Why ASDA's new design is a beacon of compassion

How bold packaging design serves to help customers shop more efficiently not act as ‘poverty markers’

Paul Domenet

Partner & Creative Strategy Director


The recent redesign of ASDA’s “Just Essentials” range is causing public outrage, but I cannot support the brand’s choice more as a creative director. Instead of seeing the bright yellow packaging for the cost-effective line as a ‘poverty marker’, I see them as little yellow beacons of compassion.

Economising shouldn’t be shamed. This is everyone’s issue, not just those whose lives are being compromised. And in the current cost-of-living crisis, we are talking about millions of people. We are going to see an increase in families placing more value ranges in their shopping trolleys.

Economising shouldn’t be shamed. This is everyone’s issue

Paul Domenet, Partner & Creative Strategy Director, Free The Birds

ASDA is refreshing its range with bright colours and evoking happiness compared to other own-brands on the shelves. The new range feels more ‘everyday’ and joyful rather than basic, and budgeted. So why is everyone so against it?

Brand investment during a cost-of-living crisis

“Why is ASDA investing in packaging design rather than just cutting costs?” - I suspect this is the question that circles in people's minds when they say the new design is ‘shameful’. And to be completely honest, they are not wrong. More often than not, industries are run by  accountants, and not visionaries. Some might even think that brands should spend their money on something more worthy than branding and marketing, and that brands have a responsibility to ‘help the current cost-of-living crisis by reinvesting money elsewhere to allow for lower prices’.

However, other, more compassionate industry experts would suggest that marketing is an essential part of business activities. It is here to serve a purpose and drive growth, not suppress it. Previous studies show that companies which have continued to advertise and promote their products during a recession, saw a 256% increase in sales compared to their competitors post-recession.

With the rise of food prices, we know that it is those FMCG businesses that invest in their brands to facilitate an emotional connection will be the ones to succeed. Effective branding enables businesses to sustain loyalty from the customers they’ve converted already, as well as generate new ones. Reducing spend on brand building - or stopping investment altogether - will cost a lot of honest working people their livelihood when the brand fails them further down the line.

A product redesign (should) provide optimism

From Tesco’s tagline of “Every little helps” to ASDA’s revamp of its budget range, it is clear that supermarket brands have always shown an act of compassion and defiance to economically challenging times for families. With energy bills on the rise, retailers are taking an active role in resisting the government’s guidance as much as possible whilst showing understanding and support for society.

ASDA is completely owning its decision, and I am fully endorsing it.

The brand should not be apologetic for trying to brighten people’s shopping experience during these tough times. The yellow colour is a symbol of optimism, joy and hopefully brings a smile to consumers’ faces. The new “Just Essentials” range won’t just be visible on the shelves but spread across the supermarket in shopping trolleys to self-scan checkouts. It’s a celebration for all customers, who despite everything, are making ends meet and aren’t feeling the public shame for picking discounted products. A signal that someone is proud to economise.

Cheap products don’t mean you cannot cook delicious family meals, so ASDA is trying to emotionally uplift its customers with a light-hearted design.

People hold a specific feeling of fondness towards budget supermarkets, like the fact that you can pick up good quality essentials for a reasonable price. Another prime example of a retailer that is celebrating its budget line of products is wilko. We recently worked with the high street brand to redesign its own-label range to better highlight item benefits and ease navigation on shelves. Further to this, we revitalised all brand assets to better communicate product effectiveness. We used soft on-pack typography and bold colour palettes to exhibit an encouraging, playful and assuring tone of voice to evolve wilko’s identity and reflect its product attributes of durability, ease of use, performance and accessibility to greater engage its core customer, working families.

It is more than a transaction

The relationship between customers and supermarkets is bigger than a transaction for a pack of sausages. There is an emotional exchange happening in all retail spaces, whether it’s conscious or subconscious. Whilst the level of this connection is unquantifiable; branding, marketing and the whole creative industry is part of this ongoing emotional process. As creatives, we’re building beyond the supermarket shelves and are tapping into people’s minds and hearts. ASDA, wilko, and all the other brands that are acknowledging the current situation - and are investing in ways to help customers feel heard - will be the ones building long-term loyalty. Those that listen and understand the demands of their consumers in the here and now, will be there in the future.

Guest Author

Paul Domenet

Partner & Creative Strategy Director, Free The Birds


Paul has carved a distinctive career out of elevating brands with award-winning words, from manifestos and campaigns, to scripts, stories and strategies. His sought-after blend of expertise bridges the best of the advertising and brand design worlds, giving him an unparalleled perspective when it comes to articulating what makes his clients stand out. As Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi, and their first ever Head of Copy, Paul oversaw iconic work for Toyota, T-Mobile, NSPCC, Guinness and Carlsberg. Later, at his own agency Johnny Fearless, he worked with Davidoff, Diageo, Grafton GB and led the acclaimed relaunch of the Imperial War Museum. He joined DewGibbons+Partners in 2016, which he later relaunched as Free The Birds alongside the other current partners.