Some kids dream of fighting crime or exploring far away galaxies when they grow up, but Bill Lunderman, VP of Global Strategic Brand Design at Colgate-Palmolive, knew from an early age that he would one day work in design.
That love of design and problem solving lead him to attend Southern Illinois University, where he studied under the renowned designer and strategist Buckminster Fuller. Lunderman cites Fuller, who applied design to solving global issues like housing, education, and poverty, as an early and lasting influence on his career and philosophy.
“Bucky had a unique approach to design and to looking at the world as a whole,” he says.
“I’m a product of that school of thought.”
Upon graduation, Lunderman took a job in a studio environment, but soon became disillusioned with the impractical nature of the work. As luck would have it, he met his soon to be wife and the pair moved to the Middle East, where they spent three years.
The experience opened Lunderman’s eyes to the global nature of design as well as the importance of experiencing and understanding world cultures. This would prove to serve him well later in his career, providing him with a unique perspective that would not only set him apart but also influence his work.
Breaking down barriers
Upon returning to the US in the mid-1970s, Lunderman set out to find work and soon landed at Revlon. The company was preparing to launch the legendary fragrance, Charlie. Positioned to appeal to the “new working woman” of the era, the brand was looking for someone who could understand the fragrance’s target audience and communicate its value proposition.
Lunderman’s life experience overseas and his time under Fuller’s tutelage made him the perfect candidate for the job. Among many firsts, Charlie was the first cosmetics brand to feature an African American woman in its advertising as well as the first to feature models wearing pant suits. Lunderman stayed at Revlon for 18 years.
|“We know that the best soup in the world is grandma’s. When you take soup home from grandma’s house, it’s in a jar, not a can.”|
Breathing new life into soup
By this time, it was the mid-90s and changes were occurring at another iconic American company—this time in a very different category. Then-CEO of The Campbell Soup Co. David Johnson was beginning to change the company’s DNA from that of a manufacturing-focused organization to a marketing-focused company.
He recruited Lunderman to help steer the shift in focus, which would be communicated visually, through the various brands at shelf.
Lunderman joined Campbell in 1993 as VP of Global Design and set out immediately to emphasize the way in which its brands interacted with consumers. This would become one of the core values that differentiated Campbell’s Soup from its counterparts.
“The importance of your brand at shelf is one of the greatest factors in terms of influencing consumers in connecting with your brand,” Lunderman says. “Consumers today aren’t buying products as much as they are buying values and experiences.”
Among the projects he was involved in was the introduction of a premium line of soups in glass jars to communicate a “homemade” value proposition. “Anything I’m doing, any project I’m working on, I believe starts from insights from the consumer,” he explains. “We know that the best soup in the world is grandma’s. When you take soup home from grandma’s house, it’s in a jar, not a can.”
A paradigm shift
Lunderman’s time at Campbell’s Soup would prepare him for his current position at Colgate, which began to undergo a similar philosophical shift around 2005, when he joined the company.
Ian Cook, who came up in the organization through marketing to his current position as chairman, president and CEO, began moving the oral care and personal care giant toward a focus on marketing. He recognized that Lunderman, with his experience at Campbell’s Soup, had the unique combination of experience and philosophy to be part of the shift.
“Today, Colgate is about innovation, and everyone is engaged in the process,” says Lunderman. “It is part of the culture from the top down.”
Two years ago, Lunderman helped create the Global Design and Packaging organization, which unified and centralized both functions corporate-wide. The goal was to put together an organization that allowed brand marketers and designers to manage their brands on a global basis and to influence all of the brands in a direct manner from both a structural and visual perspective.
No small undertaking, the project has changed the way in which Colgate views design as a business imperative, and has streamlined the process by which marketers and designers work on their brands.
It has also allowed Lunderman and his teams to examine and distill the essence of each of the three categories where the larger company plays: oral care, personal care and home care.
In personal care, it became evident that the key would be to communicate with consumers on an emotional level, and marketers set out to ensure that their brands were making an emotional connection in this highly personal category.
In oral care, marketers and designers immediately recognized the challenges of navigating what is notoriously one of the most difficult to shop categories and set out to understand how consumers were shopping. They recognized that the abundance of options was a challenge rather than a benefit, and devised a design system that allows the shopper to easily navigate from the most premium offering down to an everyday product.
In home care, which has venerable brands like Ajax and Murphy’s Oil Soap in its portfolio, the objective was to move the focus away from the drudgery of cleaning. A change in mind state meant a more relatable approach that has resonated with consumers who want to accomplish their household cleaning tasks quickly and relatively painlessly.
Lunderman’s career often reads like a “Who’s Who” of iconic brands and certainly he has worked with the best and brightest in the industry. When asked what his favorite part of the job has been, he replies matter of factly: “I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years, and my favorite thing about my job is my job. When I don’t feel that way anymore, I’ll stop.”