a collection of old crayons we found, c. 1970s?

My youngest son is an aspiring artist and a bit of a pack rat. (I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.) This convergence of traits, coupled with the every-fall-we-need-to-buy-a-new-box-of-crayons-‘cuz-they’re-only-29-cents syndrome, had led to a huge pile of Crayola crayons in the corner of his room, underneath his easel.

Of course, his contention was that “he might need one of them.” But how many Apricot crayons does one really need? So I decided to help him go through the pile of several hundred crayons in various conditions and keep only the best 2 or 3 examples of each color.

The "good" crayons after sorting

even the "fake" crayons look like Crayolas

And in the process, I was struck by Crayola’s brand consistency. We found no less than 5 different label styles in the pile, but they were all unmistakably Crayola. Even the knockoffs from RoseArt — and those hideous imitation crayons you get with the kid’s menu at casual dining chains — looked like Crayola.

Over the last 125 years, Crayola has done a great job of consistent branding. As I see it, they:

  • kept a consistent look and feel to their packaging and product. Even though the look has evolved with the times for more than a century, the relationship between the appearance of each generation is unmistakable, and even the very first crayons are remarkably similar to today’s.

4 generations of Crayola crayon labels

  • remained focused on what their brand was about: color and creativity. At times, they strayed a bit beyond their core strengths, but you would have to agree that Crayola’s current offerings of markers, crayons, and other tools for childhood creativity is pretty tightly focused.
  • managed market conditions. When markers became popular, Crayola didn’t doggedly stick to a “crayons-only” philosophy; they saw the relationship between crayons and markers and jumped aboard, even improving the category with washable markers that parents and teachers could trust.
  • survived ownership changes. Did you know that Crayola is owned by Hallmark? Yes, the greeting card company. Since 1984, they’ve been a wholly-owned subsidiary. But they’ve kept the brand and messaging consistent.
  • adapted to a changing world. For example, Indian Red and Prussian Blue have become Chestnut and Midnight Blue, thanks to enlightened racial views and changing political maps, respectively. (This website has some interesting info about the evolution of the Crayola crayon.) But changing a couple of color names didn’t change their market strategy or their brand.

Early Crayola crayon box

Current Crayola crayon box

We can learn a lot from crayons — there is something creatively liberating about being given a box of colors and a blank sheet of paper for everyone from 2-year-olds to octogenarians. But in this case, I think we can learn a lot from Crayola as well. What can you apply from Crayola to your brand?