be directly relatable to the product. In this case, something to do with olives, olive oil, or how it is used. If the logo and brand name help identify the product, then they can be larger; if not, they take valuable label space away from essentials that must be communicated first.

So many commercial product brand builders give too much space on their label to their brand name and logo at the expense of what will sell it, which is a clean and effective communication of what the product is!

We say to our new Spanish friend, “We want you to succeed! So we had to be true to our years of real world experience in retail.”

The message here is to make your label practical first. Then see how you can make an effective brand statement. Don’t get all carried away with a great work of art that nobody will relate to your product. When it comes to practical label design, make a deposit, not just a statement.