When it comes to selling unsexy things—mattresses, pans, or generic Viagra™—a wave of new consumer companies have rewritten the rules with a predictable, practically interchangeable, visual playbook. Their trademark look is a checklist that’s quickly growing stale: negative space, pastels, full-bleed photography (preferably of ingredients), a well-curated Instagram, and models who ooze American Apparel. The uniformity is largely due to Brooklyn creative agency Red Antler, which branded 3 of our 5, and whose success has spawned a wave of imitators.
These brands are meant to be flexible and work elegantly across packaging, marketing, and whatever pop-up experience is du jour. Simplicity is a key feature for these upstarts with little history and few of the resources of minimalist brand north stars such as Apple, Google, et al. But their simplicity is also their weakness, as uniformity renders them shallow and indistinct. To highlight their similarities, we studied their most visible place, homepages and advertisements, and looked for the five most typical elements. Let’s dig in.
In the grand history of the blands, Casper will forever be known as supreme leader. They shuffled on the scene with fresh, fun illustrations, and a simple, nap-inducing look. When they started, the B to C mattress company felt anything but bland, but their big visual idea (a souped-up Ikea catalog scene) quickly metastasized, providing the blueprint for the following bland brands.
Like Cinderella’s slipper, Allbirds can make you into the yuppie princess you were always meant to be. Hailing from artisanal San Francisco, they made a splash with the tech crowd first and focus on sustainable materials. Bask in the whimsical photos of sheep, bamboo, and carefree millennials that give these wool and wood shoes their energy.
Millennials buy couches, so you better believe there’s a bland just for them. Their big thing is that it’s easy to put together, take apart, and reassemble their furniture—a nice innovation for apartment nomads. Their site is exceedingly spare, but their photography style stands out by often posing models face down, turned away, or otherwise obscured.
Insider tip: Hims sells stuff for guys. Hair-loss medication, ED pills, skin care, gummy bear vitamins, shampoo—you know, man stuff. Well, everything (except the ED meds) are also for women (and sold by their sister brand Hers). Their style is metaphorical plants with shedding leaves or unable to stand tall. Add pastel backdrops and voila—a men’s health bland.
For every major life event—marriage, moving, graduation—there are new homegoods. Evoking a 70s cookbook, Potluck offers a minimalist “Essentials Bundle” with saucepans, a skillet, and a pot. They neglected three of our criteria, but they more than make up for it with a site so beige, so spare, so boxy, that you hardly realize it’s there.