Maxwell House Redesign Leaves Tradition Behind

There’s no mistaking the trend in brand and packaging design toward more streamlined brand identity and packaging. Suddenly, it seems, marketers are beginning to appreciate how simplicity and clarity go hand in hand to create more aesthetically pleasing presentations and more memorable communication.

Now, Maxwell House follows the lead of Pepsi (see Now Koke Smiling Too ) and many others with a revolutionary evolution of brand mark and packaging.

Most noteworthy in the new design is the absence of the trademark “good to the last drop!” slogan and cup. This is no small change. The overall look of the brand and package is a significant departure from tradition. Like Pepsi’s recent redesign, “departure from tradition” seems to be the mantra of the day.

While we may applaud openness to change - and we’re not talking incremental tweaks anymore - the consumer will quickly send a message to Maxwell House coffee bean counters: thumbs up or thumbs down ( see Caught Up In The Competition ).

Change always invites critique. So, assuming we endorse “change,” since without it designers would have little to do, I have some comments on the execution of this particular example:

The Logo - Pro: I think the strategically rounded Optima-like font selection is right on. Con: The off-center stack and poor kerning creates a train-wreck effect for me. I can’t stop looking.

The Yellow - Pro: Once again, great ®evolution. The introduction of warmer colors is a big plus and creates a sense of sunny, greet-the-day warmth that was surely lacking in predecessors.

The Cup - Pro: The oversized blue mug and its shadow preserves the presence of Maxwell House Blue. Con: Where’s the coffee!? The brobdingnagian cup, though serving a purpose, seems too much in my face and contributes nothing to appetite appeal or sense of coffee-drinking experience ( see Research in Package Design for Coffee ).

The Beans - R.BIRD did some work for Yuban many years ago and much attention was given to presentation of the bean. After dozens of illustrative and iconic iterations, we were still unimpressed even by our own work. The same goes here. If the bean is obligatory and given focus, there must be a better way. These beans, enlarged and in a ringed spotlight, don’t sing either.

The Brew Strength - The before package wins hands down with a highlighted color bar that was easy to understand. The new “triangle->medium” solution lacks context and seems more appropriate to an interactive environment (a web page, for example) where active involvement reveals additional meaning and relationship.

The Last Drop - Absence of the heritage coffee cup drip, the “good to the last drop” slogan and the steaming coffee image leaves no clear communicator of flavor or experience, which I feel is lacking in the new design.

Balance - Nothing in this layout is on center. Everything is off balance - as an element or even line by line. I’m not sure what the rationale might have been, but to my mind it creates a sense of instability that undermines confidence.

Kraft and the Maxwell House brand teams deserve credit for their courage to champion such a broad change in presentation of the brand and packaging on shelf.

Designers and coffee drinkers out there, what do you think?

Maxwell House On Shelf

Click on the image above for a full shelf set showing new Maxwell House package design in coffee aisle context.

There are 27 comments so far | Post a comment

Nick Ehrman said:

Interesting…I’d like to see in the context of the shelf.

Stratton Cherouny said:

Incredibly, the new packaging reads as more generic than ever. And getting rid of the slogan is mindboggling.

I can understand their decision on the tipped cup icon to some degree: the form factor of the old tea cup reads more “diner” class than premium coffee experience in today’s Euro-Cafe-Experience-Opoly. And there may have been test issues with a cup that’s being emptied rather than filled. However, even those issues could have been carefully redressed without throwing heritage out the window.

The new packaging may relieve some technical shelf presence issues and eliminated some perceived negative associations (speculation on my part). But what remains appears sadly soulless in comparison.

R.BIRD said:

@Nick Ehrman: Ask and ye shall receive! We’ve added a shelf set reference to the end of the original post. Click on the image for a full shelf set showing new Maxwell House package design in coffee aisle context.

Nick Ehrman said:

Holy cow…that is busy…reminds me of the cereal isle. Interesting to the see the old and new next to each other. Like all the blue relative to Folgers..not crazy about the new type treatment. Thanks for sharing.

