#fansofcannes: Our/Vodka

Thursday 09 June 2016


Here’s a brand with bold ambition and a clear vision: to become the world’s first global brand with local roots. And arguably, this is what it has achieved.

At a time when the term ‘craft’ immediately caused people to switch off, Our/Vodka came as a breath of fresh air, setting up shop in a specially built distillery in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin (the very heart of the arty and the anarchic in the city). Soon after Seattle, Detroit, Amsterdam and London all had their own version of the shop, with many others in the pipeline.

Partly distilled, blended and hand-bottled in micro-distilleries, the vodka is made by local experts from a secret recipe shared by all the cities, yet with local ingredients. Truthful to where it’s from, yet with global ambition.

Our/Vodka is a cultural experiment, a collection of unique personalities sharing the same genes. By reflecting the local character of the cities, the brand is able to connect with consumers on a subconscious level by relating to their culture and intrinsic beliefs. And this is a bond that not many global brands can confidently claim they have achieved.

Aesthetically, the brand is as truthful as one could get. Nothing is left to chance. From bottle to micro-distillery, there’s an element of genuine independence with real grassroots that this brand oozes. Liberation from the norm of ‘craft’ as known up until today. Charismatic behaviour reimagined.

By Alina Pirvu, Creative Planner, jkr London

Our/Vodka (Cannes Lions Silver, 2013) Agency: GREAT WORKS, Sweden

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#fansofcannes: Geico Unskippable

Tuesday 07 June 2016


It’s fascinating to see how communications adapt (or fail to adapt) to changing media formats. Old Spice skillfully repurposed their ‘The Man your Man Could Smell Like’ TVC content for social media. Earlier this year, Jeep’s mobile-optimised portrait format ad aired at the halftime of the SuperBowl in front of 113 million people watching horizontal screens – the result was an arresting incongruity. Meanwhile, however, most advertisers simply run the same ads they run on TV as pre-rolls on YouTube – despite the fact that people almost always skip them after 5 seconds (usually before the brand name or visual equity has even appeared).

The Geico Unskippable series didn’t work within the restrictions of the format – it completely derailed them. The insurance firm’s message is delivered in the first few seconds, but the ad just keeps on going…. The spots are created with a huge amount of craft, finesse and skill – with the purposeful intention of looking like a low-rent shopping channel production. Knowing, self-referential, ironic – we’re complicit in our understanding of the medium, and the way the message disrupts it. How meta is that.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Geico Unskippable (Cannes Lions Grand Prix, 2015) Agency: The Martin Agency

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#fansofcannes: Airbnb Rebrand

Friday 03 June 2016

A lot has been said about the Airbnb redesign. I’ve read numerous articles, blogs and pithy tweets on the subject. I’ve also seen plenty of iterations of the logo in the digital sphere.

The mark itself is designed so that everyone can draw it and is based on symbols for people, places, love and the letter A (not unlike an episode of Sesame Street). It also has two versions – the official ‘Belo’ mark and a customisable ‘Community’ version.

Airbnb would like you to augment the latter with pattern and colour and post it on social media, but in reality people prefer to turn it into boobs or any other of the naturally comedic body parts (incase you haven’t seen any of these already, you can take a look here

Love it or loathe it, we’ve all connected with it in some way. Whether you’re an interested party reading the design press or a citizen of the world, it seems to have struck a chord. Since the launch of the new branding in 2014, Airbnb’s annual guests have increased from 14m to 24m in 2015 and a predicted 51m in 2018, connecting more people with more places more often.

Regardless of whether you appreciate the story behind the mark, or simply see it as a shape, it’s a simple symbol of purpose executed in a way that prompts interaction. The brand idea centres on belonging, so whether we’re interacting with the mark as intended, or using it in more puerile (yet entertaining) ways, we are still using it as a means of connection and a way to belong. As part of the launch of the new identity, Airbnb have said ‘Behind every symbol is a story. Share yours. Make your symbol bring Airbnb to life.’ And they’re quite right. Airbnb has achieved a truly charismatic identity by allowing their users to bring it to life, imbuing the brand symbol with their own meaning – whether that’s ‘on message’ or not.

By Elissa O'Brien, Senior Brand Strategist, jkr London.

Airbnb Rebrand (Cannes Silver, 2015) Agency: Design Studio

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#fansofcannes: Raw for the Oceans

Wednesday 01 June 2016


An idea born out of a purpose that doesn’t just highlight the cause it’s trying to address; it actually does something about it through the product it actually is. Too often, the marketing mix and design are asked to make people want stuff, not make stuff people want. And in the world of cause-related marketing, it’s an attachment to something the brand would like us to think it cares about rather than a solution.


This campaign by Raw puts its money where its mouth is. The jeans actually help clear up the plastic crap bobbing around our oceans and make them into cool denim. And the Octopus logo is your guarantee that this is the real, recycled plastic deal.

This has such an honesty about it, there’s no whiff of greenwash, no hippy dippy rhetoric about saving the world. Just some do good jeans slung low around Pharrell’s demure derriere.

Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do. True.

By Lee Rolston, Strategy Director, jkr London

Raw for the Oceans (Cannes Grand Prix, 2014) Agency: FHV BBDO & Part of a Bigger Plan

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#fansofcannes: Oreo's Wonderfilled

Thursday 26 May 2016


Ever wondered what makes a great campaign?

a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar. "He observed the intricacy of the ironwork with the wonder of a child."
a person or thing regarded as very good, remarkable, or effective. "We all eat cakes from Gisella — she's a wonder."

A positive, emotional word that has unlocked not simply a great campaign but a whole new brand identity for Oreo.

Where Cadbury has Joyville and a whole innovation platform that seems to be bent on creating more and more new ways of combining chocolate with any number of ingredients, Oreo chose to be joyful in relooking at how to celebrate their core product format.

Moving away from the Twist & Lick ritual that served them so well for generations was a brave move. In doing so, however, the Wonderfilled concept not only continues to hero the product but elevates it to iconic potential. For an ad agency to start their campaign journey by executing a brand identity is very new thinking. It has resulted in two years of Cannes worthy work that is not only disruptive but distinctively Oreo with it’s consistent use of the cookie icon, colourways, typography and positive tone of voice.

So whilst Cadbury leaves me rather bewildered and confused when I’m standing in a store looking for a bit of a treat, Oreo comes to site and mind so much quicker.

Put a smile on your face, be #fansofcannes.

By Chris Halton, Global Strategy Director, jkr London

Oreo Wonderfilled Lock Up (Cannes Lions Shortlist, 2014)
Oreo Time Square OOH (Cannes Lions Shortlist, 2014)
Oreo Wonderfilled Wild Postings (Cannes Lions Shortlist, 2015)
Agency: The Martin Agency

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#fansofcannes: Coca-Cola's Icon Mashup

Tuesday 24 May 2016


It’s not often that a brief is given to a broad set of industry creatives, each with their own distinct style and sense of expression, and for the output to be both artistically diverse, whilst sharing a striking consistency of spirit.  

Yet that’s exactly what happened with Coca-Cola’s 100 years campaign which challenged artists, designers and illustrators around the world to recreate and reimagine vintage Coca-Cola bottle imagery and iconography using only three colours: Coke red, black and white. More than 130 artists from 15 countries responded with 250 plus pieces for the #MashupCoke project.

This celebration of the brand’s past reinterpreted for the future is just another example of the strength of Coca-Cola; a brand with such a powerful sense of self, that its charisma is not only ‘felt’ but actually understood to the point that it can be replicated time and again, with fresh consistency.  

Surely this is the ultimate feat for any brand creator, and perhaps one of the best examples of branding in the modern age – collaborative, confident and charismatic.

By Rebecca Ford, Senior Brand Strategist, jkr London

Coca-Cola Icon Mashup (Cannes Lions Shortlist, 2015) Agency: Forpeople

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#fansofcannes: Nivea Doll

Thursday 19 May 2016


What a simple, smart idea.

Taking its insight from child educational methods, rather than traditional advertising persuasion, to great effect. Nivea hit the beaches of Rio to help parents and kids understand the impact of not applying sun block.

They gave away UV sensitive dolls – a boy and a girl one – to the kids on the beach. With a little tube of sunscreen that when applied stopped the doll’s skin going red. Thus providing an engaging way of connecting parent and child to get the behaviour change, not just the message across. In a memorable way.

And it gave the parents some peace and quiet on the beach. A win-win in our book.

By Lee Rolston, Strategy Director, jkr London

Nivea Doll (Cannes Lions Gold, 2015) Agency: FCB

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#fansofcannes: Depaul - There's another side to the story

Tuesday 17 May 2016


The poster campaign for Depaul, the homelessness charity, exemplifies how copywriting can deliver a real sucker punch in emotional impact. “There is another side to the story” is the creative idea, and the execution is pleasingly literal, theatrical and visceral. On one side the poster captures the negative preconceptions people have about giving up their spare room to a homeless youth, but when both sides are read together, the message is transformed.

It’s a neat trick – the first reading of the narrative takes us along for the ride, lulling us into a false sense of security, even of complicity. With the second reading, prejudices are overturned, and a more positive, hopeful future is evoked.

It’s astonishingly skillful – this kind of thing is not easy to do – and is as much a craft as any that’s evident in the festival. Another reason why we’re #fansofcannes.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

There's another side to the story (Cannes Lions Bronze, 2015) Agency: Publicis

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Why some words aren’t worth the design brief they’re written on

Friday 13 May 2016

What’s in a name? Quite a lot actually, Juliet my dear. Words matter. Particularly when it comes to creating something visual. In design after all, we are in the business of creating tangible expressions of abstract ideas. Words are the bridge between the two.


Imagine if Coke had never previously existed, and was a completely new concept about to launch. The contoured bottle, wave and script have never existed. The brief arrives at the design agency with the challenge to ‘Bring to life the promise of happiness and capture our new tagline ‘Taste the Feeling’. You could scarcely conceive of a more intangible set of measures. What on earth does happiness look like? What colour is ‘THE feeling?’ Design teams usually need someone to translate marketing words into design words. That’s why getting them right is so critical.

I was reminded of the importance of ‘design’ words versus ‘marketing words in a conversation with a client recently (fortunately, the kind of client that recognizes the difference). Here are a handful of words whose ambiguity makes them dangerous in a design brief.

“Iconic” is a title that’s awarded to a brand by its consumers. Not something that can be uttered into existence by its stewards. Or created by designers overnight.

Premium is a relative term, shifting and redefining itself along with culture, society, lifestyle and economics. If you want a whisky label with gold on it, just say you want a whisky label with gold on it. Premium, after all, means different things to different people (and different cultures).

‘Craft’ in its original sense connotes ‘skill in making’ – a way of doing things that is thoughtful, expert and worth paying more for. But craft has evolved its meaning to become less about the process of creation and more about the output. Craft now denotes a specific set of visual codes: scripts, signatures, hand-drawn illustrations, and a focus on typographic detail. So whilst in truth the Chanel logo, or the Aqua di Parma packs are highly crafted, they would not be considered so in today’s narrow lexicon.

‘Authentic’ is a great ambition for a brand’s behavior, making it a motivating measure in marketing and advertising briefs. But when transposed to the context of a design brief, ‘authentic’ stops being about behaviour, and becomes solely about style.  There’s a big difference between authenticity as a relative measure (“a design that is authentic to its brand spirit”) or as an absolute one (“a design that looks like Jack Daniels”).

So a few words have lost their true meaning. Have I lost my sense of perspective? Probably. But the problem with poorly chosen words is not just semantics, or even confusion - but that they restrict the potential for creativity. Some words narrow the possibilities that a brief can trigger… the word ‘crafted’, for instance, reduces the response to a brief to a pre-determined creative solution.

The trick with design briefs is to speak in specifics, not ambiguities; to deal in tangible measures, not abstract concepts. “The freedom of a tight brief”, as Leo Burnett put it, is about thoughtfully considered words that lead to original creative thinking.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Article featured on The Marketing Society

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#fansofcannes: NikeFuel Station

Thursday 12 May 2016


With Whatsapp messages replacing phone calls, Instagram likes driving our self-worth and Facebook posts replacing real human interaction, how can we truly connect in a digital world?

Back in 2012, Nike gaves us a master class in brand connectivity with their NikeFuel Station at Boxpark.

