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Published:  23 July, 2008

The way a bottle is packaged has never been more important, but increasingly discerning consumers are looking for clarity and simplicity rather than gimmicks. Christian Davis talks to some of the UK's top designers to get the latest in bottle ideas and inspirations

The Times recently ran a feature entitled Label Lover or Trend Innovator?', in which it claimed to have instigated research into what makes a consumer buy one brand rather than another. Surprise, surprise, the Premium Knowledge' research discovered that advertising and marketing do matter: Recognition, that sense of "Ah, yes, I've heard of that. I know a little of its story, of what it's all about" plays a huge part in decision-making,' espoused the author, Lucia van der Post. Which is why brands that tell a story, that tap into something archetypal and engage the emotions are the ones that have the capacity to become truly global.' Premium Knowledge apparently also found that today's consumers are astonishingly sophisticated and knowledgeable. They love shops and great packaging.' The research identified six groups: trend innovators (21%), label lovers (10%), shopping junkies (18%), security seekers (20%), affluent altruists (15%) and trusting traditionalists (10%). (It doesn't mention where the other 6% went. Probably the stalwart don't knows'.) Sounds familiar, eh? But wine and the trade itself are novices when it comes to sophisticated branding, let alone advertising and marketing. The spend on Jacob's Creek and Gallo is paltry compared to Coca-Cola, Kelloggs and Nescaf, but according to David Muir, group development director of the Ogilvy Group, speaking at the Leading Wine Thinkers dinner on 9 July, Pernod Ricard UK is wasting its money on sponsoring Friends, the American soap on Channel 4. As he pointed out, approximately 75% of purchasing decisions are made at the point of purchase. Now, when most people talk about point of purchase they think about grotty leaflets and that thing of sales promotion folklore - the shelf wobbler,' said Muir. While these are important in drawing attention to your product, the most important thing is the design of the product.' Muir cited [yellowtail], the Aussie brand that has gone mental in the US, as a classy, modern identity. It screams Australia and New World' and simply jumps off the shelf'. So, how do you go about getting a bottle of wine or gin to jump off the shelf? As Mark Doherty, creative director of leading design agency Barlow Doherty, puts it: If you can get the bottle in someone's hand, then invariably it will end up in the basket'. Andy Sanders, joint managing director and design director of packaging at Robson Dowry, which has been handling the redesign of Stowells of Chelsea, says: You try to attract the consumer's attention. For example, with the Rosemount triangle - that is the hook that draws them in and then they start scanning for the grape variety. They will have an idea as to the country, obviously, because that is the way wines are displayed. You try to communicate country and varietal in an immediate and approachable way.' He adds: If you can achieve stand out ("look at me"), confirm point of difference, look modern, contemporary, communicate basic information and, finally, add substance to give a feeling of assurance, you're there.' Doherty concurs: It is about creating a point of difference when you walk into a sea of facings in a supermarket. Make it shout louder and if the contents are good enough they will get a return sale. People are looking for simplicity, a name that's easy to pronounce. If it does not create initial sale but stands out, then it will be remembered. Look at Jacob's Creek - why pick that up? Because it has simplicity, shows the brand name and its origin. It's about style, taste, description. If you look at food packaging, they use descriptors.' Colin Porter, chairman of CorpBrand, believes there is a bit more to it than this. He feels that a mention at a dinner party or another sort of endorsement also plays its part in that final choice. Porter also stresses the importance of the buyers at the major multiples. They are the gatekeepers, they are the ones the consumer trusts. You used to pay 12 for a Chablis that was awful, but the retailers have cut that out.' Responsible for the design of Blason de Bourgogne (see Harpers, 20 June), which seeks to simplify - even demystify - Burgundy for the more discerning mainstream wine drinker, Porter believes that the multiple buyers are looking for sophistication, more investment and innovation, all of which add value and yield a greater margin.

