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Distilling a brand

The luxe nature of spirits means that getting the packaging right is absolutely crucial. Nude’s Tony Enoch argues the case for allowing creative agencies more time to ‘distill’ a brand

Tony Enoch Nude Brand Creation

A glass of whisky is the distillation not only of water and grain, but also of generations of knowledge.  It speaks of soft rain, hard stone, seaweed, gorse, moss, heather and honeysuckle. Often laid down for three decades, it is the finest expression of the blender’s art, and when done well it is the very essence of Scotland in a glass.

It is enjoyed slowly too. A whisky is a drink to linger over, to be inhaled and rolled around the palate - to be fully understood. All this is true not only of whisky but of almost every spirit. From rum to gin, from vodka to tequila, spirits tend to be imbued with a sense of patience and careful discovery, whether that is in the creation or the enjoyment. 

So, given all this, why so often do brand teams ask their creative agencies to create packaging designs in little more than three weeks?

It is not that those brand marketers doubt the importance of packaging design in creating on-shelf stand-out, building consumer recognition, driving sales, creating a strong brand, and even influencing perceptions of taste. It has long been accepted by academics, marketers, and even accountants that packaging design has a strong influence on all of these commercial factors, and so these brand teams do invest financially in packaging design. The issue is that they do not invest enough time.

The Glenlivet 50 Year Old Winchester Collection – the smooth flowing one

When they do invest time the results can be startling. Take The Glenlivet – The Winchester Collection for example. Launched in 2014, this £25,000 50 year-old whisky is the flagship for the entire The Glenlivet range of 12, 15, 18, 21 and 25 year old whiskies, and the brand team understood right from the outset the importance of creating packaging that would generate a positive halo effect for the entire range.

Our team did not rely on a written brief, or accept second-hand interpretations of the essence of The Glenlivet; we spent time in the place so we could understand it for ourselves. It is a truly remarkable place. Set high in the wild and remote Scottish Highlands, The Glenlivet benefits from bracingly pure, rarified air, the pure mountain water bubbling from Josie’s Well, and the vital ingredient of time. For a long time this remote glen was a place where only the very bravest excisemen would dare to tread, and this gave the distillers the time they needed to craft a truly exceptional whisky.

The Glenlivet whisky is known as the smooth flowing one, a name which reflects its taste but also the Livet from which the whisky is made. Through the flowing lines of our design we aimed to capture the serenity and calm with which the Livet flows through the glen. This sense of place is reinforced with small details such as a bottle closure made from Cairngorm stone, mined on the Glenlivet Estate.

It was not only the immersion phase which took time; we also took our time to get production right. The flowlines running effortlessly up the bottle look simple but are the result of a long and complex production process. Initially everyone told us it was impossible. Then we spoke to the designer for the McLaren Formula 1 team, and he agreed to take on the challenge. After many hours of intricately plotting co-ordinates into the design software, we had a design that could work. 

It was produced using entirely British components, and we believe the result is stunning, as befits such a special whisky. Buyers clearly agreed. 100 bottles were produced and showcased in travel retail around the world. Despite a price tag of £25,000, all but one of the bottles has already sold, and the entire range has benefitted from the anticipated halo effect.

Dashen Beer – symbol of an emerging nation

That is by no means the only project we have worked on where the brand team invested time in fully immersing our packaging design team in the product and brand, but we find it happens less and less often. It is more usual now for brand teams to book research and plan business development activity before even appointing the packaging design agency. This imposes unnecessary deadlines on the design process and drives all involved to accept a solution that may be quick but is not necessarily right.

Look at Dashen Beer. Ethiopia’s number one beer, and made using only 100% pure malt, hops, water and no added sugar, this is a product that is loved by the people of Ethiopia and which is a symbol of the country’s optimistic and rising status in the world. The company is about to build a second brewery and decided that this major milestone should be marked with a refreshed label design.

The first London agency to tackle the task created a sharp, striking, icon-led label. It would have helped Dashen sit comfortably alongside the major global lager brands in bar fridges around the world. But it was in short entirely the wrong approach for Dashen. So, when they came to us we jumped at their invitation to go out and spend time at the brewery, meeting the people involved, and understanding how Dashen fits into its context.

That trip offered a wealth of insight. We learnt of the importance of green: it is the colour of the new barley crop flowering, and covers the foothills of Mount Dashen, and rejected by their consumers. Green needed to be prominent on this label. We learnt that, far from being the towering mountain on the current label, Mount Dashen is a fairly unspectacular peak. We showed this on the new label with the green foothills, distinctive Simian mountain range all set against the ethereal, seemingly unattainable grey-blue peaks in the distance. Most of all we learnt of the passion Ethiopians have for this beer. We left filled with a deep sense of responsibility to get our design right.

Back in our London studio we set about putting all this knowledge into our designs. We brought in an expert in Amaric script working closely with our new friends in Gondor; to create the lettering. We developed a beautiful metallic finish to add a lustre of quality and a subtle sunburst imbues the design with energy. We aimed to create a label that delivered the sense of warmth and joy of the people we had met in Ethiopia.

If the excitement of the launch party is anything to go by we succeeded. Throughout this day-long extravaganza of singing, dancing, and celebration it was palpable just how much the Dashen team felt we had captured the spirit of their brand. It would not have happened without the investment we made, and our client made, in a detailed trip.

These trips should not be a rarity; they should be the norm. It is only by making these journeys both in a physical and emotional; to see with our own eyes, and by meeting these people, that we can create packaging which is more than just a hurried after-thought, but is a fitting culmination of all those generations of knowledge and decades of distillation and brewing. Just as whisky speaks of soft rain and hard stone so too can the humble glass bottle and cardboard outer – if given the time.


14 December 2015