The 3 Things Tina Fey Taught Us About Package Design

Tina Fey with Alec Baldwin -- Growing Your BrandTina Fey is a woman of many talents. Comedian. Actress. Writer. SNL alumna. New York Times Best-selling author. But package designer?

Lemme explain.

Tina has made mental and emotional disconnects a work of art. Anxiety and quirks as something to be cherished. Politicians as something to be laughed at with friends. So have any of these abilities helped us forward the art and discipline of package design and branding?

Tina Fey: Package Designer Extraordinaire

Brands that successfully break down the walls of “Us, the Brand” versus “You, the Consumer” are the brands that connect and win. With the 26,000 new products that come out per year, the consumer—you and I included—are formally in the age of information overload (even if we can see Russia from our house).

Tina has shed light on how to win in this environment, where absolutely nothing is sacred nor above a bit of fun and humor. (The original version of this article was published as 
“Brands Just Wanna Have Fun” in Package Design magazine.)

1. The Alec Baldwin approach to language

Lighten Up: The answer is using humor to make a package become an extension of the customer’s values and sensibilities.

In 30 Rock, Tina’s universe of the absurd, she uses Alec Baldwin as the voice of “rational absurdity.” One of the ways this fun is achieved is through the humorous text and insightful wit of Alec Baldwin’s character. Not the kind of humor demonstrated by Mickey Mouse, but one that conveys: “We not only get you, we are you.” (How else could we know what to poke fun at?)

In the case of Legacy Chocolates, we surrounded the package with chocolate trivia, chocolate history, and smart text lines like, “May cause chocolate envy. Share responsibly.” Even in this day of endless media messages, consumers still find time to enjoy lighthearted, insightful and witty snippets, which is why we further injected this irreverent personality into a series of posters. And few are as instantly intimate as the outer package of gourmet chocolate. Just ask a chocolate lover if you don’t believe me.

Why? Because the package makes the brand seem so informed without being preachy or overly academic. Let’s face it: Foodies love little-known facts, tips, and trivia. So why not embrace that interest and offer what everyone else has so routinely avoided? The result was a fun-filled elimination of the line between food magazines, food shows, luxurious indulgence, and a smattering of 
Tina Fey-like commentaries on the gift box.

With Big Dot of Happiness, their shipping boxes were virgin territory. We wanted the box to be the poster child of femininity. So, we covered the “mailing side” with a nonstop barrage of “catch phrases” that captured the spirit of the brand (and more importantly, the spirit of their customer). The back of the box introduced a mini-billboard with “The 3 Phases of Dothood” which married the spirit of shopping with being a woman (since Big Dot serves a 100% female customer base).

2. The Tina Fey school of making heads turn

The Inside Joke: Ever notice Tina’s knowing smirk as in “did you get the joke….yeah, you!?” So did we.

In the case of Botanical Bakery, the fun factor of the brand started with the “smiling leaf lips” logo of the brand itself and carried through with speech bubbles that announce each flavor. In fact, the logo allowed us to make the leaf lips different colors (like lipstick) that would correspond with the different flavors. An additional fun factor was the concept of “beverage pairings,” which, for a gourmet shortbread cookie from Napa Valley, is a first that we have seen. Food pairings for foodies introduced a terrific (and fun) point of interest and conversation.

Potion #9 roared out of the gate with a name that immediately made consumers start humming the tune “Love Potion #9,” a song first released by The Clovers in 1959 and later turned into a No. 3 hit in 1965 by The Searchers. Like a Sarah Palin impersonation, it would have been a disaster to try to be a serious gourmet chocolate sauce in that highly competitive category. So we developed a unique voice—an unserious one—that respected the values of chocolate lovers while embracing a lighthearted approach they could call their own.

3. In the words of Tracy Morgan, 
“That’s crazy!”

Words, Attitude, Twist: Tracy has turned fears, quirks and irrationality into a profitable business. We thought, “Okay, we can do that.”

Imagine my trepidation when we were commissioned to brand a new gourmet burger restaurant in the Midwest. Trust me, if you don’t know the Midwest, the one thing that is not in short supply is (besides cheese curds and cheeseheads) someplace to buy a burger. Yet, here we were, having to create a fun, cool, and different brand that would get the attention it deserved rather than being just another burger joint. The theme was burgers and trains.

The campaign immediately put its unserious stake in the ground with this headline we developed as the brand’s position: “Chew. Chew.” This theme was introduced in a fold-over sound card that played, upon opening the card, an old train movie sound effect. So when Bridge Street Station (named after the street it’s on) needed takeout boxes for their gourmet burgers, the answer came in the form of creating “train luggage.” Consumers walk out 
with their train-themed burgers in vintage luggage complete with destination luggage labels.

And if all that wasn’t enough, we even got Don, the owner, to pose as a conductor, turning him into an interactive direct mail piece that could even, under the right conditions, do the YMCA dance. Needless to say, kids went nuts and dragged parents in to get their own “Don, the Conductor.”

The truth is, life has gotten serious enough, but brands don’t have to be. Humor can cut through the overload of products, the overload of promises, subtle product distinctions, and the “seriousness” of being a customer. Done intelligently, it can help a package bond faster than a marathon of Saturday Night Live political skit reruns.

People enjoy fun. And in case you haven’t checked recently, consumers are people.

So start injecting fun into your brand for the people in your brand strategy. Need an outside view to find your “fun sweet spot”? Drop us a line.

Photo credit: Featureflash /

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