Brand new ideas Graham Shearsby, group creative director at Design Bridge, has an owl to thank for the bold look of Altano, one of the Symingtons' stab at a table wine brand. The brief was open and Shearsby was staying at the Symington quinta, looking for some insight, some inspiration'. He was kept up all night by, he thought, a car alarm. It was in fact a scops owl, an endangered species which nests in outhouses. Bingo - a distinctive image and an icon of the Douro. Redesigning Gordon's was a slightly different proposition for Shearsby and his team. The packaging of the best-selling gin had not been touched for about 60 years, but own-label was snapping at its heels and the brief was to differentiate the product. Gordon's is a classic, like a Jag or a Mini,' says Shearsby, but it has associations with Margo and Jerry from The Good Life and the Queen Mum. We had to make it contemporary, confident - the brand leader, to try and bring in some younger consumers.' So the label was shrunk, simplified to allow light to shine through and highlight the green. To give it distinction in the face of me-toos, the bottle moved from a brick' to a D' shape, which is far easier to hold. Another of Design Bridge's impressive creations is the repackaging of the Fernando de Castilla Sherries with exquisite parchment labels, with a slim F' denoting Fino, a squat O' for Oloroso and a complicated PX' for the Pedro Ximnez - the typography being used subtly to represent the style of the Sherry. Asked if he ever had the designer's equivalent of writer's block, and if so, with which brand, Shearsby replied: Sometimes you can try too hard and torture a project. On Chryseia we tried too hard.' This project, the result of a joint venture between the Symingtons and Bruno Prats, finally emerged as a very simple, understated design, in keeping with its hoped-for iconic status, with a simple P+S' on the label, denoting the partners.

The consumer's influence Jonathan Gibson, a director of the DJPA Partnership, believes that trends indicate a more emotional approach, with greater use of graphics and pictures. Consumers are crying out for the demystifying of wine,' he says, and cites Waverley's work with its fun Babe brand and the Intro2 as the way ahead. But there is a risk in being too gimmicky, as Sanders and Doherty acknowledge. Sanders points his digit at Pendulum, as all that is gold and silver is not necessarily good. Barlow Doherty, he says, threw the rule book out of the window' in creating the brand. Brands like Pendulum are very novel,' he says. They make a splash and are exciting, but then you go to a dinner party and three people arrive with a bottle of Pendulum.' Doherty agrees: It had the "magpie effect",' he says. It was shiny and bright and people thought, "Wow, we have to have one of those". It was a flash in the pan, but consumers have cottoned onto gimmicks and realise that 1 of the price is on the packaging, so they may feel a bit cheated.' James Davidson, director of Leapfrog Research and Planning, says that price and brand perceptions are major influences on purchase across the whole drinks sector, but wine purchase is perhaps the most likely to be influenced by packaging. There is a move towards bottle designs that suggest a lifestyle, or that reflect the provenance of the wine, especially for the booming New World,' says Davidson. Slightly different bottle shapes can be of interest, such as elongating the neck, or a tapered body, as can label size, shape and colour, as illustrated by Cono Sur, or some of the contemporary-styled Marks & Spencer wines.' The move by Boyar Estates to put its Blueridge brand in new bottles with a disc-shaped blason on the shoulder is an attempt to strengthen Blueridge's position among the image-conscious sub-5 brand category'. With the new-look Stowells, Sanders agrees that the illustrations were looking tired' and will be replaced by animals - a kangaroo for Australia, a rhino for South Africa and a cockerel for France. Like Kumala, with its lizard, animals are a friendly point of reference. We also introduced a stamp that looks like an award-winning rosette,' he says. It is about matching the packaging to consumers' expectations and comfort levels.' Normally, the first step for the designer is to find out what the brand owners are going to sell the product for. The price point fixes consumer expectations and reflects the shopper's wine knowledge. Stowells of Chelsea is just above entry level, but the fact is the mainstream consumer does not know much about wine, above the fact that it is red or white. From about 3.49 consumers start to take an interest in countries and grape varieties, but that is about as much as they can handle. You try to communicate country and the varietal in an immediate and approachable way,' explains Sanders. At the 4 to 5 level, the wine starts to carry some provenance, some quality, and you apply the appropriate cues. As you move up, the labels become more minimal and more cryptic. At the lower end you keep it simple, not too technical,' he says. In redesigning Via La Rosa's range, Porter at CorpBrand looked to the various price points, as they focused on six tiers. La Palmeira was scrapped in favour of La Palma as the entry level, and then the range progressed, all the way up through La Capitana (the name of an ancient tree in the vineyard) to the limited release Don Reca, who was a pioneering winemaker in Chile. Sanders perceives that Australia is becoming more classical, while France is trying to be more funky. They are nevertheless converging on brand, varietal and country of origin,' he says. The galling thing for a designer is that price promotions and BOGOFs are so important: they can make wines tarty and consumers promiscuous', says Sanders, ruefully. In the immortal words of that old, politically incorrect English comedian of yesteryear, Dick Emery: Oooh, you are awful but I like you'.