Brand Innovators 2014
We award the people influencing branding and packaging today.
CRAIG DUBITSKY hello
BP: Craig, what do you do?
Craig Dubitsky (CD): I’m the founder and CEO of hello products LLC. Basically, my role is to see the invisible and, with our incredible team and partners, make it real.
BP: Why start hello?
CD: I have a fairly untraditional background in terms of CPG and design. I was wildly entrepreneurial in high school and college and had multiple businesses. I made money all throughout college because I simply saw unmet needs, and I capitalized on them. I’m a lifelong arbitrageur.
I started hello because when I looked at the oral care space, I found the products unattractive and similar, the visuals frightening, and the claims identical and emotionally and culturally disconnected. The category was all about “killing” and “fighting” things — as if there was this war that was being waged in your mouth. I realized that I didn’t want to kill or fight anything; I just wanted to be able to say hello to someone. I wanted something more friendly. Why not make effective products that actually taste delicious? Oh, and why not make them look gorgeous? Ta-da, hello.
Pastimes: going to stores both all over the world and in my backyard and looking at daily use products (I’m serious!). I’m also a major music nut … music all the time … everywhere.
Best for last, my awesome family — my wife is incredible, brilliant, generous, kind and gorgeous. She is a clinical psychologist, grew up all over the world, and speaks too many languages to list. Without her, I’m nothing! Our incredible kids: son is 12 and daughter is 9, and she wants to work at hello. She sampled someone randomly who ended up being connected to a major retailer, and they’ve since taken our products — and now I owe her a commission!
BP: The brand uses cheeky copy and isn’t afraid to be “cute.” Describe the positioning.
CD: In the oral care category, brands tend to focus on claims that feed off of fear and shame — great drivers, don’t get me wrong, but I’d like to think that culturally we’ve evolved our thinking somewhat. A little cheekiness, a little more humanity, a little more friendly can go a long way.
BP: Hello clearly is open to bonding with buyers — consumers can Skype you from the brand’s website. What does “seriously friendly” really mean to them?
CD: We wanted to really walk the walk and talk the talk when it came to being seriously friendly. Part of our goal was (and is) to make personal care personal again. So we set up a Skype button on our website, and yes, it’s really me that answers.
What we’ve found is that consumers are incredibly excited by the idea of getting a response from someone whose picture they can see on the company’s website. It humanizes the experience with the brand and turns hello from a “company” into a group of passionate folks that you can easily approach and interact with; we’re not anonymous and cold.
BP: Hello is young and runs on a handful of folks while marketing against large brands: How can startups begin to level the playing field?
CD: Hello is an asset-light company in terms of physical infrastructure, but we are asset-heavy when it comes to brand — soul, emotion, innovation and relevance. This, coupled with the fact that we have no layers and no legacy, allows us to be incredibly nimble and responsive to the marketplace, to various opportunities, and, most importantly, to people. I want to be very, very clear: I am in humble awe of global brand owners. What they do, and the scale to which they do it, is nothing short of incredible. The benefit to being a smaller company is you can obviously move much faster. Smaller companies can act on a gut instinct. They can adjust and adapt quickly to various inputs — whether from a personal insight, the marketplace, or from a manufacturing challenge.
BP: Fans have equated the design impact of hello to oral care as Apple is to technology: You chose BMW Group’s agency, DesignworksUSA, to bring your brand vision to life. Tell us more about the packaging.
CD: Our philosophy at hello can be broken down into two simple ideas: Everything is art, and we are on a mission to elevate the everyday.
The oral care category seemed to be very masculine, very aggressive, to me. Bottles had hard shoulders or sharp facets. Tubes were easily crinkled and changed their form after their first use. We opted for softer forms with a touch of “pudge” thrown in for good measure: less weaponry, more beauty.
In terms of our paste, the idea was to create a pack that would generally look the same throughout its lifecycle, that was pretty enough to display, and that would greet and delight as you went to interact with it. We wanted to avoid secondary packaging — even though we had a lot to say about our product and that real estate would have been nice, we decided to pass. So, while there’s no room on the pack to let folks know the formulations are vegan (among a lot of other interesting facts), we actually thought it was better to not waste resources on a box.
Our bottle is made from six individual layers of BPA-free plastic, including an EVOH barrier layer and a final soft touch layer. That outer layer and the EVOH layer help to protect and maintain the integrity of our formulations, which contain no preservatives, artificial sweeteners or dyes. We wanted the cap to allow for a bit of fun, and the aperture features a fun shape that allows for the paste to be expressed like you’re decorating with a frosting tip on a pastry bag.
Our breath sprays are meant to have a “fiddle factor” and be fun enough to take out in public. The category is typically about covering something up — it’s covert. We wanted a little pod of friendliness that could be used with one hand and easily locks for safe transit. We worked to get the locking mechanism to produce an audible and tactile click that is fun to play with.
The rinse formulations contain no dyes, no alcohol and no artificial sweeteners. What in nature is electric blue that you put in your mouth? Nothing! So our formulations are all clear and do not burn or sting. You can actually swallow hello, so we didn’t need to have a child safety closure. We went with a pull-tab for tamper evidence, which is something people are getting used to seeing in the beverage aisle. The shape of our bottle allows for a very efficient pack-out, and we can typically fit three of our bottles in the space of two traditional rinse bottles.
BP: You’ve said “there are no boring categories, just boring executions.” Hello chose custom structures; how can brands make each opportunity at shelf shine, even with stock packs?
CD: We as consumers care about everything, and no category is too insignificant. So as brand stewards, obsessed packaging people and artists, it’s our job to help give people things that are magical. Sometimes the magic is in custom packaging. Sometimes the magic is just in the words we choose and the story the product shares directly or helps a consumer to create as they use and interact with it. There is nothing wrong with stock or traditional structures, and these can still provide great platforms for storytelling. For hello, we just wanted to create something a bit more unique because the oral care category had been utilizing the same (old) forms and materials for a very long time. The packaging is just a part of the story with hello, and our packaging will constantly evolve; this is just version 1.0.
With respect to other brands and their having to potentially reinvent the wheel every time they’re out on the shelf, I’d say if they feel they need to do that, then it’s probably time to focus on the brand story and ethos a bit more. Tone, copy, what you stand for … all of these things need to shine, and the packaging is simply part of that effort. A custom package with an emotionally and culturally relevant brand story is great. A stock package with an authentic brand story is still great. A custom package with a tired or emotionally and/or culturally disconnected story? Not so great.
Red Bull came in a traditional pack that used rolled aluminum can sheet, and it created the modern energy category. Vitaminwater used a stock package, and it redefined the RTD beverage category. Popchips used a traditional film bag. It’s not always about custom packaging; it’s about what your brand stands for and what the company believes in.
BP: What are some favorite projects of yours?
CD: There are so many brands that I love and admire and wish I had the opportunity to work on. In terms of brands that I’ve had some history with: I am a huge method fan. I was lucky enough to meet founders Adam and Eric when they were still mixing products in their bathroom before launching, and I was one of their earliest investors and board members. They had a keen understanding for the way culture had changed but the household cleaning category had not. They also knew how to make business fun, and that’s not an insignificant point!
The eos lip sphere is something I’m very proud to have been a part of. The design is so clean, and it perfectly evokes and embodies the ethos of the brand’s “smooth” essence. The fact that so many people have embraced the product is insanely gratifying.
BP: What really excites you about your work?
CD: As I’ve said, I think everything is art; I think everything is ripe to be reinvented, reinterpreted, reimagined. And that’s incredibly exciting. We’re just getting started with hello, and there’s much more to come!