In the last month, Asia has been a sea of red and gold as we celebrated Chinese New Year. As a newcomer to Singapore, learning about the significance of CNY has been a fascinating insight into Chinese culture, and as a designer, it’s been interesting to observe how modern brands have translated traditional stories and motifs into their products and communications.
As we enter the Year of the Snake, an animal signifying wisdom and business nouse, it’s no surprise that there have been plenty of reptiles slithering around. From the cute and cuddly to the sleek and sophisticated, brands seem to be putting their own spin on this year’s zodiac. Most popular sports retailers have released a snake inspired shoe for the season which reflects their own brand personality. Nike for example, released an ever-so-serious looking pair of black-adder pumps, while Stussy’s snake inspired collection is true to their streetwear style. In Chinese culture, colours are considered auspicious or inauspicious. Red and gold symbolize good fortune, joy, wealth and prosperity, so it’s little wonder that most limited edition packaging at CNY is a beauty parade in this colour combination. Calvin Klein, for example, produced a truly lucky pair of undies – a red and gold pair that featured a cheeky gold snake slithering up the side. While some brands sensitively integrate the colours into their palette without compromising their identity, others appear like a brand simply trying on new clothes for the sake of pleasing others.
Many brands are similarly guilty of caricaturing traditional motifs, like the beautiful Chinese paper cut illustration, with little consideration of how it relates to the brand itself. Coca-Cola on the other hand, have used this style as a reference, executing it in their own unique way to deliver their consistent story about happiness in the context of Chinese New Year. Interestingly, Rolls Royce, who last year produced the extravagant Year of the Dragon Phantom Car (which was valued at over $1.3 million and sold out within 8 weeks), decided not to produce a serpentine version this year. According to their press release, they’re very considerate of the choice of zodiac they integrate into their products and don’t see the snake as a particularly appealing animal for their market.
The most successful pieces therefore reveal a sensitivity to the underlying significance of traditional themes and interpret them according to the unique voice of the brand. Topshop for example, celebrated CNY for the first time this year by producing a fashion film called The Lanterns. Without featuring stereotypical symbols, the structure of the 58 second film communicates an honest respect for the traditions of its modern Chinese consumers. The brand currently has over 10 million followers on its Chinese Weibo site and is opening its first store in China in May. According to their Chief Marketing Officer, as a global brand, they recognise the importance of understanding what matters most to their consumers.
But perhaps the most considered campaign this year has come from Johnnie Walker. Whiskey is a popular gift for colleagues and clients at this time of year, and the brand has certainly made the most of the opportunity. Following the dragon-inspired box sets of 2012, this year, Johnnie Walker released a collection of 12 bottles, each etched with a different zodiac. In traditional Chinese culture, the number 8 is as lucky as they come, so the brand limited the edition to only 88 bottles – all of which sold out within two weeks of the launch. Going a step further, Johnnie Walker also collaborated with three bars in Singapore to design a series of bespoke cocktails that feature their Gold Label Reserve. Respecting the significance of the colour gold, the cocktails were aptly named ‘Good as Gold’ and ‘Liquid Luck’, and infused with flavours of special significance like mandarins and plums (which signify an abundance of wealth).
When approached in a thoughtful way, events like Chinese New Year offer great opportunities for brands to reflect their customs and traditions in a way that is meaningful, both to the consumer and to the brand. Strong brands don’t simply mimic traditional motifs and dress in the right colours; they use story to make a deeper connection.
Sankt Gallen, a brewery located in the Kanagawa region of Japan, has unveiled a unique way to enjoy their famous malt beverage: with an edible glass. The brewery has recently gained notoriety for their chocolate beers, notably their imperial Chocolate Stout: an ultra-dark beer that lists “chocolate malt’ amongst its ingredients. Indulgent, yes, but definitely delicious!
I was in Singapore recently for a few days, for business and a bit of fun too as it coincided with my birthday! After a busy day at the office, a few of us headed round the corner for a well-earned drink. Now, you know how much we value the importance of storytelling here at Elmwood. So when we came across a little cocktail bar called Bar Stories, we had to head inside…
In the bar, there was no menu in sight. Instead, you order drinks by telling the mixologist how you feel.
How was I feeling? That evening, it’s fair to say I felt conflicting emotions. Knackered, jet-lagged, but happy to be in Sing and out celebrating my birthday. So a few shakes, a few stirs and a few pours later, the bartender had rustled up a cocktail adventure especially for me – featuring smoked lavender for its relaxing properties, passion fruit to refresh, and plenty of spirits of course. The piece de resistance, balanced on top, was a silver spoon – my birthday gift – holding a scoop of lemon sorbet for some added zing.
What a great approach: a brand tackling the emotional need-states of its patrons rather then offering those easy-fix functional cocktails. A totally different offer and a clever way to add even more theatre to a birthday night out.
