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Hill's Science Diet mobile ads

Unite Marketing and Design with Trust and Purpose

Julian Zeng

Hill's Science Diet mobile ads

The pet food redesign project that became a perfect love story

Trust and commitment were the defining principles that drove Hill’s Pet Nutrition Science Diet redesign. Hill’s, in collaboration with its parent company Colgate-Palmolive, sought to stay true to its roots of nutrition, science and research when reassessing the look and feel of its pet food brand. Each team member put their heart and soul into the redesign, according to four project leaders that spoke about their experiences at HOW Design Live.

Jennifer Giannotti-Genes, associate global design director at Colgate-Palmolive Company, addressed the power of collective passion when creating something new. The main values they encourage any team to follow:

  1. Be open: Welcoming something that comes from outside of oneself inspires more iteration and ways of working. Team members trust each other’s capabilities more than in other situations.
  2. Keep it simple: Be mindful of others and make real choices. Decisiveness is paramount to forward momentum.
  3. Be brave: Don’t shrink from new, bold ways of expressing one’s brand. Taking risks can often push a brand to the top of its category.

Audience Perception

To move forward, however, the team realized it needed to analyze how its brand was perceived by its target audience: dog and cat parents. Hill’s could feed these pet owners all the nutrition information it wanted through its packaging, but in the end realized people were only concerned with the love for their pets. Hill’s and Colgate-Palmolive conducted research groups in which they were instructed to draw Hill’s packaging from memory, according to Global Design Manager Luca Torregiani. The results showed people focused heavily on the Science Diet brand, while the Hill’s brand shield had much less staying power. Many comments stated that the food resembled something made in a lab, coldly and efficiently generated for animal nutrition.

Design Comes to Life

Hill’s decided bright, prominent imagery of happy dogs and cats at all stages of their lives was crucial to embodying the company’s mission. While animal nutrition was essential, Hill’s recognized the imperative of how healthy and happy animals can be by consuming their products. Fate struck when Hill’s met photographer Michael Faye, who photographed shelter animals and beautifully captured their emotions. Their values aligned, and the design process moved ahead with vigor.

Julia Beardwood, founding partner of Beardwood&Co (the project’s design agency), emphasized the fast, iterative work they did by deconstructing existing packaging into key visual elements. They translated briefs from written to visual, more easily expressing ideas and building a common vernacular. Knowing pet parents want transparency, Hill’s clearly showed kibble size, wet food textures and simple food ingredients without overwhelming shoppers with information. The food needed to shift the needle for pet parents, showing that the food will taste good and is veterinarian-recommended, without losing sight of the core science, nutrition and company heritage.

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Key Results

After the months-long development process, the redesign launched on shelves and e-commerce sites to wide acclaim from retailers and shoppers alike. The top principles that emerged for the team, according to Oyin Enoch, global marketing director of Hill’s:

  1. Change and Trust: Having faith in the perspectives of your teammates inspires an appetite for new ideas.
  2. Right People, Right Time: Maintain respectful relationships with your partners. Ensure everyone’s voice is heard and that they’re excited about the project at hand.
  3. Shared Understanding: Don’t be afraid to hand-hold throughout a project—clear objectives avoid confusion.
  4. Break It Down: Deconstructing your design into individual elements moves the process along faster.

At the end of the day, Enoch said, what matters is passion. Design or marketing leaders must have passion and trust in themselves and the team. When leading a project, it’s important to have courage and vulnerability. Look for special elements of the brand and connect with them. If you’re creating something that you want the world to fall in love with, you have to love it yourself. “Trust in your instincts and put yourself out there,” Enoch said. “Your nose will lead you to the right place.”

Julian Zeng is assistant managing editor at the American Marketing Association. He may be reached at jzeng@ama.org.