The Kroger Co. this week unveiled a comprehensive new branding and marketing initiative that includes a tweak of its corporate logo and utilizes animated spokespeople called “Krojis” to help carry its message.
Stemming from Kroger’s first engagement with an external ad agency, DDB New York, the unveiling has drawn mixed reaction from a group of designers, brand experts and industry people contacted by WGB. In general, they are applauding the clever use of animation, the joyfulness and the egalitarian message reflected in the new approach, but they also expressed reservations over the new logo. Others worry whether Kroger—traditionally a humble brand in the midst of a massive reinvention that has not gone completely smoothly—is prepared to stand up to the new attention it is calling to itself and its brands.
What follows are more images, background and reaction.
'What's Not to Like?'
Todd Radom, a Brewster, N.Y.-based graphic designer who specializes in design for pro sports, called the change “an engaging brand refresh. The updated logo retains the quirky and kind of charming attributes of its predecessor, and it seems like it’s digital-friendly and well-constructed. The DNA and the history are retained thoughtfully here.”
“Thematically, the idea of ‘Fresh for Everyone’ seems spot-on. After all, what’s not to like about that? The Kroji characters are fun and attention-getting, but I do wonder how long they will retain their relevance,” Radom told WGB. “If the intent is to cut through the clutter and to put forth an ownable and noticeable brand identity and platform, mission accomplished. How this will age is another story entirely, but even a five-year window of relevance represents a win.”
'Adds Up to Mediocre'
Armin Vit, who runs a Bloomington, Ind.-based branding firm called UnderConsideration and an associated blog devoted to corporate brand reinventions called Brand New, expressed mixed reaction in a post this week, saying Kroger’s odd-but-iconic logo made for a tricky reinvention. The new treatment, he said, is “both not terrible AND terrible, which adds up to mediocre unfortunately.”
Of the Krojis, Vit wrote: “I think they are kind of cute, and the flexibility to create people of every gender, race and age on demand is actually quite brilliant but it feels like a random solution for a grocery store and, somehow, like an antiquated creative approach to take.”
'Dear, Oh Dear'
Brand New’s readers—a group of design critics generally not known for doling out universal praise—pointed out lots of minor criticisms of the logo, including some alleged sins of kerning, and were actively posting their own examples of what they might have done differently. An online poll accompanying the post showed about half of all voters calling the logo and the execution “bad,” but they were kinder to the Krojis. Just 38% of them called them “bad,” with 28% choosing “great” and another 34% “fine.”
“The hideous K is something they’ve been clinging to, weird and likely unintentional S-curve and all,” one commenter wrote. “Obviously, Kroger must find some equity in it since they've been using it for so long, but surely there's a better way to execute it. I'm very enthusiastic about the 3D characters, though. They're very cute and are carrying most of the weight in conveying the new tone of the brand.”
Another said: “Dear, oh dear, this is possibly the worst rebrand I’ve ever seen on here.”
Veteran industry consultant Mark Heckman reacted to a Twitter post on the new branding with a single word: “Zzzzzzzzz.” When pressed for more substantive remarks, the Bradenton, Fla.-based president of Mark Heckman Consulting said he’d be willing to retract the snore if he could be convinced he would also see “sustainable improvement” in the retailer’s stores.
“I have been through so many of these branding campaigns and unfortunately, have become a skeptic of most,” he said. “Unless there are visceral changes to the customer experience that accompanies a new logo or tag line, it just becomes an internal mechanism for shareholders to believe something interesting and new that actually warrants this attention.”
'More of the Same'
Laura Ries of Atlanta-based advertising agency Ries & Ries does not consider herself a fan of the new look and is a similar skeptic of Kroger.
“The logo tweak makes it less legible. Hard to believe they exaggerated the swoops more,” Ries said. “Focusing on fresh is going to differentiate them? I don’t think so. In a sea of sameness, saying you are fresh is just more of the same. Kroger is stuck in the mushy middle of the market. They aren’t upscale and organic like Fresh Market. They aren’t low cost like Walmart or Amazon. And they even don’t make shopping a pleasure like Publix. When you think fresh, Sprouts or Trader Joe’s or anything but Kroger probably comes to mind. Consumers have an image of Kroger in the mind and changing that is going to be difficult. Some cute characters might distinguish the ads but it won’t make much of a dent in the brand.”
In Jim Stengel’s "The CMO Podcast" published this week, Amanda Rassi, VP of marketing for Kroger , explained that the new brand followed 18 months of internal reinvention to bring a more strategic edge to Kroger’s marketing, media and creative teams as they, like stores, orient themselves to a fast-changing retail world built behind consumer data. In practice, that’s meant retitling dozens of jobs and acquiring new talent, and in advertising, bringing forward attributes of a brand that the company has traditionally been hesitant to share in a bold way.
“In today’s world, if the creative isn’t light-yourself-on-fire awesome, it’s not going to break through,” Rassi said.
'Stuck in Your Mind'
A key learning for Kroger as it explored agencies to work with and a new approach to creative was examining Instagram feeds of various grocery brands. Without corporate logos accompanying them, Rassi said, there was nothing to distinguish the photos of one supermarket to the next, giving Kroger the opportunity and challenge of cutting through a “sea of sameness.” The retailer considered several pitches, she added, but said DDB New York’s treatment “was the one that stuck in your mind. It was the one that everyone was talking about the next day.”
In that sense, mission accomplished.