‘But Who is Betty Crocker?’ A critical interrogation of the use and presentation of people and personalities/celebrities in international packaging. The questioning of the commercial and cultural significance and value of people/celebrity endorsement and celebrity brands, considered within social, historical, design and marketing contexts
This study aims to investigate and interrogate how and why packaging design incorporates portraits of people/celebrities (illustrative and photographic) in the identity and promotion of the product or brand. The research aims to interrogate how the face and name of an individual can be used for a limited fashionable period or how it can become an established and enduring symbol of a product or company and an icon within, and as a construct and reflection of, consumerism and popular culture.
Whilst it is established that much theoretical consideration has been given to the role of celebrity in advertising and film (Klein, Dyer, Williamson) research into, and the interrogation of, the role of the celebrity and non-celebrity in packaging remains a relatively untouched sphere of contemporary visual culture study although the symbiotic relationship of the disciplines is acknowledged. Our culture enjoys a plethora of familiar, popular real and unreal people on packaging yet little is documented or discussed in relation to their existence in terms of their histories, rationale for incorporation and the extent of their cultural and commercial viability.
The study aims to draw upon studies and activities in relation to the latter whilst embracing and exploring key theoretical texts relating to cultural studies, media studies, marketing, semiotics and design history (e.g. Ewen, Katz, Wernick) and the investigation of the creative practice of designers and companies.
It is recognised that the study of the existence, histories and types of fictitious commercial cartoon characters in advertising and packaging design is established; however, it is the interrogation of people in packaging that this study focuses upon. Research to date has identified key people types that include: the product originator (e.g. Jack Daniels), the transient personality (e.g. Gareth Gates and Pepsi), the unreal or fictive celebrity (e.g. Captain Birdseye), the illusive personality (e.g. BettyCrocker), the family member (e.g. Aunt Bessie), the anonymous (people who we cannot identify) and celebrity own brand (e.g. Paul Newman). The study aims to question how and why such images are used, how they can become historically entrenched as an enduring face of a product or indeed a fleeting face of packaging that reflects popular trends and limited fame timescales – thus linking the ephemeral nature of packaging to the ephemeral nature of celebrities.
The research project also considers and questions the extent to which examples of packaging are culture and time specific – do they appeal and have relevance within specific countries or regions? Are they able to transcend and cross cultural boundaries of language and identity, and if so, how?
Key questions also include: (indicative)