Posh dos. God, they’re a pain aren’t they? Particularly if you don’t like wearing a suit. Especially if you don’t even own a suit! I do own a suit, but reluctantly. It clashes with my style, which has been described as “too casual for my own good”… I’m also going through a bobble-hat phase… Bobble-hats and suits don’t mix. Not at all.
But, I sucked it up, and donned the old whistle. And looked quite dapper, I must say. Uncomfortable, but dapper. I blended in; I didn’t look like my usual self. When I got to the party I was glad I’d suited up. Firstly people came and spoke to me, which was nice. People listened to what I said, which was also nice. People EVEN laughed at my jokes, which was brilliant. “I am a hit at this party”, I remember thinking. “I’m glad I am this bloody uncomfortable”. (On a side note, there were people dressed more smartly than me, but I have since learnt there is always one knob in a cravat).
The ability to change my guises and ‘blend in’, to make sure those who are used to the suited and booted look aren’t put off and will actually talk to me – it’s a good skill to have. I can adjust my image, with relative success, to communicate appropriately to different audiences. So why can’t brands?
Well, first off, it’s not very wise. You can’t be Harley Davidson and say you’re going eco just to appeal to the green army. You also can’t say you’re one thing when they say you’re something else… But you can say you are one thing and then say nothing at all…
Consider this… You are Starbucks (now, I know my history with Starbucks on previous posts, but stick with me). You are Starbucks. Coffee now is huge, but in London people are edging away from mainstream coffee houses, like Starbucks and Costa, to go to cooler places, where baristas have facial hair and ombréd backcombing and serve flat whites in old school glasses not cups. Where the coffee isn’t branded by big multinationals and the man!!
I went to one of these places in a library in Dalston at the weekend. Rakish taches, check. Dip-dyed hairdos, check. Cool coffee concoctions, check. Cool cliental, check. Good coffee, double check. No branding, check! So imagine my surprise when I did some digging and found out…
You can guess where this is going… Yep. Starbucks. Peel back the green, the naff seasonal messaging and this is the result. A cool coffee shop. A non-branded franchise. With moustaches and hipster hair.
But how did I feel about it…? Well, I felt divided. Just like I am able to put on a suit and schmooze people who aren’t my usual crowd, should a company (and a brand) have the same tricks? Well, no, but was it a good coffee…? Yeah.
Most people don’t like dishonesty. Let’s take Tesco’s undercover coffee house, Harris & Hoole. Now they have been spectacularly outed in The Guardian, they’ve come under fire for cheating people into a false sense of coolness!
“Now I find this is Tesco… It looks like a small indie. It is disingenuous. It makes me upset. I feel duped.” Carol Levine, 50, a Crouch End physiotherapist, no longer enjoying her lunch break in Harris & Hoole.
The coffee may be great, but it’s left a bitter aftertaste. And when you’re the country’s least trusted supermarket brand*, it goes to show – Every Little Helps.
*Source: The Drum Nov 2012
Pirate teddy bears, 1000 piece puzzles and silver platters… Just what you’d expect to see at Congers Flea Market on a Saturday afternoon.
But Coca-Cola’s Limited Edition Centennial Pack? Not so much! That’s right my friends – six mini bottles with the 100th Anniversary sticker that I’m sure once gleamed brilliantly on pack. A showcase for this iconic bottle’s story from 1899 to 1986. Starting with the ‘Hutchinson Bottle’, we see this beauty go from curve-less to curvaceous through 90 years of design evolution.
“Buy! Buy!” I hear you shout. I tried. By the time I spotted this gem, it was already in the clutches of a crazed Coca-Cola collector. She’d just picked up the pack for a mere $10 and flatly refused to sell. Fine.
My persistence in trying and her persistence in shooing me away led me to question a different matter. Why did we both want this? Why were we oohing and ahhing over a beat-up pack with one leaking bottle that a lot of people would’ve chucked in the trash? If it were a different brand, would I still have haggled so hard? Probably not.
As one of the most prominent brands to move into the collectible category, Coca-Cola reaches out to consumers through collection to win, in my view, the ultimate brand loyalty. Connecting with people on an emotional level, this is some deep stuff.
To many, Coca-Cola is more than an icon; it is a recaptured memory of happiness and youth. People like ‘Ms Coca-Cola-Crazed’ search all over the globe for new memorabilia, no matter what the cost. There’s even a Coca-Cola Collector’s Club… I kid you not.
So, I guess I really had no chance of getting this pack off her hands. But I would love to see her collection. I imagine it to be a little something like this…
A collector’s dream indeed and lookie here folks, I spy the Centennial Pack! Do you? I know your eyes are going Coca-Cola crazy now. Second shelf up, hint hint.