The concept of using digital technology to enhance physical performance and product experience is nothing new for Nike - they’ve been working with Apple since 2006 to create synced products. But with the Fuel Station concept, they merged the digital and the physical to create a truly connected and customised consumer experience.

Using personal data harvested from their [now defunct] FuelBand wearable activity tracker (Nike pulled out of creating their own hardware in 2014, in favour of pursing software alone), the digitally enabled retail space was able to recommend specific products suited to an individual’s unique physical activity. After receiving their recommendations, consumers were then able to try on and physically experience the product within the retail space, then approach ‘digital mannequins’ to see the product in action and learn more about key features.

Joining the dots by removing the distance between data, personalisation and physical retail was certainly an innovative and smart move on Nike’s part, but the real charisma comes to life in the execution. By placing the Fuel Station in Boxpark in Shoreditch, Nike placed themselves in the centre of the urban running community’s stomping ground. Fueled by a desire to connect with themselves, each other and the city; London’s running crews were the perfect vehicle to help Nike to connect with their consumers. In tapping into a real-life human community, rather than a digital one, Nike were able to harness the respect and trust that comes from word of mouth and genuine human connections.

So when it comes to charisma, it’s all about connecting for Nike. Sure, connect your digital and physical offerings, but do so in a way that is truly human if you really want to join the dots.

By Elissa O'Brien, Senior Brand Strategist, jkr London.

NikeFuel Station (Cannes Lions Silver, 2012) Agency: AKQA / Onformative

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#fansofcannes: DILL - The Restaurant

Tuesday 10 May 2016


Ahead of this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, we've decided to share our admiration for brands that celebrate their charisma through design. Whether it’s capturing the attention of consumers or the eyes of judges, Charisma by Design is the magnetism that attracts. It enables a brand to connect with people by communicating its unique story in a compelling and engaging way, across every touch point.

First up, it’s LIDL’s pop-up restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden.

Stimulated by sensationalism, social media trends and a generational force, the human attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish, shaping a wiser and more critical consumer profile. So how can brands take their time to talk about quality in this message-saturated world?

LIDL had the perfect recipe for this (pun intended): take a low-key basement space, add a British two starred Michelin Chef and his talented team, and mix in an all-LIDL selection of ingredients to create a fine-dining experience on par with the best eateries in the Swedish capital.

By shifting the focus to the actual food itself (rather than the brand), LIDL was able to connect with the individual, enabling people to fully immerse themselves in a complete sensorial experience untouched by preconceptions. The consumer has been paramount and centrepiece to the entire experience, from building anticipation in the run-up to the grand opening, to the imaginative decor intended to delight. Nothing too sophisticated, yet all beautifully presented and considered to the last detail – all elements that hinted to what’s truthful about the LIDL brand.

It takes courage and vision to change direction when everyone else is busy engaging in price wars, and that is what makes LIDL charismatic, a marker for change in its category. It comes to show that there is ingenuity and vitality in its DNA, and hopefully many other stories to unfold. As for this one, the DILL experience (and what a delightfully clever anagram) is a ‘blind test’ exercise of brand quality, done with Michelin star finesse.

There’s certainly more to this value brand than meets the eye, especially if it can persuade you to focus on it more than a goldfish would…

By Alina Pirvu, Creative Planner, jkr London.

DILL – The Restaurant (Cannes Lions Bronze, 2015) Agency: INGO

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Writing for design: Conclusions

Tuesday 19 April 2016

In the lead up to next week’s D&AD Festival, Katie Ewer will be looking at what makes great writing for design in a series of blog posts this week. Katie is part of the 2016 jury for Writing for Design.

In this blog series we’ve looked at different kinds of writing for design, and we’ve looked at examples of great writing as well as poor writing. But what do we mean by ‘writing for design’ anyway?

The phrase ‘writing for design’ carries with it a significant clue. We’re talking here about a form of verbal communication that operates in partnership with the visual arts. ‘Writing for design’ isn’t about pure narrative, poetry, advertising jingles or taglines – it’s about a creative skill that must complement its visual context.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that writing always plays second fiddle to design. Some brands have personalities and cultures that are driven by the name, or the manifesto captured in the tone of voice. ‘First Direct’ – notions of innovation, to the point thinking, a sense of straight talking were all captured in the name, which influenced in turn the identity.

Perhaps the first thing to do is recognize the role of copy in the bigger picture (pun intended). Writing is great at functional, complex communication (ww.gov.uk). It can disarm with unexpected wit (I just love this chocolate bar from the Berkely hotel that seems to see inside my very soul!). Writing can also do a lot of heavy lifting for a new brand by creating memorable names. Take Farrow & Ball for instance: it certainly wasn’t the brand’s dull, anonymous visual identity that gave it resonance with paint lovers: that honour must surely fall to product names such as the notorious ‘elephant’s breath’.


When a brand’s voice is original, inventive and witty, we confer the same values on the brand itself. Take Eve mattress, for instance – the brand’s easy-going long copy is the perfect complement to the brand’s bold and simple visual identity. The two disciplines work together seamlessly to build the brand idea.


In short, writing cannot do everything. It is not a substitute for a weak brand identity, nor can it disguise the absence of poor strategic thinking. But when used well, it’s a tool that can extend, enhance and complement design, whilst dramatizing the brand strategy. The fact that ‘Writing for Design’ is recognized as a discrete craft in its own right by the D&AD gives us a stage to interrogate it, a reason to value it, and an incentive to ensure we’re using words to their full potential in the field of design.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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Great writing for design: Crimes against writing

Monday 18 April 2016

In the lead up to next week’s D&AD Festival, Katie Ewer will be looking at what makes great writing for design in a series of blog posts this week. Katie is part of the 2016 jury for Writing for Design.

Let’s be clear: there’s great writing for design, and there’s ‘that’ll do’ writing for design. And then there are crimes against the word. Here’s some common transgressions.

The crime of using words as decorative objects

Putting lots of words on a piece of collateral doesn’t automatically make your brand familiar and amiable, or give it a ‘chatty’ tone of voice. Take this ‘installation’ from McDonalds – which I have seen in Singapore and was also spotted in the USA. (Depressingly, this means the best creative brains in the company HQ must have given it their blessing.) There’s a great commentary the McDonalds ‘Great Wall of Affirmation’ from this blogger (image credit). Words are not decorative ephemera, McDonalds – they’re supposed to create meaning.


The crime of using words to replace brand thinking.

Making kooky copy the main event of your branding is sometimes an attempt to disguise the lack of a good idea, or the absence of anything visually distinctive. Take these firelighters, for instance. Puns aren’t usually funny the first time you hear them, let alone the seventh or either. It’s it’s pretty much impossible to see how this will endure into an icon of firelighting.


The crime of ignoring the context

Sometimes a friendly brand voice is appropriate. Sometimes even a dose of irreverence is called for. But context is critical. South African budget airline kulula.com adopts the same wacky, jokey tone of voice as might a cheese or a chocolate, or anything comparably trivial and throwaway. I don’t want the aeroplane I’m travelling on to be chatty and overly-familiar. I want them to be safe. Like my bank and my doctor, I value authority from an airline, not chumminess. But the persona of a prankster? I think I’ll take the train.

The crime of thinking anyone cares.

Howard Gossage said ‘Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad’. Garrulous packaging is irritating because it misjudges its audience. We don’t all want to get to know you, Mr Whacky ginger beer brand. We just want to buy some ginger beer and get home and do whatever stuff we actually care about. Reading narratives on packs in the supermarkets isn’t one of them. If your writing isn’t adding anything, then it’s not making things better – it’s making things worse.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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Great writing for design: How to write for naming

Friday 15 April 2016

In the lead up to next week’s D&AD Festival, Katie Ewer will be looking at what makes great writing for design in a series of blog posts this week. Katie is part of the 2016 jury for Writing for Design.

Naming can be one of the one of most enjoyable and also one of the most stressful parts of a branding exercise. As any parent will tell you, the risks of getting it wrong are far-reaching and very public.


Unlike most other kinds of writing, naming is highly visible. People have opinions on names and whether they’re any good or not. We may not care about a change of tense, but we care a great deal about a change of name. Consider the national wailing and gnashing of teeth that accompanies big rebrands like Consignia and Centrica. Taking on a rebrand like that seems like a poisoned chalice to me.

Why do we care so much? Perhaps it’s because we all feel ownership of language. After all, we learn to speak 5 years before we learn to write, whilst design is a skilled art that takes years to master. But we’re all experts at naming. The first time a human being uses words, it’s usually to name something.

Fraught with risk it may be, but when you create a great name, it’s a thing of beauty forever. ‘Orange’ conjured notions of optimism, modernity and possibility with its metaphorical name, and ‘Blackberry’ made scary technology seem approachable and easy without compromising its credibility. ‘Games Makers’ was the name given to volounteers during the 2012 Olympic Games - a name that implicitly suggesting how essential each person was to the success of the event. And my alltime favourite - ‘black holes’ – the brilliantly illustrative alternative moniker for had hiterto been known as ‘gravitationally collapsed objects’.

Naming isn’t everything, but it’s our start point for any relationship with a brand, product or service. Names are shorthand for stories. When they work well, we’re hooked from the first word.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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Great writing for design: How to write with clarity

Thursday 14 April 2016

In the lead up to next week’s D&AD Festival, Katie Ewer continues her series looking at what makes great writing for design. Katie is part of the 2016 jury for Writing for Design. 


What’s the purpose of language? Communication. What single thing is vital for communication? Clarity.

In our delight at the way language can help us build personality, we sometimes forget that writing is primarily about communication. Sometimes simply delivering a message quickly and simply is more important than linguistic trickery. There is great skill required to untangle and distill complex thoughts into easy-to-understand ideas. The problem is that it’s just not that sexy. Writing plain English doesn’t make for amusing back of pack copy or cute headlines and usually doesn’t get much attention in portfolios.

As a marketer, it’s hard to resist the temptation to use every possible trick available to you in order to assert your brand’s distinctiveness. But the truth is, sometimes verbose or chatty packaging, point of sale or communication is counter-productive. Injecting some personality into your brand’s tone of voice can make it more human. But it can also put friction into the way a consumer interacts with your brand. Narrative may engage us emotionally, but reading requires brainpower. Sometimes, we just want to book a flight, buy a loaf of bread, or order a pizza quickly, easily and confidently. Always, the brand and the experience should be one and the same. Too often, the brand gets in the way of what we’re trying to do.

People often remark that design is something you only notice when it’s bad. The same could be said of writing. Clear writing makes for seamless experiences. Bad writing slows things down.

None of this means that clear writing is boring writing. It’s still possible to express nuance through your choice of words and the way in which you put them together.

If you’re looking for an example of a fantastic writing for clarity, look no further than the UK government website www.gov.uk, the result of a synthesis of multiple social services into a single portal. What a tangled beast that must have been to work with, and what a great result: clear, logical and intuitive. It’s absolutely fit for purpose and an example of truly great writing. It won a D&AD Black Pencil in the Writing for Design category in 2013.

Perhaps Nathaniel Hawthorne summed it up best: “Easy reading is damn hard writing."

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Article featured in The Drum

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Great writing for design: How to inject personality into your branding without becoming irritating

Tuesday 12 April 2016

In the lead up to next week’s D&AD Festival, Katie Ewer will be looking at what makes great writing for design in a series of blog posts this week. Katie is part of the 2016 jury for Writing for Design.

Innocent Drinks have a lot to answer for. Ever since they created bottles of juice that transformed the humble back of pack into something surprising and creative, we’ve had to endure years of over-familiar products that want to chat to us ‘like friends’. Supermarkets, bars and restaurants are littered with boxes, bottles and coffee cups with ‘copy-led’ design approaches. So many brands are talking to me that I can’t hear anything at all. It’s all just words, words, words.

It’s not just packaging though. Even airlines are gabbing at you irreverently and joke about black boxes on their liveries. Not even a stay in a luxury hotel is safe from the ubiquitous ‘cheeky tone of voice’. Take W Hotels, for instance. They shook up the stuffy hospitality industry with an iconoclastic positioning driven in no small part by their sassy brand voice. ‘Drink Up!’ the bottled water exhorts you. ‘Blow out!’ screeches the hairdryer. The spare toilet calls itself the ‘Backup Plan’. How refreshing it must have seemed on one’s first stay in a W. And how irritating it must feel on your fourth, fifth and sixth stays. Jokes just aren’t funny on the second telling. Neither are cheeky loo rolls.


