How Design Nourishes the Bottom Line: The Story of ThinkThin’s Radical Transformation

by Kim Gaskins on 02/13/2020 | 5 Minute Read

It’s a familiar story. An established brand enjoys years of steady success until an influx of new competitors shakes things up. To regain its footing, the brand embarks on a dramatic redesign. 

What’s unusual about the version of this story told by ThinkThin (now Think!) is just how well it ends. The redesign, led by DDW, completely reversed a declining sales trend.

“There's a revolution going on where upstart brands aren’t playing by traditional CPG rules. They're using a lot of color, and they're using very gutsy, big, and bold names. It’s getting harder for legacy brands to restage themselves and retain their relevance,” said Ross Patrick, executive creative director at DDW.

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As America’s obsession with healthy snacking and protein-rich foods has grown over the past decade, so too has the competitive landscape for established brands in these categories. “ThinkThin wasn’t as differentiated as it used to be, and it was getting lost at the shelf,” said Mike Goefft, managing director at DDW. “Their signature beige coloring was an attribute that represented some brand equity, but it became an issue when other brands began to mimic or take inspiration from it,” added Patrick.

Additionally, the brand’s “thin” positioning had begun to feel dated. Focusing on weight is a faux pas that many health-oriented brands, including Weight Watchers and Lean Cuisine, have successfully addressed with dramatic design changes in recent years. Much like ThinkThin, Weight Watchers removed “weight” from the equation by adopting the shorthand “WW” as its official brand name. Lean Cuisine took a subtler approach, trading in its signature white box and neatly-plated meal graphics for black restaurant slates and a fresher, less-staged approach to food photography.

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“It’s all about health, nutrition, and body positivity now. When you look back at the ThinkThin name, you go, ‘Wait a minute—how was it called that?’ But that was years ago, and a lot has changed,” said Goefft.

The new Think! logo shed the word “Thin”—and all the baggage that comes with it—while retaining the same color and typography. Shortening the brand name meant that the logo could get enlarged on the package, which had a profound impact on the brand’s findability. When consumers were tasked with locating the old and new designs from a competitive line-up, they could identify the new design nearly six seconds faster with higher accuracy scores, according to data from Designalytics, a company that provides syndicated design analytics across hundreds of CPG categories. This is an impressive result, given that the majority of redesigns are more difficult for consumers to locate.

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DDW retained the brand’s signature beige coloring but added bold splashes of color to boost its visibility on retail shelves. This approach translated well to other channels, including advertising and social media. “The modern shelf set includes Instagram, and we presented our initial designs in that context in addition to the traditional retail environment," said Patrick. "Consumers might be seeing the product for the first time on Instagram, and they might be making their purchase decisions there. We needed to be a confident, vibrant, bold brand in that space."

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“Their Instagram is looking amazing now, and it's really all about the branding and packaging. The new photos are bright, they're vivid, they're bold,” said Patrick.

This color-forward approach also helped to emphasize product photography—which remained the same across old and new designs—and to drive taste appeal. “The brand knew that the taste scored very highly with consumers, but the old packaging wasn’t delivering on that,” said Didem Carissimo, senior design director at DDW. “Only the photography was speaking to the flavor, but some of the imagery looked similar across flavor varieties, so differentiation was a challenge for some consumers. Color also played a big role in making the line easier to navigate,” she added.

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In Designalytics’ consumer assessment, the updated packaging was significantly more effective at communicating the attributes that drive purchase in the snack bar category; notably, consumers were nearly four times more likely to report that the new design better conveys “tastes great.”

Since the new design’s launch, Think! has received priority placements from more retailers. “Some retailers were placing the bars on the bottom row, and they were difficult for consumers to find, but now you go into Whole Foods and other key outlets, and you really see them. They're very prominent,” said Janice Healy, account director at DDW.

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One of the most remarkable facets of ThinkThin’s redesign is its ability to effect revolutionary change while retaining and revitalizing so many of the same visual assets. “A lot of retailers are looking at Think! as a new brand. It’s been around for 20 years, but it just feels new, you know?” remarked Bill Larsen, director of client services at DDW.

Nothing tastes sweeter than winning over consumers, though. The redesign had a profound impact on sales, halting a decline, and returning the brand to growth. During the 26 weeks before the packaging change, sales for ThinkThin bars had declined by 7% compared to the same period in 2018. During the 26 weeks following the new design's launch, year-over-year sales reflected an impressive growth rate of 6%.*

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Traditionally, design and data are two disciplines that seem, at least initially, a little incompatible. However, for a brand embarking on a redesign, there’s immense value in having an objective view of how its current design—and their competitors’ designs—are performing with consumers. 

What are the current design’s strengths and weaknesses? Is it still communicating the right things to today’s consumers? How might the competitive context influence how the designer solves the problem? If more redesigns began with a data-driven understanding of these questions, there would undoubtedly be more success stories like this one.


Download Designalytics’ full report on the ThinkThin redesign here.

*Source: IRI, total U.S., multi-outlet, latest 52 weeks ending 12/29/2019. Data for Think! High Protein and Protein+ 150 Calorie Bars, including both single bars and multi-packs. Other factors beyond the packaging change, such as increased advertising and promotions, may have also contributed to the sales impact. Based on a custom research analysis with IRI data.

Photography credits: Katie Hehl, DDW, Think Products.

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