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Build on not bolt on

“Are we in good shape? Are we fit for purpose? Are we ready for the challenges ahead?” These are natural questions for brand owners at this time of year.

Brands are the markers in people’s lives, the ones we grew up with, remember with affection, regardless of their presentation, and we feel protective, and importantly emotional about.

In the drinks world, brands have a particular and extended role, they play host and they take pride of place on the cabinet. They speak of social confidence, and standing.  They can reflect an upgrade (from 12 years to 15) or a degree of knowledge (blend to malt) or maybe a new year salary rise (cuvée to grand cru).

And we don’t need them. . . . they are more accessory than necessity.  This means they have to work very hard, to earn their space, and their place, in our lives.

Most great and enduring drinks brands were once family owned and produced.  They were much more than accessories, they were a legacy, products of passion, commitment, expertise and pride.

These families knew all about earning space, and through a combination of their diligence and commitment created individual presentations which fascinate with their eclectic compositions. And importantly, convince with their authenticity.

Herein hangs the problem.  Today these familiar faces are brand orphans, most often the property of new owners.  No longer family, and with political and regional agendas, ‘going forward’ often has more resonance for new owners than ‘looking back’.  Uprooted but with plenty of activity around them, these brands can struggle to keep in touch with ‘from whence they came’.

Today’s brand guardians must be supremely mindful of this, truly understanding the brand’s journey.  Restaging not discarding.

As life increases in complexity, we take heart and comfort from the intangible, what is there because it always has been, and what is there because it was no-one’s place to change it. Or what is there because new generations had to bide by, (and respect) their founder’s rules.

However, if we look carefully, what some may call ‘baggage’ and I call ‘gems’, are alive and well.

“Afore ye go” the cheery tagline of Bell’s whisky skips gaily around the capsule, having once had pride of place on the label.  It sums up in those three little words, the personality of the brand.  Hospitality, generosity, friendship and warmth.  All good things and definitely not thought up in a brainstorm.

Sadly, the best words in the business, Lily Bollinger’s eulogy to her beloved champagne has been removed from the packaging, only to be replaced by generic wallpaper, presumably in the pursuit of progress.

Sometimes these ‘gems’ need a helping hand.  Some twenty years ago I unearthed an old label in the distillery archives at Lagavulin. The islanders, a feisty lot, had their own way of describing this potent malt.

“Time” they said “takes out the fire but leaves in the warmth”

Commissioned to design the new label for new owners, I gave this descriptor centre stage.  Ensuring this local lore lived on.  And it does, and under subsequent ownership, it’s still there today.

Legend and authenticity run a fine line, we can make room for both.  Captain Morgan, that rogue of the rum brands, has done its homework, peeling off the layers to reveal a fascinating man. We all want to know more.

Sometimes we need to spin a story, but often the real one is patiently in place, and the gems are waiting to be treasured.

Lost in translation

As Cyprus reminds us of the fragile economic situation in Europe, all eyes are on the rise in spending power of BRIC. Emergent markets will set the pace for premium wine and spirit brands.

While Hermes play their product expertise to the Indian market with exquisite silk saris, and Ralph Lauren tailors bejewelled and beguiling accessories to appeal to the Chinese, what can we do to ensure our wines and spirits don’t get ‘lost in translation?’

‘You taste what you see’ puts packaging in prime position.  Product experience will be tempered by design and will need to be in less experienced markets.

It’s critical that our brands are not disorientated as Bill Murray’s ‘Lost in Translation’ film character was, in a Tokyo bar…

Less than 1% of the Chinese population are able to speak English fluently, which means symbols and images as communicators become vital. They speak volumes and carry important but subliminal messages.

A brand name is an invitation to participate for the consumer, but pronunciation can be a burden or a blessing. For example, ‘R’ can prove hard to pronounce in Asia prompting the Remy Martin bar-call to be affectionately known as ‘the man headed horse’. But this consumer bar call was thrown away as a generic detail on the design. New packaging placed the icon centre stage, locking up with the brand name and dramatised on the carton. A sleeping equity was brought to life reinforcing a connection that transcended language.

Vietnamese Lunar New Year (Têt) is the most important and popular holiday festival in Vietnam. It’s a time of celebration, family reunions, ancestor worship, gift giving and firework displays. Gifting is a vital part of culture and ‘lucky’ presents are given to enhance relationships. Imported whisky and cognac gifts carry a potent message of respect, appreciation and gratitude.