Does this mean that you can’t build your brand’s personality using its tone of voice? No, but in my opinion you can’t do it using tone of voice alone. For a start, it’s almost impossible to create memorable visual distinctiveness when your identity consists entirely of words.


Writing needs to work hand–in-hand with visual communication, and getting the balance right is not easy. Great writing for design tends to come from great brands. That’s not surprising – when a brand has a clear point, it’s easy for designers and writers to create good work. For instance, Mail Chimp’s automated error responses seem entirely fitting with its brand spirit (‘we can’t find what you’re looking for’ becomes ‘nothing to see here’), whilst the profoundly strange and memorable Old Spice tone of voice is as evident on its back of pack and website as it is on social media and TVCs.


Innocent showed us that writing for design doesn’t have to be stuffy, functional, or dry. Perhaps like a new technology, we’re just figuring out how to use it with nuance and discretion. So yes, Innocent Drinks have a lot to answer for, but they helped put writing for design on the map. And that can’t be a bad thing.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Article featured in The Drum

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Design without a purpose: why overdesign can cause brands to risk losing their sense of self

Friday 08 April 2016


When CBBC unveiled its new logo and brand identity last month, even the brand spokesperson sounded apologetic: “It doesn’t scream children’s TV”, she said. It’s a stance we’ve seen from a lot of brands recently, and especially from broadcasters. When BBC 3 launched its new logo, the head of marketing declared ‘it doesn’t look like three’, and Channel 4 described their own new idents as ‘brave and bizarre.’ There’s clearly a trend here for these brands to go out of their way to make a statement, and deliberately opt for something provocative and even counter-intuitive when it comes to new branding. But have they gone too far? My question is, if a visual identity doesn’t scream what the brand is and what it stands for, what is the point?

It’s not just TV brands. Uber’s recent transformation was clearly intended to be a brave and bold attempt to elevate the brand, making it a major player in the global transport industry rather than a startup, challenger brand. However, the design was driven by ambition rather than by necessity, meaning that the transformation lacked relevance and didn't actively solve a business issue. The result was a confusing, detached identity that caused Uber to lose its sense of self, and crucially, lose the backing of many supporters.


CBBC, Channel 4 and BBC 3 clearly operate in a different business field to Uber and can't claim the same meteoric rise to fame that Uber achieved, and indeed risked, when they rebranded. But what these brands can claim is an undeniable position of authority in their own industry. CBBC epitomises kid’s TV, Channel 4 has long stood as an icon of independent, courageous programme making, and BBC 3 famously produces quirky shows with fiercely loyal banks of followers. Just as Heinz is synonymous with Ketchup or Mars with chocolate, these brands should be proud flagbearers for their industry and their specialism. So to create and market visual identities that even they themselves admit don’t openly showcase these qualities seems a waste, as if somehow they are missing the entire point of what branding means.

Some brands have gambled with a brave decision and got it right. Google’s redesign was criticised by some, but there’s no denying that there is strategic planning and meaning behind the move – every aspect of the new design represents an element of the brand and can be clearly explained and justified. Airbnb’s transformation from its name to a symbol was radical, but again, reflected the meaning behind the brand and was easily interpretable. The symbol represents two of the brand's key values, belonging and togetherness, so the change made sense and had purpose. This is where the TV brands made an error. They did have a business problem that could be solved with design: CBBC’s logo was undoubtedly tired, BBC 3 needed an new identity to suit their new online home, and Channel 4 needed a fresh take on its indents, but their new designs lack the meaning and purpose to actually deliver a solution to these problems.

It's essential that brands, especially young or growing businesses competing in busy markets, to identify and unlock what makes them special and charismatic. Whether this is a rich family history, a unique ability to offer their customers something different, or a strong social purpose, there is always something that will make your brand rise above the crowd. It’s vital that design ties in to these authentic brand truths. Design changes must be driven by genuine business needs, and deliver a solution. Don’t settle for design without a purpose, or design for design’s sake. And please (I’m talking to you, CBBC), don’t opt for something that we can’t even read!

By Lee Rolston, Strategy Director, jkr London

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Why doesn't craft gin fizz?

Monday 04 April 2016

Gin is the shape shifter of the spirits world: 17th century apothecary gout cure, gutter drink for the squalor of the Industrial age, aspirational elixir of Dickens’ gin palaces, and sassy star of cocktail culture in the roaring twenties. When vodka knocked gin off its pedestal in the 60s, it lost its caché and became the drink of The Establishment, with very British classics like Tanqueray, Gordon’s, Beefeater all compounding its Whitehall associations. Gin has been reacting against those connotations ever since.

Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick’s have helped it adopt the role ‘creative iconoclast’ and laid the foundations for arguably the most diverse and active sector in spirits. Indeed, so buoyant is the category that you can hardly throw a juniper twig without hitting a niche little ‘craft gin’ distillery. But no brand wants to be niche forever (just ask the owners of Camden Brewing Company). How can brands use design to stand out, get chosen and (perhaps) get bought out?

In craft gin, design is usually the only medium that can help a brand get noticed and chosen. One dramatic design detail can create disproportionate impact – like blue glass with an otherwise traditional label (Bombay Sapphire), or the alarming heavy black bottle of Hendrick’s. The pack is everything. Creating impact, mystique and magnetism is the only job that really matters. Looking ‘crafted’ is clearly important, but it’s not the end game. Monkey 47 understands this – it has a weird, apothecary bottle with a cork stopper (is it a drink? An elixir? A boot polish?), and it has a stamp, with a monkey on it, and some German words. None of it makes sense. Which gives it allure. It just also happens to look crafted.


Too many ‘craft gin’ brands are making the mistake of thinking that craft equates to charisma. It does not. In fact, quite the opposite is true – ‘craft’ can quickly become a convention in its own right – one that suffocates creativity, reduces distinctiveness and produces anonymous niche brands. Gin isn’t about prestige, nobody cares about heritage or provenance, and we’re all kidding ourselves if we think anyone cares the list of bizarre botanicals. We just want interesting stories, told with a dose of intrigue, oddity and of course, beauty. Perhaps great gin branding is all about achieving ‘just the right amount of wrong’.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Article originally published in The Drum

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The fine line between craft and farce

Wednesday 23 March 2016


Amidst the relentless onslaught of the digital revolution, one category seems to have remained immune. That category is stationery. Pretty notebooks, colourful pens and scented erasers continue to endure, shrugging off the catastrophes visited on bookstores and CD shops. Witness the stratospheric success of Moleskine and the enduring allure of a MUJI stationery merchandising unit, for example. Stationery has not just survived but also flourished, diversifying by mating with discarded old knitting magazines and spawning a mutant love child called scrapbooking. What a time to be alive.

So far, so millennial, but stationery is now specializing. It’s going high-end, baby. These days you can pay a visit to a curated pencil gallery such CW Pencils of Manhattan (sorry, they are no longer accepting new members for the pencil of the month club) that hawks what might be described as ‘richly storied’ pencils, wrapped up in brown paper and tied up with string for those intoxicated by the scent of graphite and wood.  

Am I joking? It’s a fine line between craft and farce isn’t it? And it’s a distinction that’s becoming so blurred, I’m not sure the hipsters and the hoaxers know which side of the fence they’re on any more.

Apparently the ‘breakout app’ at tech festival SXSW this year was… a pencil. David Rees and his Artisanal Pencil Sharpening Company (“pencils for writers, artists, contracts, flange turners and civil servants”) stole the show, if you believe the hype. And clearly you shouldn’t. Just like you shouldn’t believe in Timmy Brothers Water, Smoke & Flame Firewood, or The Cereal Café in Brick Lane, London. Hang on, that one’s real isn’t it?

The hipster trend is an unfortunate byproduct of our unquenchable thirst for all things tangible, analogue and ‘authentic’. People keep prophesying that we’ve reached ‘peak beard’, so why won’t it all go away? Hipsterdom is now such a mature trend that in order to survive, it’s having to seek out new pastures to feed on – like pencils and cereal packets. In parallel, the act of mocking the trend has become such an established mode of behavior in its own right that we’re in the bizarre situation where we literally can’t tell the difference anymore between what’s bollocks and what’s brilliant.

I’m hoping that there’s a third way - between Big Bad Brand and all this nonsense. Where brands don’t try to be our friends. Where having a beard doesn’t make you a craftsman. When people rediscover imagination and stop doing stuff like this. And where brands are ‘authentic’ only to themselves.




By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Article also featured in Marketing Society

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Singapore Innovation by Design Conference

Monday 21 March 2016

Last week, we attended the Innovation by Design Conference in Singapore, as part of Singapore Design Week. The conference featured Masaaki Kanai (Chairman of Ryohin Keikaku, the company that owns MUJI), and Jaime Hayon, Spanish artist-designer, as well as several of Singapore’s most awarded design agencies. Here are 5 things we learnt over the 2 day festival.

1. The number one question that students ask designers is “where do you get your inspiration?”. This is a bit like asking a fish “how do you breathe underwater”? It’s not a hobby and there’s no newsletter to subscribe to. Also, it’s only half the story – finding inspiration is useless if you don’t know what to do with it.

2. MUJI is a global brand that creates high quality products with elegance, simplicity and thought. Their most talked about products are U-shaped spaghetti and right-angled socks. Most people start their love affair with MUJI by browsing through the stationery shelves.

3. Japanese world maps have East Asia at the centre, with Europe and Africa on the left and the Americas on the right. This shouldn’t have been surprising.

4. As much as want to define the role of design, it defies any single purpose, character or discipline. MUJI’s design philosophy is about design that is unnoticed. Useful, but anonymous, and nothing more. Design that responds not to the emotion of ‘I want this!’ but to the recognition that ‘this will do’. MUJI (which literally means ‘no brand quality goods’), is not about design that creates desire, it’s about design that makes lives better – design with purpose.

5. But there are other ways to make lives better – and one of them is making people smile. If you don’t know Jaime Hayon, you should get to know him now. He’s a kind of Salvador Dali – Grayson Perry – Alexander McQueen mash-up and he designs furniture, ceramics, timepieces and interiors, amongst other things. All of them are bonkers. All of them make you smile. And making people happy is a very serious business.

“Wit is the shortest distance between two people" - Victor Borges

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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A pool of charismatic ideas: Alitalia

Friday 11 March 2016

Following last night’s celebrations, we’re wrapping up our admiration for charismatic work by looking at the new branding for Alitalia.

This brand has caught our eye before with its bold graphic identity and touches of craftsmanship that bring the elegance of Alitalia to life.

As a national beacon, the Alitalia visual identity had to truly capture the brand’s Italian spirit and the new look now connects consumers with the brand by telling this story. The beautiful craftsmanship, inspired by luxury Italian items (like continental race cars) has achieved this, reflecting Alitalia’s depth as it comes to life within the airline’s cabins. The brand also displays a real sense of vitality as it plays on its Italian spirit evoking the lifestyle and characteristics we associate with the nation. Careful consideration of all the details ensures that the brand’s vision is reflected across all brand touch points so the modernised outside of their carriers carefully reflects the experience within.

Alitalia is now embodying its heritage in a modern way, ensuring the brand reflects the charismatic elements we associate with the Italian nation. #CreativepoolAnnual


By Amy Maw, Marketing Manager, jkr London

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A pool of charismatic ideas: Oxo

Wednesday 09 March 2016

Continuing our journey of admiring and acknowledging some of the great design entries in this year’s Creativepool Annual, our eyes were drawn to the captivating visual language of the new OXO design.

Being around for more than a century, OXO has established itself as a role model when it comes to staying truthful to its core idea and brand image over time. Already known as one of the most visually distinctive brands out there, it’s admirable to see that OXO pushed its own boundaries with this freshly modern look and feel, creating a visually arresting immediacy for the brand.

The bold design language simply attracts and connects with you in the blink of an eye, putting a smile on your face. Beyond the element of fun that has been imbued into the brand, there are also layers of depth that only a second glance can reveal: the playful illustrations that add appetite appeal, as well as the cheeky tone of voice on each pack. As a result, each product has been injected with its own personality, whilst still working together in a cohesive and visually compelling manner.

