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“We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us”

It’s almost a punchline: a politician asking a room full of advertising execs to ‘trust’ him. But that’s precisely what the UK’s Labour’s deputy Tom Watson said.

Citing the inclusion of refined sugar in our foods and drinks as a major contributor to the UK public health crisis, Watson called on the ad industry to stop using cartoon characters on sugary food and drink packaging. In an Advertising Association speech, he sugar-shamed Frosties, Nesquik and Coco Pops, calling them (in a snappy strapline of his own): “billboards on table tops aimed at tiny tots.”

Throwing down the gauntlet, he stated that if the UK ad industry could harness its collective might to take sugar off the table, he’d be its biggest advocate. And if it didn’t, brand owners and advertisers would soon be staring down the barrel of increased regulations.

Sugar-Coating the Problem

At Geometry we recently hosted an event as part of our Captivate series, inviting panellists to debate some of the key challenges facing the industry. With remarkable prescience, the topic was the role of responsible design – with a supporting exhibition called 'Cereal Killers' born out of the very same design challenge: what if you couldn’t feature Tony the Tiger on packs of Frosties? (And no, we weren’t leaked a preview of Watson’s speech.)

Ranging from the absurdist to the plausible, we watched eight designs come to life with the creation of our own brand Coco Nuts, complete with cheeky character Nibbles the Squirrel. Our master pack deliberately copies the direct, and often naïve design codes of the cereal category.

The designs aren’t meant as design solutions, but creative provocations that explore the strengths and weaknesses of what responsible design really is – whatever the category.

A Roadmap for Responsible Design

While this collection of designs doesn’t solve Watson’s concerns, it does highlight the challenges: responsible design isn’t the sole responsibility of brand owners. It’s part of a dialogue required between brands, consumers, government and nutritional bodies.

Get it wrong, and we could see cigarette-style health warnings invade our kitchen tables.

Get it right, and it’s a springboard for enhanced creativity. Responsible design could actually drive brand growth (for all the right reasons) in the face of increased marketing regulation.

Please click here to read the full piece by Chris Ambidge, our Head of Brand & Design, published in The Drum.