“On a purely visceral, visual level, I was seduced by these objects. The boxes and pouches and bags were exquisite. Each one was uniquely exceptional,” says Cullen, who is now senior director, global design, The Hershey Company. “I didn’t always know what was inside, but I didn’t care. I was so amazed I bought an extra suitcase just for samples. I had to bring them home with me.”
Since then, Cullen has gained insight into the power of package and brand design from every conceivable perspective. A design strategist, writer and educator, her career has included design and marketing positions at leading design firms Pentagram and The Pushpin Group.
In addition, she was department chair of Communication Arts at Otis College of Art and Design and has been a leader in the AIGA, the professional association for design, as national director of programs, president of the Los Angeles and Kansas City Chapters, president of the Brand Experience group and a director on the national board. Cullen also has been named an AIGA Fellow. She is a sought-after public speaker on the subject of design and business (and incidentally one of the keynote speakers at our upcoming Packaging that Sells conference, Oct. 22-23).
On the corporate side, Cullen has enjoyed the rare experience of building and advancing strategic design leadership for three iconic brands: Hallmark, Coca-Cola and now Hershey’s.
“Hallmark, Coca-Cola and Hershey have each achieved a unique status. They have transcended their functional role as products and have woven themselves into our collective culture. There are few brands that can make that move. It has been a privilege to work with these three category leaders. There’s incredible richness to the legacy of each,” Cullen says.
At the same time, she adds, these brands “are challenged in this new century to maintain their relevance and meaning for consumers. Their value and the role they play in culture can be strategically enhanced by design.”
At Hallmark Cards Inc., Cullen made design a strategic asset for the brand by building a design culture within the corporation. She sold top management on the idea of creating an in-house strategic design group that would focus on contemporizing the Hallmark brand and evolving brand identity and brand experience.
When recruited from Hallmark to The Coca-Cola Company in 2005 as design director, North America (later promoted to group director, strategic design), Cullen once again took a strategic design approach that impacted consumers and influenced the corporate culture.
With responsibility for all of the Coca-Cola brands in North America, she led a team of in-house design managers and external design firms to rethink design for the Coca-Cola trademark portfolio. “We challenged the category’s conventions of how the products could be represented through design. In CSDs [carbonated soft drinks] it’s all about refreshment cues-drops of water, melting ice and condensation,” Cullen says.
She adds, “I was intrigued by the notion of twenty-first century refreshment and how these brands could have meaning and relevance in this new century. What would that look like? Are there other ways to cue refreshment and desire beyond conventional solutions?”
The result was a strategic design framework that included packaging for Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Zero and Diet Coke. The new designs offered a fresh and authentic interpretation of the brands’ iconic visual elements-the powerful “Coke Red,” gleaming silver, bold black, the white ribbon and Spencerian script-to create a simplified, yet sophisticated system and color blocking strategy for the Coca-Cola brand family.
“We stripped away everything that was unnecessary to allow the real truth of the brands to come forward. We took what had become very complex and made it clear, pure and emotionally resonant in a way that could stand out in a crowded marketplace,” Cullen says.
This highly successful redesign paved the way for Coca-Cola’s new visual identity, which has in turn generated buzz in design circles and won an array of prestigious awards. Prominent among these is the first-ever Design Grand Prix, awarded to Coca-Cola at the 2008 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival along with a Gold Lion for the Coca-Cola aluminum contour bottle.
The new visual identity was the result of a yearlong collaboration that included Coca-Cola’s North American and Global Design and Marketing teams. Cullen led the North American team with agency Turner Duckworth, which created the brand standards for North America.
Throughout her corporate career, Cullen has viewed “design first and foremost as a competitive advantage-a strategic resource for business that gives tangible form and emotional dimension to brand strategy. From the graphics on the side of a truck to the pack in a consumer’s hand, every connection differentiates and drives at the core of the brand idea.”
At Hershey, Cullen’s focus is global design. This includes setting global design standards, building a global design function and strengthening Hershey’s internal design culture and external reputation. Currently she is leading the development of global identities for the Hershey brand and for Hershey’s Kisses.
Packaging will play a key role in this global initiative. Cullen explains, “Package design is critically important. It is the front line embodiment of the brand that is closest to the consumer. People pick the package up, hold it in their hands, unwrap it. It establishes a very personal and potent connection. As storyteller, communicator and instigator of desire, packaging is a key force in the marketing mix. It’s a strategic investment in brand engagement and brand building.”
Hershey’s numerous beloved brands-which include Hershey’s Kisses, Reese’s, Twizzlers, Jolly Rancher, Mr. Goodbar, Bliss and more-will provide many global creative opportunities for Cullen and her team going forward.
Building and leveraging design leadership to effectively advance Hershey’s valued portfolio of brands in the twenty-first century, while protecting their brand essence, authenticity and heritage, presents an exciting strategic challenge. “Design is transformative,” Cullen says. “I believe in its power and value, and I’m in a great place to shape what meaningful design can do.”
“Hershey’s, like Coke and Hallmark, is an iconic happiness brand,” she adds. “It’s all about memories and special moments, everyday indulgence and pleasure and fun. So how do you capture that and design a consumer experience that feels right for today’s time but also tugs at the heart of an enduring memory? That’s the challenge and the magic for me.” BP
NAME: Moira Cullen
TITLE: Senior director, global design, The Hershey Company
YEARS IN CURRENT JOB: Since November 2008
WHERE OR WHEN DO YOUR BEST IDEAS COME TO YOU? From living fully in the world…
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE ULTIMATE BRANDED PACKAGE? A Hershey’s Kiss, of course. It’s simple, accessible yet special. A sweet, irresistible little icon.
WHAT’S ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND? Flowers and lots of books. The one on the top right now is How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer. I’m fascinated by behavioral economics and the brain, and his book takes an engaging look at the role of emotion and logic in decisions.