OXO’s new design is reflective of its visionary and consistent character. This is undeniably a brand with a clear purpose and strong understanding of the power of good design. #CreativepoolAnnual


By Alina Pirvu, Creative Planner, jkr London

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A pool of charismatic ideas: Star of Bombay

Tuesday 08 March 2016

Ahead of the launch of the Creativepool Annual this week, we've decided to share our admiration for brands that celebrate their charisma through design. Whether it’s capturing the attention of consumers or the eyes of judges, Charisma by Design is the magnetism that attracts. It enables a brand to connect with people by communicating its unique story in a compelling and engaging way, across every touch point.

When looking at the ‘Star of Bombay’ bottle design through the lens of Charisma by Design, the first thing that stands out is its majestic stature and bold colour (reminiscent of the more everyday variant that everyone is familiar with), together with the jewel-like sapphire cameo placed at the very heart of the design. The bottle itself becomes a discovery odyssey, connecting with consumers and inviting them to unlock the multiple facets of the design and product.

By introducing the Star of Bombay alongside its other variants, Bombay stays true to its imaginative story, whilst also adding another layer of depth to it. The new premium proposition thus becomes the pinnacle of the discovery journey the consumer goes through with the brand, from their simple entry-level gin to the most precious there is.

Following this strategy, the Bombay brand comes to show the importance of investing in crafting a powerful brand story that can then be uncovered gradually, adding depth into the brand whilst also giving it a vision for the future. #CreativepoolAnnual


By Alina Pirvu, Creative Planner, jkr London

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Take Five... Design’s best art museum identities

Monday 07 March 2016

If you’re in the business of design, landing a brief to rebrand an art gallery is a particularly nice gig. Developing an identity that encapsulates concepts like creativity, art and culture? How delightfully cerebral. Devising a system that celebrates the masterpieces on show within the gallery’s walls through inventive visual flexibility? What an opportunity to show off your graphic skillz. The trouble is, in their pursuit of the expression of variety, a lot of art gallery identities end up looking a bit… the same.


So how do you create an identity system that speaks to the collection it represents whilst also having a sense of self? Here’s five of the best.

Victoria & Albert Museum, London


This is the logo that started it all. Simple yet elegant, statuesque yet agile, serious but with a bit of quirk… The monogram itself hasn’t changed since Alan Fletcher designed it in 1989 – proof a timeless identity maintains its relevance, no matter what the decade or the subject matter.

The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Rijksmuseum identity demonstrates the value of restraint. There’s a dash of quirk in the wordmark, but it’s not tricksy or try-hard.

Mauritshuis, The Hague

Who says the V&A has the monopoly on beautiful monograms? The identity for Mauritshuis by Studio Dumbar (home to that painting – Girl with a Pearl Earring) is understated and classy. It also shows how a real understanding of the product you’re branding – in this case Dutch ‘Golden Age’ painting – can inspire creative distinctiveness. This is one instance where the use of a logo to create a window to the artwork beyond really makes sense – because open windows, inviting doors and long corridors are such a recurring motif of Flemish art.

By the way, it’s worth comparing the élan of this marque with the exceptional strangeness of the previous logo.

undefinedHelsinki Design Museum


Monochromatic, modular modernist – the identity for Helsinki’s ‘design museo’ feels quintessentially Finnish. Interestingly, the designer commented that he felt the previous identity ‘got lost’ behind the exhibition themes it presented – striking the right balance between those two is clearly the trick.

The Serpentine Gallery



It’s not a snaking logo, but it does have length and agility! The Serpentine Gallery’s logo is contemporary and sleek, versatile but unmistakable. And not a window to an artwork in sight.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Article also featured on The Drum

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Chinese New Year: Year of the Monkey

Thursday 11 February 2016

For designers, Chinese New Year is unique amongst festivals in offering a renewed source of symbolism and meaning as the zodiac rotates, in addition to a bank of imagery that is constant. Every zodiac animal has its own personality and implicit connotations. What a bonanza of graphic opportunity – a set of established codes and a set of new codes, every single year.

Attracted by the potential of the prize, more and more Western brands wade into the treacherous quicksand of Chinese New Year limited edition design. As usual it’s a mixed bag this year, with some brilliant ideas, and some epic fails.

For me, the most important lesson from this year’s opportunists is this: just because this festival has a wealth of iconography to be plundered, doesn’t mean it should be. If you’re Dior, for instance, the character of a monkey isn’t exactly in keeping with your brand DNA. So don’t do jewellery with monkeys on, kay?

The most successful editions this year are from brands who’ve recognized the alignment of the monkey’s character with their own brand spirit, and exploited that with creativity and skill. Conversely, some brands have used the codes more judiciously, going for understatement that is more resonant with their own brand idea.

Here’s 3 top bananas and 3 monkey nuts:


This Pepsi can is really good. It’s so good that I’d almost choose Pepsi over Coke because of it. The design has found the sweet spot between the brand visual language and the guest subject matter. I just love how the monkey’s face looks like a traditional Chinese opera mask, but also looks like the Pepsi logo. By doing this, the design comes pretty close to conflating Chinese cultural traditions with the youthful brand spirit of Pepsi. And of course, the can is the centerpiece of a brilliant campaign that includes a wicked little film that’s gone viral in China. Watch it here



Okay, so they both have round logos, both use the monkey king mask on their limited edition packs, and both use Liu Xiao Ling Tong in their ads. (Did PepsiCo negotiate a two-for-one deal?) But this is Lay’s, not Pepsi. It’s still cool though. These packs, which feature monkey faces at the top, are cheeky, playful and fun – kinda like monkeys! And presumably the message is – playful like Lay’s! Check out the ad here.


Paul Frank

It would have been shocking if Paul Frank hadn’t done anything for the Lunar New Year. No fear, in Hong Kong they really squeezed the festival for everything it was worth with atrium displays, themed stores and the best red packets of the year!

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

What does the cheeky, clever little monkey have in common with the brand spirit of this pioneering Scotch? Not much in my opinion. Perhaps that’s why the rendering of the monkey is created with classical calligraphic brushstrokes, rather than in a way that suggests playfulness, surprise, or wit? I like the idea of the sides of the bottle forming a single canvas (handy if you’ve bought 4 bottles), but I’m not sure how it builds the brand story. That said, when you’re as big as Johnnie Walker, maybe it doesn’t really matter.


Louis Vuitton

For USD1,000 this frankly terrifying robotic alien-monkey-mutant can be yours! Seriously, what were the good folks at LV thinking when they commissioned this ‘eye-catching’ design? What does the aesthetic of this futuristic cyber simian have in common with the artistry and pedigree of this fashion house? Surely people shop in LV because it’s a French luxury brand, not a Chinese wannabe? This collection, along with Dior’s red monkey key ring amongst others, have been roundly mocked in China for their lazy appropriation of Chinese New Year codes. Quite rightly so.

undefined Hogan

Full disclosure: I’m not Chinese. But if I were, I think I might find these Year of the Monkey sneakers and clutch a little bit offensive. Shiny gold and bright red - is this what thousands of years of tradition and culture are reduced to in the pursuit of the Chinese dollar? Even allowing for the glitzy trash-glam vibe of the brand, you would have hoped for a bit more imagination.


By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Article credit Marketing Interactive


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Take Five... Design's best whiskies

Monday 01 February 2016

Until a few years ago, single malt whiskies were regarded as the drink of choice for legions of grey haired conservative old men. They were the go-to gift for the father in law. The semiotics of the category were commensurate with its old fashioned image. Cream label + etching of distillery building / stag / rural scene + typographic flourishes + master distiller’s signature. Design by numbers.

Now, however, the single malt category is in the middle of possibly its biggest upheaval. Good Lord, even Christina Hendricks drinks whiskey! How cool is this tipple?! In design terms, a bold new aesthetic is emerging – modern, masculine, heavily typographic. Look closer, however, and you’ll see that the new wave of whisky design is as conventional as the one that it’s replacing. We are witnessing the exchange of one set of codes with a new set. What we’re not seeing is any imagination. Here’s five that have found a unique voice through design:

Caol Ila


Some pretty boring type on a plain label. A gray box with some more boring type. A vague feeling of industrial heft. That’s about all there is to Caol Ila, which is somehow its charm – it’s the anti-design single malt. It doesn’t even try. Which of course makes it the malt of choice for those who claim ‘not to be affected by packaging’.



Heather-filled meadows, dramatic mountain scenery, craggy landscapes and stags… all of these are Scottish malt whisky clichés. No wait, they are Scottish clichés. Dalmore doesn’t care. Dalmore has a stag in their brand story, and they aren’t afraid to tell us about it. Yep, it’s definitely a stag. Made out of really shiny silver. In three dimensional glory. Right on the front of their bottle. Go Dalmore!



Don’t you just love a brand that doesn’t try to be everyone’s friend? What a blessed relief. I love the fact that Laphroaig invites people to dislike it, and even celebrates the antipathy it elicits. Black type + white label + green bottle. Somehow such small twists on whisky packaging convention makes Laphroaig look as distinctive as it tastes. Or do we just transfer our knowledge of its polarizing taste to our of its aesthetics? There’s one for the sensorialists.



Jura has a design aesthetic that proudly rejects the codes of it’s category: a squat bottle with a curved waist, no traditional whisky neck, and a set of labels that feel positively new age.



Okay, so it’s not a single malt. Let’s not be sticklers though. Hibiki means ‘harmony’ or ‘resonance’ in Japanese, and its distinctive 24 faceted heavy glass bottle alludes to the 24 seasons in the traditional Japanese calendar. Broadly speaking, Japanese whisky is full of unimaginative identikit design. Hibiki is the exception, with a unique pack that makes it stand out at home and abroad. The only downside is that it’s become so popular that it’s almost impossible to buy.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Article also featured on The Drum

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Icons of design, design of icons

Friday 29 January 2016

2015 was a big year for the emoji. Facebook launched a new series with ethnically diverse skin tones; ‘Moby Dick’ was crowd-translated into ‘Emoji Dick’, and in November the Oxford Dictionary named an emoji the ‘word of the year’. Yes, the ‘word’ of the year. Ye Gods, is nothing sacred? I’m speechless. Which is I guess, the point.

Should we all give up and go home? Emoji detractors point to the rise of these cute digital ideograms as a signifier of our collective loss of intelligence. Apparently even summoning the focus to compose 140 characters of text is just too… No, wait. Stop. I. Literally. Can’t. Even. 

 But emojis were never intended to replace language. They were invented as a way to inject emotion into dry online communication. And against the best judgement of my inner snob, nothing adds goodwill or humour to a brief SMS or a line of an email like one of those little smiley faces. In the fast, functional and often terse tonality of digital communication, emojis have stepped in where language has fallen short. They augment written communication. But they cannot replace it.

 To be a credible substitute for written communication, the alternative would need to offer a clear advantage. It would need to be easier to understand; capable of conveying clarity where language brings ambiguity. But pictures can be just as woolly as words. For instance, I have it on good authority that the seemingly nutritious aubergine emoji has more than one meaning.

 And simple iconography doesn’t always put you in the picture, as exemplified in this brilliant observational piece that Facebook delivered unto my feed:


As shown in the incomprehensible laundry icon set, images don’t always explicitly communicate any kind of meaning at all, double or otherwise. Sometimes, we need to learn the ideas they encapsulate. A white rectangle in a red circle is universally understood as a no entry sign, but not because it explains itself to us. We need to learn the meaning behind the symbol – but we only need to learn it once. After that, our understanding is instantaneous.

This, I think, is how some of the most powerful brand design operates. The Nike tick, the Coca Cola wave and the Heineken star - all of these are symbols just like the no entry sign. Unlike the emoji mode of brand design that explains itself pictorially and predictably – these brands never communicate literally. And they are infinitely more powerful – and ‘iconic’ - as a result.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Article also featured on Marketing Society

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It’s design, but not as you know it: The rise of personalisation in branding and packaging

Friday 08 January 2016

Digital expectations for the physical world

The world is changing. That much is obvious. What’s more interesting is the pace at which our expectations are changing with it. The digital revolution has made spoiled, selfish insta-junkies out of all of us. We expect information and services to be universally accessible, immediate and personalised. We expect to be able to buy goods from a fashion store whilst we are relaxing in the bathtub. We expect online retailers to recommend products or brands we might like, based on our search or purchase patterns. We expect an app to locate stores we’d like to visit as we walk through malls or down a high street. And we expect Google to change its logo every single day.

