Has Dorset Cereals design decreased distinctiveness?

I was interested to see that Dorset Cereals have done a re-design. It got me scratching my head about whether this would make the brand more distinctive, or less. I'd love to know what you think, so add a comment if you have a view.

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What made Dorset famous?

First, a quick rewind on the Dorset success in the last 10 years. Back in 2005 Private equity firm Langholm Capital bought a sleepy, worthy and unattractive looking breakfast cereal, and added a large dose of magic dust. The brand was transformed in terms of product, positioning and especially packaging, to become a highly desireable and distinctive brand. Sales and brand equity grew explosively through the latter part of the 2000's and into the 2010's.

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One of the reasons the pack was so powerful was the simplicity. This led to brilliant blocking on shelf for the brand, creating excellent stand-out. Colours were used to help navigation, which is how people often shop ("I like the blue one", rather than "I like the tasty toasted spelt flakes"). The window in the shape of a leaf was a stroke of genius to communicate naturalness, both in the shape and the way it made the product visible.

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The new designs

Fast forward to today, and we have a re-design. The colours have been kept, along with the visible window. But now the window has different shapes for different sub-ranges of cereal. And in place of the simple, uncluttered design we now have something that looks a bit like nice, country-inspired wallpaper.

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On the upside, the sub-range navigation is made easier by the different window shapes, and a clearer sub-range name at the top of the pack. I suppose the idea is to inject more personality into the designs.

Beyond refreshing design, to re-designing?

But I can't help feeling that the new design is trying to do too much. Rather than being simple, self-confident and iconic, the pack is now trying to tell a different story about each product. This could make the brand less distinctive, not more so, especially at point of sale. Here, the job of design is mainly to get the brand noticed amongst all the clutter and noise on shelf by distilling and amplifying the visual essence of the brand.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 12.57.45A warning bell rings for me when you see how much the website it talking about the design changes, here. There are several different ways of seeing the old packaging and the new one for each product. As you hover over a design with your mouse, the old pack appears. But some of the language says it all: "Don't panic! I used to look like this". Revitalisation should ideally refresh your brand properties, not radically change them, so that people don't really notice or get worried by a re-design. They can still find their product or find it even more easily. If there is a risk of consumer "panic", there is a risk of losing sales.

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In conclusion, it feels to me like Dorset has gone a bit far in the re-design, beyond refreshment to something more sophisticated but also more complex. But perhaps the back story is that the brand is in decline and lost some of its mojo, prompting the need for a more radical change? Do please share what you think!