Jerome vaca said:

I would like to see the a steaming cup of coffee on the label though I did not notice it until I read this article. Okay here is what bugs me though, I bought canister with a handle thinking it would be easy to handle and pull off the shelf. The handle is made for a woman’s hand not a man’s hand. I can’t get a comfortable grip of the canister I make sure I grab it correctly or I will lose my grip to it. Make then handle bigger so everyone can grasp it comfortably.

Anonymous said:

I think the new can stinks. Makes it look like a discount brand. I hate yellow and orange. Reminds me of “Morning Express” format on CNN

Anonymous said:

Maxwell House joins an unfortunately long list of brands which fail to understand or appreciate the depth of their customers’ “emotional attachment.” It’s “New Coke” or the redesigned “Tropicana” label all over again. I bought Maxwell House because it was the brand my parents drank, and that tilted cup and “Good to the last drop” slogan were a constant and pleasant reminder of my childhood. But for that “psychic value” Maxwell House is frankly no better or worse than Folgers et al. Its the same reason I pay a “premium” for Morton Salt, Arm & Hammer or Betty Crocker versus cheaper brands (generic or otherwise). The ironic part of all this is that other companies have enjoyed success by highlighting the tradition/nostalgia angle. I don’t know how many cases of Pepsi “throwback” I bought just to taste REAL sugar in a cola again! I’ll also shop at Cracker Barrell just so I can buy Cracker Jacks in a box and/or other brands of candy, etc. in their original packaging. Suffice it to say I’ve now had my “last drop” of Maxwell House! The only reason I bought it over any other brand is now gone!!

Jeff said:

As I sit this moment and meditate on the cup of Maxwell House I’m consuming-something is missing from the experience. I found it hard to find the blend I enjoyed-the ‘Original Roast’. Yes, it said it on the label, but the Yellow label threw me off-I always associated the yellow label with the ‘Master Blend’ which I always thought was horrible and second rate. I had to make sure that I was really buying what I wanted. Also, how many roasts/varieties does a coffee brand need before it becomes overkill? I counted at lest six… then I stopped counting. Maxwell House has lost it. I am currently looking for another coffee brand that will bring me the same day-to-day coffee experience that I USED TO enjoy with Maxwell House but simply do not anymore.

jv said:

The package isn’t the only thing that changed. The coffee also changed, and not for the better!

stockdoc said:

instead of an obvious link to
tradition and history (a unique plus for Maxwell House,
not shared by many other coffees), the new design ELIMINATES it…..how does this become a smart thing to do?…..until I read a description of the label, I did’t even realize that it’s
a CUP…..my unconscious sense
of it was just swirls and multi-blues, not much more tasteful than the set on ESPN sports report…..bright, shiny objects for the masses…if that’s your market,then you did well…but without the drop, without the tag line, without the right orange accent, without a little romance of the history, a word about the
beans’ origin….you’re just another mass-produced Hills Brothers GOBBLYGOOK….no soul, no identity, no roots….instead of the lack of imagination of mild, medium, dark, couldn’t you link such descriptions to regional styles?…..this label is committee corporate robotic INANIMATE….isn’t coffee supposed to be warm, considerate, a BREAK from the treadmill, a brief fantasy, connection with roots, personal? …….PLEASE….. reconsider this busy, sterile bright shiny non-message OF A HOMOGENIZED NONDESCRIPT present and future which isn’t all that inviting….it is cold dead, as opposed to
warm, human, crafted and ALIVE….what does half a coffee cup in a shadow SAY???
What were you THINKING????

Joe said:

Not only is the packaging different but so is the taste!

imarsman said:

My uncle, Simon Marsman, was the artist who drew the original Maxwell House coffee cup logo. He was an industrial artist working for a design firm and lived in New Jersey.

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BHolte said:

I HATE the new HANDLE on the Maxwell House Coffee, blue plastic, 30.6 oz container. It is very difficult for smaller hands to hold. Long fingernail make it almost impossible. Please go back to the old handle design with the negative space.

Vittoria said:

Yes, I second BHolte’s comment. The new handle on the 30.6 blue plastic container. HORRIBLE. Give us the old one back! I can’t grab this thing quickly without it nearly slipping from my fingertips. You can’t and shouldn’t hold a container this size with fingertips. I needs to be held with hand wrapped around the handle. The FORMER handle. Return it. Please.

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