We’re being conditioned to expect highly personalised experiences everywhere and we’re taking those high expectations to the physical world too. We want Nike trainers with the colour combinations we’ve picked out and our initials emblazoned on the tongue; we want monogrammed designer handbags and personalised ATM cards; we want individualised books that celebrate our ‘unique’ lives and we want tailor-made kitchens, sofas and even cars.

It’s easy enough to change a website or an app to sustain someone’s interest, but how do you change a physical brand expression, like a pack or a logo?

It’s clear that to survive and flourish in this world of inflated expectations, brand design needs to change, and change urgently. Charles Darwin once said that it “… is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” So is design changing?

Packaging as message, not medium

People who work in branding sometimes refer to themselves as the ‘logo police’, a title that reflects the purpose we have historically assigned to brand design – to be unchanging and immutable. The role of a brand designer has been to say ‘no’ to clients who want to fiddle and to say ‘not consistent enough’ to printers. Design was the only constant in a media mix of changeable messaging. But that seems like a rather narrow definition now. It also seems rather boring.

After all, if Google changing its logo constantly doesn’t fill us with dread, why shouldn’t Coke change its logo too? Share a Coke would have sent shockwaves of horror through the packaging design world twenty years ago, but since it debuted in Australia in 2012 it’s been mimicked the world over. It would be a conservative marketer indeed who would characterise Coke’s game-changing initiative as recklessness. Share a Coke was an authentic expression of the brand’s promise and character, so it advanced the brand story. Furthermore, it might have replaced the iconic logo with thousands of names, but it still looked like Coke. Ultimately, we want novelty and relevance from the brands we buy. We want Coke, but we want it to be exciting. We want it all ‘same same, but different’.                                                                                     

Personalised or predictable?

To sum up, consumer expectations are incentivizing brands to be more changeable and more creative. In tandem, technology is keeping pace too. The invention of digital print (the technology that enabled the Share a Coke campaign) has removed the restrictions imposed on the medium by conventional print technology (Digital print allows you to change things quickly and easily whereas conventional print doesn’t). That means that packaging can be flexible, nimble and fast-paced – attributes that lend themselves well to creating something personalised and interesting.

But personalised doesn’t just mean putting people’s names on your packaging (though a quick glance at what’s happened since Share a Coke might suggest otherwise). Perhaps because the technology is in its infancy, we are still in a period of infantilism as far as creativity is concerned, and copying Coke is the strategy du jour. There are some notable exceptions of course. Heinz’s Get Well Soup campaign allowed people to personalise a tin of soup and have it sent to a sick relative or friend – a lovely build on the brand’s nurturing personality and on a product truth (or myth). Jones knowles ritchie’s work for IRN-BRU saw two Scottish icons come together to remarkable effect when the brand replaced the usual labels for 52 of Scotland’s most popular tartans. (The campaign was directly responsible for 17% sales growth and a 185% lift in website traffic).


The future’s bright

In the last decade, the way we view and use design and packaging has fundamentally changed. We’ve seen its role become blurred as the boundaries between pack and communications have merged. We’ve seen it become responsive and agile. In some instances, it’s become genuinely personalised.

I think we’re on the cusp of a changing paradigm, and that we’ll see design stepping into the limelight to take a more active role in brand communications. As marketers seek new ways to achieve more targeted messaging, design is well poised to replicate deliver individualized and relevant content.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

This article is also feature in The Drum

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Print is dead. Long live print.

Monday 21 December 2015

In an artisanal independent coffee shop down the road (stay with me, it gets more interesting I promise), there is an adjoining retail space that sells magazines. Not big name titles like Esquire or Cosmopolitan or National Geographic, but ultra-niche titles like ‘Ambrosia’ (a magazine for oyster and mollusc enthusiasts), ‘Father’s Quarterly’ (for hipster dads with beards and beanies) and ‘Magazine B’ (a glossy series that dedicates every edition to glorifying a specific brand – this month it’s kitchen brand Breville).

According to Marketing Magazine, 60 new print titles launched in the USA alone in the first half of 2015 (my personal fave title: ‘Bento Box Magazine’). Who’s reading all this stuff? Well, this isn’t just the work of a collective of sentimental Gen Y’ers. In fact, a lot of it is driven by millennials. Plenty of print titles start out life as Instagram accounts that evolve into websites and then make the (ultimate!) leap into printed matter.


The digital revolution may have been damaging for newspapers and generalist titles, but the medium is thriving as a niche avenue. For marketers, print magazines provide the very same thing that social media does: a platform for very targeted engagement with specific groups. For brands, print magazines provide a kind of authority and presence that is difficult to replicate in a virtual world. Take Pineapple for instance, the print child of native digital brand Airbnb.

The world’s most valuable hospitality brand has no inventory – and no tangible touch-points for us to interact with. A beautifully produced coffee table magazine aims to change that and make an ethereal brand a little more material.


It’s also worth noting that ultimately, the high impact visual nature of the print magazine front cover has found a natural resonance in the digital world. And in turn the digital world has given print magazines an opportunity they never had before: the opportunity to go viral.

Who saw the Irish Examiner tribute to Jonah Lomu last month on their phones? Who had an opinion about the women in Silicon Valley cover of Newsweek? Who wouldn’t recognise Kim Kardashian breaking the internet (in a printed magazine)? And how many of, actually held a copy of any of these in their hands?  


I for one am glad I don’t have to choose between up-to-the-second content on my iPad and the drama of the printed page. In fact I might order some printed magazines on the interwebz right now.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

With thanks to Nikki Wicks.


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Take Five... Design's best Olympic mascots

Monday 07 December 2015

The first unofficial Olympic mascot was called Schuss, and he was a… well, I have no idea what he was (he has been referred to as a ‘skiing sperm’), but he helped launch the Grenoble Winter Olympics in 1968. The rest is Olympic history – a highly questionable mix of rubbish design, lack of imagination and sickly-sweet cuddly-wuddly animals.

Here are 5 notable exceptions:

Waldi – Munich Summer Olympics 1972


The very first official Olympic Mascot made its debut at the 1972 Summer Olympics of 1972. He was designed by Otl Aicher, who also did the Munich Olympic logo (and the Lufthansa identity, if you’re interested). During the Olympics, the course of the marathon around the city was designed to run in the shape of his short, cute little contours. How cool is that? Waldi is completely timeless, and there hasn’t been a mascot this good since.

Cobi - Barcelona Summer Olympics 1992


Cobi is a Catalan sheepdog, rendered in a Cubist style in homage to Pablo Picasso. Public reaction was largely negative, but Cobi turned out to be the most lucrative Olympic mascot in the history of the modern games. He’s unconventional and he’s also cute – what’s not to love.

Snowlets – Nagano Winter Olympics


What I admire about these is their simplicity. Compared to the over-polished Disney-esque cuteness of say the Sochi Olympic mascots, these feel refreshingly unfussed with. They’re owls, they come in four different colour combinations, what more do you want?

Sumi, Quatchi and Miga – Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010


There is a charming naiveté about these little guys – they wouldn’t look out of place on a range of kids yoghurts or something. They’re straight of a beautiful children’s storybook and they don’t make any pretence to be hyper realistic (looking at you again, Sochi Winter Olympics). Plus, the big one has a tattoo.

Lele, Nanjing Youth Olympic Games


This one’s in here because if I don’t put him in, who knows what he might do to me?! Have you ever seen anything more terrifying? That perma-grin! Those eyes! Those luminous colours! Did he grow up eating MSG in a chemicals plant? The lesson here is that smiles and bright colours do not necessary equal adorable.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Also featured in The Drum

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Take Five... Design's Best TV Title Sequences

Monday 23 November 2015

The role of a TV show title sequence is to set the tone for the show that follows. A title sequence is to content what packaging is to products, and what logos are for services. A great title sequences evokes the mood of the show, without putting all the cards on the table. A great title sequence can also be rousing and it can build anticipation. Like an anthem at the big game, we feel part of something bigger (or maybe I should get out more). The mark of a great title sequence is that you enjoy watching the whole thing, again and again, every time you watch your show. Here’s 5 of the best:

Marco Polo


This sequence seems to paint itself a story in front of our eyes. It’s beautiful and haunting in the same breath. It’s remarkable not just because it looks so great, but also because of the old school craft and skill that went into its construction. Agency Mill+ used dense paper that allowed water to sit on the surface. They ‘painted’ with water, then added black ink to the water, which morphs into images, creating the effect or images being realised out of the ether. It won a D&AD pencil this year.



Each shot in Dexter’s ‘morning routine’ sequence is brilliantly ambiguous, conflating the murderous with the mundane. It’s dark but it’s funny, just like the show.

Game of Thrones


The Game of Thrones title sequence constantly changes – not just between seasons but also between episodes to reflect the changing plot. That alone makes it a game-changing (excuse the pun) piece of work. With its cogs, nails and other mechanical paraphernalia that build themselves into fantastical cities one by one, it’s like we’re watching the construction of some complex toys for a very dark game indeed.

Mad Men


Simple, intelligent and thought provoking, the Mad Men title sequence is pure class. It doesn’t overstate its case, it evokes an era without resorting to literal communication, and it alludes to the shows dark side without heavy-handed drama. The closing frame of the figure in the chair with a cigarette in his hand has entered the visual lexicon of modern design and culture, which is surely a signifier of a sequence that’s become … dare I say it… ‘iconic’.

The Simpsons

The TV title sequence that started it all! The original Google doodle! The internetz can’t seem to agree how many different ‘couch gags’ have ever been aired, but there’s quite a few of them here:

Some of the more notable collaborations include those with Sylvain Chomet (he of Triplets of Belleville fame) and this profoundly weird sequence from animator Don Hertzfeldt.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Also featured in The Drum

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A more colourful world

Tuesday 17 November 2015

How do you reach new audiences, create brand engagement, build brand equity and generate earned media without any product innovation or media spend at all? Oreo’s new colouring in packs are a good place to start. Inspired by the (somewhat bizarre) adult colouring in trend, the packs area available in the run up to the holiday season at https://shop.oreo.com/template/0/color. You can choose your illustrator, colour in your pack online, or get a blank pack shipped to you, along with a set of markers.


It’s a clever, simple little twist on the brand idea of ‘wonder filled’ - inviting you to make your Oreo’s ‘colorfilled’ instead.


The best thing about it initiative, though, is that it actually happened. A confident brand plays with its iconography, and that makes it fresh and interesting. In summary, a distinctive brand + a brave client = a great idea. Or as Woody Allen put it, 80% of success is just showing up.


By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Credits: Adweek, The Martin Agency, Jeremyville, Timothy Goodman

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Take Five... Design's best passports

Monday 09 November 2015

This week, we have mostly been disapproving of the new UK passport design. We have found it to be sexist, as well as (gasp) badly designed. It looks like the UK Passport Office fed every piece of British history, culture and random visual ephemera into Ada Lovelace’s prototypical computer and it vomited the contents all over the pages of the new passport.

Passports have a serious job to do. They see the world’s citizens across borders and they must foil legions of fraudsters in the process. But that doesn’t mean they have to be badly designed, for crying out loud!

Here are 5 countries that combine the weighty task of staying ahead of the crims with some visual levity, creativity and above all, style.



Is it just me or is Canada really cool right now? First Justin Trudeau, now this – a passport that reveals secret graphics when held under UV light. A must have accessory at every Canadian nightclub.



How long have we waited for a flipbook walking elk! What a stroke of analogue genius. This handsome Scandinavian antelope ambles through the pages of this passport and through the nations of the world (or at least, their stamps). Anything that elicits a smile in an immigration queue can’t be a bad thing.


undefinedundefined Take a look at your own passport. Chances are, it’s either burgundy, red or blue and has an ornate, trad-looking crest placed symmetrically on the front cover. Now look at Norway’s stylish little numbers, available in a range of colours, just like a fashion brand’s seasonal accessories. The pages are clean, simple, and confident (with UV effects for good measure). Oh, the envy. Write to your MP to demand a redesign of your country’s doubtless feeble equivalent. 



Like so much Japanese design, the national passport has a quiet sense of elegance. The motif in the centre is the imperial chrysanthemum crest. “Keep it simple” is an undervalued maxim in this category, and this design proves its worth.



