How Vanity Fair Paper Napkins Loosened Up Its Look While Staying True to Its Premium Roots

Fancy serviette brand rolls out new packaging

Earlier this year, the Vanity Fair napkin brand quietly trotted out a new campaign with ads that showed everyday people making everyday messes during everyday meals. Afterwards, they reached for Vanity Fair napkins to dab the corners of their mouths as a liveried butler stepped in and proclaimed, “How lovely!”

What these chuckle-inducing spots didn’t show was the complicated bit of brand adjustment the 59-year-old company, a unit of paper giant Georgia-Pacific, was actually doing. Since its founding days in postwar America, Vanity Fair, with its soft, thick linen imprinted with an elaborate filigree, has been known as the Cadillac of paper napkins.

But the invasion of generic brands and the overall loosening up of the American mealtime required the brand to perform a delicate balancing act: retaining its heritage as a premium brand while simultaneously presenting itself as an everyday product suited to any occasion.

Now that balancing act has moved from the screen to the product itself. Vanity Fair’s updated packaging has just emerged fresh from an overhaul at Flood Creative. How does a plastic-wrapped pack of paper napkins convey a look that’s at once refined and accessible? As it turns out, through a bunch of subtle packaging cues that Stuart Whitworth, the boutique firm’s chief creative officer, explained to Adweek.

The script

The capital letters are gone. Now the name tilts ever so slightly up toward the right. “Lowercase felt more hand-done, more modern,” Whitworth said, adding that the slanting script “has connotations of positivity” while also feeling looser. “It wasn’t constrained to feeling flat and linear,” he said.

The brand mark

With the block of red from the old packaging removed, the marque itself had to be larger. “It’s about the brand impression on the package,” Whitworth explained. “We knew we were stripping it down, and [the brand name] would be more about black and white, and becoming a hero for the brand.”

The variety

Rendered in larger block capitals, “Everyday,” one of several napkins Vanity Fair makes, is a more prominent reminder that the napkins aren’t just for special occasions.

The use of red

Before too many copycat brands crowded the category, the red color was a differentiator for Vanity Fair. But instead of discarding it completely, Flood Creative decided to use the color in more subtle ways, such as the lettering and the ingredients in the salad. “From a distance and almost subconsciously, the red is still there,” Whitworth said. “The red onion and radicchio were there to help cue the heritage, just not in such an obvious way.”

The seashell

In a world of imitators, retaining a reminder of the brand’s heritage—“Quality Since 1958”—was important. But to amplify the message, Flood put it inside of a seashell. “The seashell is almost a brand secret,” Whitworth explained. “It’s embossed on the napkin, and it’s always been part of the brand.” Many shoppers may not pick up on this cue, but “loyalists,” he added, will.

The food photography

Rather than adding more text, Flood chose food photography to help distinguish the different varieties in the Vanity Fair lineup. Cocktail napkins bear a highball glass, while everyday napkins have a salad, and so on. As for conveying extra absorbency, that was easy.

“We wanted something that felt messy, and spaghetti was a favorite from the beginning,” Whitworth said.

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