The Johnnie Walker brand walks tall with imported status, the ideal gift for men. The icon endorses the dynamic, masculine values of the brand and Têt packaging made the hero ‘walk the talk’. Full size across the pack fronts, the highly recognised icon in-filled with exuberant and decorative patterns of gold embossed fireworks, nods to local culture.

Apart from winning the eye in a ‘dark market’, dramatising the ‘Striding Man’ helped drive brand awareness and build visual equity through the rest of the year.

Local nerves can be good to touch!  By direct comparison with the previous year, Têt volume sales of Johnnie Walker increased by 63%.

Chinese New Year packaging went a step further in embracing local culture by following the same principle. This time the hero drawn by well known local artist Pan Jlanfeng.

Chateau Mouton Rothschild also plays to its strengths commissioning local artists. A Chinese artist created the 2008 label. Xu Lei features the signature ‘mouton’ standing on a rock between two half moons. Rumours alone that a Chinese artist had been chosen, saw the value of cases rise from £1,800 to £2,200 overnight.

In turn Chateau Lafite features the Chinese figure eight on the bottle of its 2008 vintage celebrating a new vineyard venture in China. Number eight is particularly auspicious as the Chinese word for eight ( ba) is similar to the word for prosperity ( fa ). To the professional eye, the marketing brief shows and the mark is something of a ‘bolt on’. An immediate price spike has not been sustained.

Designers can now confidently expect packaging briefs which are mindful not to be ‘lost in translation’. But, as brands look to engage with local markets they must also ensure they stay true to their DNA.  The chameleon adapts with care.

Mary Lewis

Creative Director, Lewis Moberly

15MB of fame

The connectivity of the internet has opened up a palette of seemingly unlimited possibilities that are fundamentally changing the nature of brand design.

This month Heineken has tapped into the web’s endless opportunities and democratic principles, by opening up their latest design brief, to the world, for the second year running.

Crowd sourcing a new limited edition bottle design to celebrate its 140th year, the competition gave entrants total freedom to delve into Heineken’s past, and play with the brand DNA to create a cool new design.

Heineken received over 2,000 responses from ‘emerging designers’ around the world. Shortlisted at a live judging event at Milan Design Week, the winning entry was created by a young designer from Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Meanwhile Beefeater Gin releases a new limited edition bottle compiled from 1,000 images sourced from Londoners during a competition, and designed to “pay homage to the creativity of Londoners”

Leveraging this power, right at the heart of the brand – its packaging, can be a digital double-edged sword: are you creating a brand connection or a brand chameleon?

Crowd sourcing creates a powerful engagement platform that provides ‘buzz’ around the brand, and the ultimate chance for consumers to contribute and craft the brand they love.

However, brands need to be careful in seeking their 15MB of fame. To ensure that they are not projecting a latent message that they do not have a vision, or sense of what they stand for.

Heineken and Beefeater are strong brands but it’s interesting to note that brands like Apple, perhaps the ultimate example of a brand with a clear vision, do not crowd source.

The world’s strongest, most consistently successful brands are built around a strong and enduring emotional connection.  Their underlying idea and ideals do not really change because they play to core elemental consumer needs and desires, codified in high value ideas and icons.

Johnnie Walker celebrates manly progression, Persil unlocks the freedom to play, Apple empowers creative exploration.

In desire to keep these high value ideas fresh and contemporary, there could be a delineation between the brand in the hand – the most pure expression of what the brand stands for, and how it creates the energy and vitality around the idea.

Successful brands are like enormous wheels moving forward.  At their centre they move slowly, almost imperceptibly evolving.  And in this strength, solidity and clear focus the brand provides emotional reassurance.

Establishing that laser-like focus, what I call ‘polishing the crown jewels’, requires a ruthless dumping of the baggage and detritus that gets in the way of the core idea.

At their edges, where the brand wheel moves fastest, in communications, experiential, events, digital activity, the brand feeds off the energy and creativity of breaking new ground.

And in a world of fragmenting media, freshness of expression is needed, to grab and hold consumer attention.

Limited Editions stand somewhere in the middle.  A marketing tool for generating interest but one that remains right at the heart of the ‘moment of truth’, when consumers are looking for brands to deliver on their promise.

Striking the right balance between freshness and focus is a tough challenge that requires navigating a fine line.

Sub-contracting this process to consumers demonstrates interactivity but does it really show the imagination brands strives for?

Mary Lewis.

Creative Director Lewis Moberly.