With bold simplicity, clarity and a radical (!) off-centre composition, the Swiss passport has a Scandi-cool cover that you’d be proud to flash at any opportunity. If there’s one piece of design that travels, it’s a passport. With this one, the Swiss are telling the world something about how they value design.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Also featured in The Drum

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Letter from Singapore: Vote for girls

Tuesday 27 October 2015

I’m not talking about the snap general election that happened on September 11th (the ruling party won, you won’t be surprised to hear). I’m talking about the Alamak! Awards, which asks the general public to vote for their ‘favourite sexists’ of 2015.

The Alamak! Awards are an annual initiative driven by women’s group AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research). The candidates usually include politicians, business leaders and of course brand advertisers. The winners will be announced on 7th November.

This year the contenders for this dubious honour include an array of mind-bogglingly bigoted comments from various politicians during the General Election; a tasteless ‘bust enhancement’ ad, a burger stall called ‘Jack the Ripper’ that has named all of its burgers after murdered prostitutes, and a TVC by Ogilvy & Mather.

The last nominee has been the subject of much controversy since it first aired in April this year as part of a campaign encouraging Singaporeans to give their maids (known as ‘foreign domestic workers’) one day off a week – a right they are not guaranteed under Singaporean law. According to the Straits Times, more than half of the 206,000 foreign domestic workers employed in Singapore do not enjoy a regular day off.

Ogilvy’s ad was aimed at influencing public opinion. It’s certainly an urgently required campaign. Unfortunately, the strategy was to vilify mothers and excuse fathers from any involvement in parenting. You can view the ad’s ghastly message here:

I’m confident that had the ‘Bic for Her’ range been launched in Singapore it would have been triumphantly victorious in the Alamak! Awards. If you’re bored, the Amazon reviews for this bizarre product are an excellent way to take your mind off how much better your maid knows your kids that you do.

Past winners of the Alamak! Awards (which is an expression of exasperation in Malay) can be seen here. You can also cast your votes. 

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Featured in Marketing Society


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Take Five... Design's top Olympic logos

Friday 23 October 2015

Was the phrase ‘designed by committee’, loaded as it is with implicit scorn and negativity, first coined in relation to Olympic logos? Really, finding just 5 candidates worthy of an honourable mention has been such a herculean task that part of me feels I’m deserving of a medal. In truth, receiving a brief to design an Olympic logo is a little like being handed a poisoned chalice – it must be virtually impossible to please an entire Olympic committee as well as several governments, with just some typography, a few marks and 5 coloured rings at your disposal.

Here’s 5 of the best. They’re all within a 16 year timespan.


Tokyo 1964


The story goes that this logo’s creator, Yusaku Kamekura, forgot about the deadline and he ended up having to knock this out in a couple of hours. Asia’s first Olympic games logo is striking, memorable and original. I think at this point, it’s worth noting that the recently jettisoned Tokyo 2020 logo was none of these things. I think it’s also worth mentioning that crowd-sourcing an alternative because you’re panicking is not necessarily a classy move. Well, now we’ve got that one out the way.


Mexico 1968


The Mexico 1968 Olympic logo wins the gold for cool. And why wouldn’t it? This was definitely the coolest Olympics. Tommie Smith and John Carlos made a stand for civil rights with their black power salute. It was the first Olympics to be transmitted in colour. And Swedish athlete Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall was the first athlete ever to be disqualified for doping (he drank a few beers before competing - what a legend). With its retrolicious quasi-psychedelic typography, the logo seems to speak to an era, not just a single event.


Munich 1972


The uncompromising aesthetic of this op-art logo feels a million miles away from 99% of Olympic logos. It just doesn’t look like an Olympic logo. Naturally, it was extremely controversial. If you’re interested, it’s called the ‘Strahlenkranz’ and was intended to suggest the sun’s rays as well as the Olympic rings – all merged into one trippy Bauhaus symbol. Otl Aicher, the designer, also created the Lufthansa logo.


Montreal 1976


Symmetry and simplicity are at the heart of this one, which takes the 5 Olympic rings and then has a bit of fun with them, rather than just tacking them onto a separate mark. Apparently the logo represents the Olympic podium, the Olympic track (I guess that’s the oval bits), and a ‘M’ for Montréal. Some people think it’s also a maple leaf. Hmmm.


Moscow 1980


This wasn’t just a logo for an Olympic games. It was the logo an entire ideology that just happened to be manifested in a single event. This was Russia branding its side in the Cold War. This logo was Russia’s design weapon in the arms race of Olympic logos. When America countered with their own logo in the following Olympics, they fired a blank. But this Russian one rocks. It looks like Red Square, and bleak communist buildings, and a running track, and a rocket, all in one.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Featured in The Drum

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Will digital print cost you, or will it pay you?

Wednesday 14 October 2015

We’re living in turbulent times.

Population growth, urbanization and increasing affluence all mean that packaged good makers are set to grow. Yet, just when their businesses should be booming, many report slowing sales and shrinking profits.

Looking back over the last two decades, we can clearly see how digital technology has fermented a revolution in consumer behavior, accelerating the creation and destruction of empires, great and small.

The fragmentation of media has driven the battleground in store. Whoever connects with the customer is King. It’s why charismatic packaging has become fundamental to success.

Which makes it puzzling that more brands don’t exploit digital printing it to its potential.


Relatively high cost is often quoted as the principal barrier to overcome, but aren’t we looking through the telescope from the wrong end? Restricting digital print to small selling lines and promotional stock may be prudent, but doesn’t it represent an opportunity cost? It’s reminiscent of the early days of mobile phones, when cautious people turned them off unless they wished to make a call.

The leading grocers aren’t so reticent. Taking their cue from ‘fast fashion’ suppliers are expected to buffer fluctuations in demand with digitally printed labels, cutting lead times and waste.

But for marketing, digital print provides an opportunity to turn packaging into that most rare and precious thing – a communication medium, in the right place at the right time. And it’s a medium you own!


This is why we see packaging as a mass medium of the future. A place where we can express something of the brand’s purpose and amplify it with eye-catching design campaigns. The evidence is becoming clear - charismatic design not only helps get brands noticed and chosen, it can also diminish the importance of price.

Digital print may currently only enjoy a modest share of the packaging print market, but brands should not ignore its potential. Perhaps it’s because they have no money that upstart entrepreneurs take the lead where many corporates yet fear to tread?

So, the question to ask yourself is will digital print cost you, or will it pay you? Truthfully, it’s your choice, only you can decide.

By Andrew Knowles, Chairman and Co-founder, jones knowles ritchie

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Take Five... Design's top rums

Friday 09 October 2015

Rum used to be the poor man’s whisky. Its reputation was rough, unshaven and a bit bawdy. Perhaps it’s Jack Sparrow’s influence, but the rum category is successfully trading on its outsider appeal, blending the relatively sweet taste of the product with the edginess of its image.



Industry rumour has it that the brief on Kraken was to ‘kill the Captain’ (a reference to the spiced rum market leader, Captain Morgan). A brilliant brief, and an exceptional design response. Since Kraken, you can hardly throw a stick in a rum bar without hitting a bottle that has a piratical theme.

Sailor Jerry


Sailor Jerry proves that imperfection is sometimes the magic ingredient in spirits branding. It’s got an asymmetrical label, no back bar standout, and some really dodgy typography. But as a result, it feels human and authentic, and that makes all the difference.



Apparently bats used to nest in the rafters of the first Bacardi distillery in Cuba, attracted by the smell of molasses (or perhaps they were just too drunk to move). Symbols of good fortune, they were adopted as the brand’s icon. Now, Bacardi’s brand spirit celebrates its heritage with a vibe that seems to evoke to heyday of 1930s Cuba. And the bat has evolved from slick to hairy.

Don Papa


It’s hard to get noticed on the back bar. You can either be so fundamentally distinctive that you interrupt the horizon (Absolut, Maker’s Mark), or you can be weird in a way that invites attention through intrigue. Don Papa certainly delivers on weird. It looks like a bank note from some tropical country. Is Don Papa it’s dictator? Why has he got a bush baby in his cravat and an iguana on his head? I don’t want to know, actually. I like a bit of mystery with my rum.  

Lola Belle


Shiver me timbers, there’s no nautical iconography in sight! Lola Belle is a cherry flavoured Caribbean rum and it’s a wonderful antidote to this category’s masculine conventions. Apparently it’s named for a ‘legendary burlesque dancer who adorned herself with cherries on stage’. Now there’s an idea for the weekend. Chin chin!

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Featured in The Drum

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It's in the bag

Thursday 08 October 2015

So, Monday was the day. The long-fabled October the Fifth hath cometh: a day of reckoning for the humble plastic bag in England. From this day forth, with a few fine-print exemptions, it will cost five British pennies to use a plastic bag at the checkout.

Over here in England, we have admittedly been dragging our heels, prisoners of our homemade shrines to the plastic bag buried in our kitchen cupboards. Scotland (2014) and Wales (2011) have both managed it before us, and there’s even been wholesale bans on plastic bags imposed by the likes of Rwanda (2008) and Bangladesh (2002).

Nevertheless there is - finally - a new dawn upon us. So let’s get down to business: what’s the branding opportunity? Glad you asked Internet.

The plastic bag is one of the most widely and cheaply distributed owned media a brand has at their disposal – mobile advertising that people willingly display, re-use and even wear:


With that in mind, as a means of representing your brand - from spreading some key messaging to simply being an aesthetically attractive reminder that you sell both toilet roll and Twiglets better than the next guy - it’s been a relatively underused platform.

As they enter the twilight years of dominance though, a new opportunity has emerged in the bagging area.

Already popular, there’ll undoubtedly be an upwards surge in ‘Bag for Life’ purchases – why spend 5p a pop on flimsy plastic when you can spend a few more on a hardy new life partner? As with the post-2008 rise in the UK of the ‘Lidl class’, the Bag for Life is going to accelerate as a symbol for the cost-savvy and coincidentally eco-friendly customer.

Likewise, with the Bag for Life - the Homo Sapiens of the “carrying your stuff” genus - retailers and brands have an opportunity to display themselves in the best possible light: reliable, considerate and attractive.

The last point is the most superficial, but arguably the most impactful. If it looks good, your customers a) notice them and b) choose them as they head out to pound the pavement: ideally all the way back to your store.

In that spirit, here’s a few best in show examples:


Tesco’s collaboration with Orla Kiely’s opens up further potential for the medium, not just big on bananas but supportive of the arts and fashion for good measure àla Evian Kenzo (photo credit Polkadot Pink).


In a similar vein, if you’re creating something desirable, sometimes removing yourself from the picture and focusing on the message is even more resonant, as Carrefour have done here with this Bjorn Lie illustrated number.

Sainsbury’s range of re-usables are top-of-the-class on the High Street, armed with just the right level of quirk and charm in their illustration style and cheeky, personable copy.


To round up the list, here’s something a little different. Whole Foods, aren’t alone in using brown paper bags, but they’ve somehow managed to tie themselves to a substrate that feels like the essence of the brand: substantial, eco-friendly Americana. It’s the perfect meeting of a brand’s values and its aesthetic.

By Christopher Sharpe, Account Manager, jkr London

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Take Five... Design's best national flags

Monday 28 September 2015

With all the brouhaha around the public competition to redesign the New Zealand flag, it seems timely to remind ourselves what makes a well-designed flag. According to podcast legend Roman Mars, there are 5 golden rules: simplicity, meaningful symbolism, 2 – 3 colours only, no lettering or seals – and of course, distinctiveness.

If there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that people get very hot under the collar about flags. Of course they do – they are symbols for something much bigger and much more potent. Flags are caught up in ideology, politics, nationalism and conflict. Still, let’s attempt to view them through the lens of pure, trivial design aesthetics.




Simple, understated, somehow a little mesmerising… you could argue that the Japanese flag is the epitome of Japanese aesthetics. It’s certainly a master-class in graphic design clarity and confidence.


Sri Lanka


After all that minimalism, it’s nice to consider gaze upon a flag that’s a little more on the ornate side – 5 flag design principles be damned! This flag has a lion. Holding a sword. Which makes it cool.




Flags need to look as strong when they’re being flown as they do as a flat graphic. The distinctive serrated profile of the Nepal flag does both, somehow suggesting the Buddhist prayer flags that are festooned around stupas at the base of Mount Everest, as well as the peaks of the mountain itself. Plus if you squint it looks like the flat is actually the profile of someone laughing. Fact of the day: this is the world’s only non-quadrilateral national flag.


