We live in a very socially aware and diverse world and in this day and age, more and more brands are being called to do better to ensure that people of all races, backgrounds and religions are represented in the products they make and launch.
However, knowing what your consumers want and getting it right requires deep research, innovation and multiple rounds of testing. This is something that brands such as Crayola know clearly, having used consumer feedback and research to guide its long history as one of the top children’s crayon brands globally.
Speaking at a breakout session at the Qualtrics Experience Management Summit in Salt Lake City, Andrea Hutson, the senior manager of consumer insights at Crayola talked passionately about how the brand went from launching its first box of eight crayons to using trend data, insights and consumer feedback to launch incredible products such as washable crayons, scented markets, and its most significant, the Colors of The World collection.
Crayola’s Colors of the World
Crayola’s Colors of the World is a box of crayons that was first launched just over 30 years ago. Branded as "Multicultural Crayons" at the time, the product aimed to help children see themselves represented in the crayons that they use.
“Parents and kids really liked it when it first launched and kids loved that they could draw and represent themselves and their families more accurately", said Hutson. However, very quickly, consumers changed their tune and began saying that while the product was good, it was not exactly what they were looking for and they wanted more.
“So, for example, there was a true black and true white crayon in the box. We know people aren’t those colors, but it was there to darken or lighten other skin tones. But unless you're an art teacher, you probably wouldn’t have known that,” said Hutson. She continued by saying that this challenged the brand to see how they could better represent skin tones.
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“Based on the feedback, we decided to better represent skin tones by expanding our palette and we also decided to look at the product line’s name again,” Hutson said. She added that during this time, they did a lot of research and even enlisted the help of two industry experts, one of whom works as an expert in the beauty industry for companies such as MAC Cosmetics creating foundations.
“He’s an expert at developing these colors and he helped us develop our skin tones for the new products,” she said. She continued by saying that doing this level of research also inspired internal changes. “We started talking about our hiring and how we can ensure that there is diversity internally as well as inclusion.”
“So, with our expert’s help, we developed 24 new colors that represent over 90% of global syntax, the other five to 10% can be achieved by mixing colors, but we felt like 24 was a good number to reach the vast majority,” said Hutson.
However, developing the colors was only the beginning. The brand wanted to make sure that its attempt to be inclusive permeated throughout the entire product and that it would be appealing to many different racial and ethical groups. “We wanted to make sure that we didn't step in any landmines. We wanted to make sure that it made sense to kids but that it didn't create any serious racial discussions or political discussions [that you might have to have] with a five-year-old,” she said.
To do this, the brand began an intense process that considered concept testing to package testing. However, its greatest focus went into naming the colors. “We wanted to make sure that they were inclusive and that they sounded appealing so that no one color was seen as better or worse than others,” explained Hutson. She added that it was also important that the packaging told the story and that even the look of the crayon labels was inclusive.
“So, for all of these studies, we set up sessions with our friends from different cultures to help to make sure that we were talking to different racial and ethnic groups to make sure that we were including everyone,” said Hutson. She then illustrated how the brand went back and forth with these groups with packaging and names to ensure that every group approved of the ideas.
The response was then incremental, according to Hutson. She noted that many teaches in particular loved the idea and said that they would buy the new colors in addition to the original ones.
“It did really well. People loved that we were representing different races and also that Crayola was valuing diversity and allowing kids to draw themselves and the world around them more accurately.
Changing the name
This was when the team started looking closer at what people were saying. “We combed through thousands of comments and created word maps. We saw that many people were using words such as 'inclusive' and 'representative'. They were saying that they feel like they belong. However, there was a small minority of parents who said that they didn’t want to draw attention to racial and ethnic differences this way,” said Hutson. "We needed to make sure that we took their feelings into consideration."
To do this, the brand decided to look into the product's name, Multicultural Crayons. Noting that Crayola was never sure about the name of the line, it decided to test the new product names. "We tested 10 other names and asked people if they liked it, does it make sense and more," said Hutson. Through aggressive testing, the name Colors of the World came through as a very clear winner.
"So, we felt like okay, we really have something good here and the reason that they liked it was that it is inclusive. It promoted unity. It didn't specifically say anything about race or skin tone, and [consumers] liked it," said Hutson. She added that consumers also thought it was more kid friendly as it did not draw attention to any differences. So, the team decided to run with the new name.
From there, the brand had to look at its packaging and to consider if it was really appropriate for the message they were trying to send out. Hutson talked passionately about how many options Crayola's creative team came up with and how each option was tested with customers to get feedback and to gauge purchase interest.
"We had to make sure that it didn't look too much like our regular crayons because we didn't want there to be any confusion in the marketplace," said Hutson. She continued by saying that the team went into so much detail that they would get feedback on the front of the package, the back of it and even the sides.
Relaunching the product
The product was finally relaunched in 2020, just weeks before the tragic death of African American civilian George Floyd by a white police officer that incited riots and protests across America. The violence that followed made the brand proud of the work it had done to ensure that their new crayons were appropriate, inclusive and exactly right for the climate they were in at the time.
The response was immediate with many taking to social media to share how they were enjoying the new crayons and product. One post in particular that Hutson highlighted was that of a mother who had written her family's names on different crayon colors, representing all their skin colors.
"We got so many positive comments from people around the world, and I think the best part was when we saw our Colors of the World coloring book in the hands of a young child evacuating from Afghanistan. Obviously, we didn't plan that but when we saw the image on the news, we were just like, wow, look at that. At a time of unrest in this child's life, the one thing she brough with her was this coloring book," Hutson shared. She added that you couldn't get better publicity than that.
Since then, the line has expanded into markers, colored pencils, multiple coloring books and more with the brand continuing to work on new products consistently.
Hutson concluded by saying that ultimately, failure was what enabled Crayola to create such a groundbreaking product and that it was in that failure that they had the opportunity to learn and to try a new approach.
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