United States of America


What this particular combination of colours and shapes on a rectangular frame says to each of us will vary greatly depending on our worldview. It’s quite hard to see through all the dense fug of meaning and association to its bold simplicity and effective use of contrasting primary colours.


The Isle of Man


This one’s in here because its distinctiveness is off the chart. The 3 legged thing in the middle is called a triskelion and it’s an ancient symbol used by the Mycenaens (so now you know). But really it looks like 3 men in suits of armour doing the can-can.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Featured in The Drum 

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Happy Meals

Thursday 17 September 2015


We sometimes define an icon as a brand that has transcended the need to explain itself. Against that definition, this work for McDonald's surely fits the bill.

I was going to explain it, but that would be an insult to the work. Which speaks for itself. I, for one, am lovin’ it.

Credit to Texan agency Moroch.




By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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Take Five... Design's top hotel identities

Monday 14 September 2015

When you choose a product from a supermarket shelf or from a bar display, you’re choosing largely based on the pack. The logo and broader identity are the brand’s primary means of persuasion. But when you choose a hotel, you choose based on the photography of the room, the destination, and the vibe of the brand as it comes across on (usually) the website. The logo isn’t a crucial differentiator. Perhaps that’s why there aren’t many great ones out there - they’re just not considered that important.

But they are, of course, because once you’re in a hotel or resort, the brand’s identity needs to reflect the experience of the destination.

Here’s some hotel identities that have been given the attention they deserve:

One & Only

Cheesy name, but very classy resorts. And a very beautifully crafted piece of type that feels entirely in keeping with the classic elegance of this luxey brand.


Ace Hotels


Ace Hotels couldn’t be further from the old school vibe of One & Only. It’s almost anti-design – functional, no-nonsense, honest looking. Kind of like a quote on their website about the hotel itself, it’s ‘everything you need, and nothing you don’t.



I like the understated confidence of the Aman logo, but I am even more in love with the genius of the naming strategy. Aman resorts are beautiful hotels in stunning destinations - each one unique, yet still unmistakably Aman. So the naming convention encompasses the parent brand as well as the destination – Amanpuri in Phuket, Thailand; Amanwella in Sri Lanka, Amankora in Bhutan, Amanpulo in the Philippines, and so on.


The Standard


It’s called the Standard, but the logo’s upside down. Because you know, staying at The Standard is anything but. It’s an economic way to capture the spirit of your brand in your identity.


The Happy Eight


Oh wait! A brand isn’t just a logo. That’s why this identity for The Happy Eight Hotel is so wonderful – it’s a whole rich visual language that’s more irresistible than any slick photography of any snazzy room.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Featured in The Drum

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Instagram's invading my ad feed

Friday 04 September 2015


Lately (like, in the last day at least) it feels I can hardly scroll through a single newsfeed without uncovering some kind of reaction to Instagram's improved advertising platform. In short: much excitement, much wailing, some gnashing. 


Whatever. What interests me more is how Instagram's distinctive aesthetic is making the leap from our smart phones and into traditional 'physical' media like Alice stepping through the looking glass / phone screen. Two unlikely candidates for embracing the Instagram aesthetic in their photography include Taco Bell (check out the colour-saturated burrito library above) and hotel brand Loewe's, which uses real Instagram images (taken by guests) as the centrepiece of their 'Travel for Real' campaign. There's a full piece about the phenomenon by Adweek - read it here


Is it a case of Instagram becoming so influential that it's crossing back into the mainstream and redefining our expectations of how brands communicate through photography, regardless of platform or media? Or is Instagram itself just a manifestation of a wider cultural zeitgeist that values authenticity and imperfection over high polish and gloss? It's probably a bit of both. 

In the meantime if you haven't seen it, you might like to ponder this insanely complex installation for Forever 21. A machine composed of 6,400 wooden spools of thread that turned Instagram posts with the hashtag #F21ThreadScreen into physical images, in a kind of constantly shifting live mosaic. 

Perhaps what all of this points to is not just that we live in an age that prizes not just what is 'true' (photography that celebrates an imperfect world), but also what's 'real' (experiences that are tangible). It's also clear that we're only just starting to experiment with blurring the lines between the digital and physical. Exciting times indeed. Even with the wailing and gnashing. 

Instagram images from @jkrGlobal.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr

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Take Five... Design's best posh chocolates

Friday 28 August 2015

Would you like to know how to design a posh chocolate bar? Step 1: Pick a range of pretty patterns. Make sure they’re colourful and diverse. Step 2: Apply a small label to the centre or top of the pack. Ensure the label is white or cream and features sans serif black type and perhaps a small monogram or etched illustration. A simple border is a nice extra but not mandatory. Step 3: Er, that’s it.

And now here are some brands that put substance before style.


It sounds French, but it has a Royal Warrant. Its graphics are all trad, but its colours are completely bonkers. It’s a trippy mash-up of Versailles, Willy Wonka and Alexander McQueen. Prestat has just the right amount of wrong. Love.


Ah, the exotic art-deco-tropic vibe of this bean-to-bar Vietnamese chocolate brand… Each bar is from a different area of Vietnam, each uses a colour inspired by the surprisingly technicolour tones of cocoa pods. In a world where the codes of craft are the default setting for small, artisanal brands like this one, Marou has a language that is joyful and charismatic.

Green and Black’s

There’s a lot of chocolate packaging out there that really overdoes it on the quirky quotient. I like the fact that Green and Black’s feels quietly confident. The ‘green’ refers to the ethos of the founders, and ‘black’ to the chocolate. There’s an elegantly crafted logotype, and a leaf motif that is (sometimes) used cleverly. In short, Green and Black’s looks like the market leader it is.

100% Chocolate Café

Posh chocolate packaging tends to be ornate and embellished to signal the value of the product within. 100% Chocolate Café, which has its own range of chocolate bars, is refreshingly different. It’s Japanese of course – which explains the perfect pitch of functionalism and craft.

The Berkeley Hotel

undefined Okay, this one’s not really a brand, but it does use copy to great effect. It’s one of the complimentary in-room gifts given to guests at the Berkeley Hotel in London. Speaks for itself really.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Featured in The Drum

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Is Less Always More?

Wednesday 26 August 2015

This little design project did the rounds a while ago but it's been back on social media recently. It’s a handful of big name household brands, progressively ‘de-cluttered’ in a series of simple steps.


It’s a crude exercise in Photoshopping, but there are some interesting points that it raises.

Firstly, we can obviously conclude that there are a lot of brands with unnecessary nonsense on their packs. Take Nutella, which looks confident and timeless without the naff illustration of a piece of bread smothered in chocolatey goodness. Or Mr Muscle, which loses nothing by losing its generic ‘whoosh’ graphic. Or Pringles, which seems to look more like the market leader once it stops trying so hard to explain what a Pringle is.

Secondly, you might note that there are some brands with key visual assets whose significance only becomes clear once they are removed. Nutella’s white background might seem extraneous, but without it, Nutella just isn’t Nutella anymore, just as Red Bull’s diagonal silver and blue background is a vital part of its iconography.


And thirdly you could also conclude that some packs that are so lacking in any distinctive brand equity that there’s nothing to remove in the first place, and nothing remains afterwards. Step up, Nestlé Corn Flakes (which isn’t even a brand technically).

At the end of the day, it’s all a bit beside the point. The magic formula for successful packs isn’t about embracing minimalism. It’s about recognising and cultivating what visual assets you own, and elevating those above the codes of the category. That might mean your packs are simple and strong, or crafted and elegant. The only important thing is whether they feel like only your brand could have done them.

As seen on Dezeen

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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The five second conundrum

Friday 21 August 2015

I recently read that the ad spend this year on YouTube by the Top 100 brands has risen by 60%. In a world of streaming services (cue Netflix) and online content, this probably won’t come as a surprise to most of us, but reading those words is still shocking for those of us who stayed up late to watch the worldwide first play of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'.

These are interesting and fast-moving times for those of us in design and advertising. Who would have predicted in the early 90s that TV would no longer be the most powerful medium for brands to reach consumers? The biggest challenge for advertisers and designers alike is how to react to this new reality, and get ahead of the curve.

From a design perspective, technology has seen us become more comfortable with a reductive style through information graphics, whilst the major brands have reduced their recognisable key assets to the bare minimum – take a look at Coke, M&M's, PG tips or McDonald's for instance. People want to get to the point, fast. We are all busy people, and time is precious.


Packaging briefs are asking designers to tell a narrative in one swift look that lasts for many years. Hence why we use every single touchpoint - from rituals and glassware, to display stands and poster campaigns - to convey a wider brand story in a non-linear way. You simply can’t tell your life story in mere moments; you need to use all the elements in your brand toolkit. A brand is the product of a thousand small gestures – and those small gestures are where design matters. 


Now advertising faces the same challenges that designers have for many years. Long narratives don't work when you only have five seconds to play with before that ‘skip' prompt appears on your online video. But the best creatives revel in these challenges. Almost every great project I've been involved in turned out better because it had limitations, which is why the recent GEICO ads were so refreshing. Rather than thinking of those five seconds as a limitation, The Martin Agency saw an opportunity to turn the issue on its head, getting to the point fast but rewarding those of us who stick around in a similar way to how 'Police Squad!’ did back in the 1980s.

The worlds of design and advertising have been colliding for a while now but we’re now being asked to behave in the same way for the first time in our short histories. Cannes Lions highlighted this, with design awards being won by ad agencies and vice versa. The playing field is starting to look a lot more level. I believe this is a good thing and that it’ll lead to even better creative. Agencies, like the brands they work with, will no longer get chosen if they produce mediocre, non-strategic work. Like those packs on crowded supermarket shelves and ads with only five seconds to play with, we all need to be distinctive so we immediately stand out and are remembered in a world with short attention spans… 

By Sean Thomas, Creative Director, jkr London

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Why can't I get a whisky in my nail salon?

Wednesday 19 August 2015


Last month The Economist published a feature-length piece on the glum future of men in the modern world. It seems ‘the weaker sex’ are struggling to adapt to a changing world that increasingly values brains over brawn.

In Asia, however, new men seem to be coping very well with the changing world, thank you very much, and are making themselves right at home. There’s no crisis of masculinity here. And nothing illustrates that point better than the stratospheric rise of Asia’s male grooming trend.

According to Kantar Worldpanel, male grooming products are outperforming women’s beauty products in terms of growth in almost every Asian market. 63% of men in Korea use a facial toner for crying out loud!

Does it mean that Asian men are embracing their feminine side? Not at all. Apparently, for instance, men still don’t like shopping as much as women. On-line retailer Tate and Tonic curates a selection of clothes based on user profiles and sends them direct to your doorstep – no visit to a mall required. It’s effectively taken over the traditional role of the girlfriend or wife in picking clothes for their menfolk. In short, Singaporean men are simply becoming more confident at defining their own masculinity.


Meanwhile, all over Singapore you can hardly throw a pomade brush without hitting an old school barbershop. Men are flocking to quirky independent establishments to get their moustaches waxed and their pompadours sculpted. Impeccably English institutions like Truefitt & Hill rub hair-dusted shoulders with local upstarts like The Hound of the Baskervilles and Sultans of Shave. At Sultans of Shave, there’s a bar where you can buy a drink or even keep your own bottle of Hibiki for those thirsty shave moments. At The Gentleman’s Lounge, you can choose between a spa treatment and a glass of scotch and a spot of TV. All of them offer man-centric respite from the pace of the modern world. All of them aspire to varying levels of hipsterdom and gentlemanly swagger. And frankly, all of them make me green with envy that nothing similar exists for women. If anyone hears of a nail salon offering Japanese whisky in Singapore, do let me know.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Written for The Marketing Society

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Take Five... Design's best matchboxes

Monday 17 August 2015

The match category is basking in the glow of its twilight hours, looking increasingly gorgeous in the soft light. A quick trawl through matchbox designs is an exercise in nostalgia, with beautiful retro packs being traded by enthusiastic ‘philuminists’ all over the world (that’s a matchbox collector, by the way). We all have a box from a cool bar, restaurant or hotel that we never use, and a well-designed one can make us smile. Perhaps our fondness for this humdrum little product is keener because we know they won’t be around forever. Strike a light. 



The only reaction you could possibly have as you open a box of Kokeshi is pure delight. Then gut-wrenching guilt as you scrape one of these cute little match’s smiling faces against sandpaper and watch it burst into flames… Weird and wonderful in a way that only Japanese brands can be.




Solstickan is the name of a children’s charity in Sweden. Some of their funds are raised through the sale of the Salstickan matchboxes, which features an artwork created in 1936 by a chap called Einar Nerman, who also drew for Tatler magazine. It’s one of the most well known popular culture images in Sweden, apparently. Hopefully the charity has alternative revenue sources, as this one could have a finite life span. 


Red Heads


This iconic Australian BBQ accessory has the rare quality of tying together product, name and design in one neat little bundle. Redheads were the first red tipped matches in Australia and have featured a series of women since 1947. They are well known for their limited edition packs, which reimagine ‘Miss Redhead’ in different themes, the analogue precursor of today’s digitally printed limited editions.


Swan Vestas


Swan Vestas have been the staple of every British kitchen and fireplace for many decades. With such a distinctive brand icon, it’s a shame the matchboxes don’t have the authority of the simpler, more confident rolling paper range.




These Kiwi matches feature a beehive icon that is apparently inspired by the unusual shape of the New Zealand parliament building. They have an irresistible 1970s feel to them, which you can also immerse yourself in here.


Bonus Box! Anonymous Eastern European matchbox


Some of the more observant among you may have noticed this week features a bonus design because this little beauty deserves a design gold medal. This matchbox is a perfect example of how a simple piece of visual wit can transform a seemingly mundane, everyday item into something memorable and engaging.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Featured in The Drum

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Snapchat - A lesson in transience?

Monday 10 August 2015

Snapchat fascinates me to no end – I’ve yet to come across another app that’s managed to so convincingly overhaul its reputation of questionable usage, to become a hugely popular platform for advertisers.


For the uninitiated, Snapchat is a mobile app that allows users to send images to one another, providing them with comfort in the knowledge that the videos or images self-destruct after a few seconds. The idea of transience, and perhaps its seeming lack of repercussions, clearly appeals to Snapchat’s 30 million active users, who have found a whole host of functions for the app. From sending silly selfies, to sharing pictures of a meal, the app has shown itself to be the new way for millenials to share a personal moment with a specific audience.

While the idea of sharing moments is far from novel, what makes Snapchat distinctive is the way it hinges on the idea of impermanence – the antidote to traditional social media sites like Facebook and Instagram, which focus on scrapbooking and memorialising.


The insouciance Snapchat affords is a certainly a key part of its appeal, keeping in line with the #yolo state of mind. This appeal is not lost on a number of global brands like McDonalds, Universal Pictures & Samsung, who have all signed up for a slice of this advertising pie.

McDonalds has introduced a location filter in Snapchat, which allows users to put filters over their Snaps whenever they are in a McDonalds in the US (as seen here). It’s a strategic move - McDonalds has been known to be losing its appeal to millenials, and there is no other app that targets a certain set of consumers so precisely. For design, filters like these are an opportunity for brands to own shared moments with their audiences.

Is capitalising on transience the new way for brands to communicate? Not all brands will find Snapchat the appropriate platform to communicate – the key thing about communicating on social media is that brands need to be subtle rather than standout. Brands need to ease themselves into the medium’s functions, and adopt the attitudinal habits of its users. The advertising platform on Snapchat is made for brands that have a penchant for being “in the moment”, and are able to create visual stories that weave seamlessly into the ephemeral, light-hearted nature the medium.

Call it a gimmick, but I still think it’s pretty amazing when a brand can find its way into a personal moment that you choose to share with friends. Give me a few seconds of personally delivered amusement over trite, preachy adverts any day.

By Saniah Aljunied, Account Executive, jkr Singapore



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Take Five... Design's top gin brands

Monday 03 August 2015

Is there a spirits category that’s more full of potential and creativity, yet also so replete with the tedious codes of ‘craft’ that have become the graphic straightjacket of our times? Gin is a mixing spirit – meaning it is seldom drunk neat – so we’re less likely to choose on taste profile than we are with other categories. Design, therefore, is critically important.

Here are five brands that created charismatic personalities that are refreshingly unique and enduring.

Tanqueray 10


Tanqueray is the granddaddy of all gins. It had been doing its classy thing for decades before the gin renaissance spawned an army of artisanal wannabes. And the new(ish) Tanqueray 10 bottle is an encapsulation of its elegant, timeless beauty: half art deco icon, half clever lemon squeezer, Tanqueray 10 proves you don’t have to be weird to be wonderful in this category. 



Sipsmith isn’t particularly fancy: it doesn’t have a cork stopper, or a silk sash, or a metal tray to sit in, or a band of copper around its waist. It doesn’t even have a very remarkable bottle. But it does have a sense of imagination and whimsy, and though you somehow know it’s English, it’s a very Alice in Wonderland version of it. Lovely and odd.  



Thanks goodness! A gin mercifully unencumbered by modern pretensions. This one looks like it’s been distilled in the presidential suite of the Taj Mahal Royal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. Described as an ‘oriental spiced gin’, the red elephants and chintzy curtain sash tie all add to its raj-tastic vibe. 

Monkey 47


This shape shifter looks like a rum, or a dodgy Victorian tincture, or perhaps even a boot polish. But of course it’s a gin, and its name comes from the number of botanicals it uses and the not-to-be-underestimated ABV. Why there is a monkey on a stamp on a medicine bottle with a German descriptor only adds to the mystique of the whole thing. And mystique is possibly the most important ingredient in making a great gin bottle. 

Bombay Sapphire


Yes, it’s an oldie, but Bombay Sapphire has a visual brand language that most brands would kill for: it’s unique, rich, flexible and evocative. It’s partnership with designers from Karim Rashid and Holly Fulton to Thomas Heatherwick (who designed the brand’s extraordinary new visitor’s centre) have kept it desirable and relevant even whilst gin has become one of the most creatively competitive categories in spirits.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Featured in The Drum

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Sweet and Sour

Tuesday 28 July 2015

This week it emerged that Tesco will be delisting all kids soft drinks unless they have reduced sugar content. This will be a bitter pill to swallow for big brands like Ribena, Robinsons and Capri Sun.

You can read the full article on The Drum here.

A few thoughts occur here. Firstly, what kind of a weird reality is this, in which the orientation of the national moral compass is dictated by a supermarket?!!

Secondly, this comes as confirmation – as if we needed it – that the sugary drinks category is the new villain of the consumer goods world. So far the category’s fallen foul of public mood and media opinion. Now that it’s in the firing line of the supermarkets, things have suddenly got serious. How will it respond? Should we expect a flurry of repositionings, redesigns and natural, no added sugar innovations? Or will all of these inevitable gestures equate to a case of ‘rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’?

Thirdly, when is the backlash against sugar going to extend not just to product profile and brand identity but to store design?


Here’s a picture of my captive walk to the checkout till at a Woolworths store in South Africa recently. It’s lined with sweets and chocolates. It’s beautiful, or awful, depending on your perspective. I’ll wager it won’t be long before the way stores design their interiors to influence shopper behaviour and spend will be regulated. No more escalators set at opposite ends of the department store to ‘encourage traffic flow’. No more aisles of sweets and chocolates leading up to the checkout till. The question here is where do you the draw the line – legislating against bright lighting, pleasant smells or calming music because they can positively influence our propensity to purchase?

Perhaps it is our destiny to transform into quinoa-eating mineral water swillers who are obliged to shop in communist-era supermarkets that have outlawed choice and who tell us how we should raise our children. I’d rather check out of that particular future. Pass me that bottle of Coke.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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Take Five... Design's top banknotes

Tuesday 21 July 2015

If there’s any category of design that’s strangled by convention, it’s banknotes. And with good reason too. If you’re trying to persuade someone to hand over tangible objects of value (gold and silver, for instance) in return for a piece of paper (as was the case when banknotes were first used), that piece of paper really needs to look the business. Trust, authority and gravitas are all paramount. But now that we’re happy to pay for goods with a few taps on a phone screen, do we really need all the frills and calligraphy and portraits of ponderous old men? Here’s a few examples of currencies that go against the grain.




Aruba’s banknotes all feature island wildlife - including frogs, turtles, snakes and owls and – hurrah! – not a single venerable colonial gent or post-independence despot in sight. There’s a lovely geometric graphic motif with textures and details that hints back to the island’s Carib heritage but of course the overall impression is strikingly modern.




From simplicity to ornate embellishment – Bhutan’s beautiful banknotes might play by the rules of traditional banknote design, but they do so in a language that’s entirely their own. Check out those flying monkeys on the reverse of the 1 ngultrum note (they also win the prize for the best currency name).


Hong Kong Special Administrative Region 10 Dollar note


Hong Kong’s banknotes are issued by 3 different banks, each with different designs. This clearly makes Hong Kong the most interesting country for a banknote buff. This particular one has a funky geometric feel about it that seems to if not capture then at least reflect the spirit of its city: future-facing, vibrant and intense!


Cook Islands


I’m not even sure if this one is still in circulation, but certainly at some point the Cook Islands’ national currency featured a naked woman seemingly riding a shark, clapping a couple of coconut shells together. You go girl.




No great surprise that Norway’s new currency design takes top spot. The design of the front of these notes is appealing enough – featuring sea-themed stuff like boats, lighthouses and huge stormy waves – but it’s the back of the banknotes that really do something extraordinary. The pixelated, clean and uncompromisingly contemporary design is quite possibly the first and only real counter-conventional design in this category. Let’s hope we see more like this.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Featured in The Drum

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Glastonbury: The brand without the brands

Tuesday 14 July 2015

From being blown away by the magic of Lionel, to discovering numerous new bands I am now listening to on loop, to getting out of town and road tripping to the countryside, I am fresh off the back of my first ever Glastonbury experience having well and truly caught the ‘Glasto’ bug.


As a novice to the festival, I was of course aware of its worldwide iconic status (as well as its penchant for a bit of rain and mud), but what I wasn’t expecting was its staggering lack of overt branding. With a gathering of close to 200,000 people and an array of demographics on display (all paying the privilege of over £200 to attend), the opportunity for commercial cultivation on Eavis’ farm was all too obvious.

As I trekked through those fields though, themes immediately began to emerge: regular enviro-friendly messaging from compost toilets thanking you for ‘giving a shit’, to the omnipresent slogan ‘Love the farm, leave no trace’ striving to reduce wasteful consumption on site. In case you’d somehow missed the environmental memo, emblazoning the main stages were the logos of Glastonbury’s main partners Oxfam, WaterAid and Greenpeace, a compelling depiction of the festival’s values at large.

Unlike other festivals, you could bring your tinny with you to watch all the acts. A sense of mutual trust contributed to the feel good atmosphere. In terms of consumer goods - I only saw two brands displayed on collateral that constituted Glastonbury’s ‘owned media’: Tuborg and Thatcher’s Cider, but even they had to make like the punters and share the space on a pint cup. Mind you, at £4.50-80 a pint, I still had the home comfort of London prices.


The outlier is EE, with undoubtedly the most overt branding at the festival with their power bar charging stations. Perhaps their presence more popular with some than others, even they got into the altruistic spirit of things, their stations providing a great service for those looking to share with the world just how much fun they were having in real-time, to the delight of those back home I’m sure.


45 years on then, it’s clear Glastonbury has managed to retain its values remarkably well, whilst avoiding the influx of overt commercialism that characterises the pretenders to its throne. It’s perhaps no surprise then that Glastonbury has held on to the kind of incredibly loyal (and growing) fan base that most brands must be extremely envious of. A lesson to brands: it’s precisely because Glastonbury has stayed true to its values and identity, despite its growth and all the years that have passed, that its been able to continue to grow and confidently adapt as the years go by. It has evolved over the long term, but the Glastonbury brand is stronger than ever.

By Ash Clark, Marketing, jkr London

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Take Five… Design’s top airline liveries

Friday 10 July 2015

Unlike most categories I can think of, airline brands are in the unusual position of having half their customers literally fearing for their lives when they use their products. So I would imagine it’s not easy to get an airline rebrand right. You want it to look reliable and trustworthy, but you also want it to have personality and charm. Here’s five from across the spectrum.



Let’s start with one of the big boys. Etihad’s new geometric pattern is sleek and smart. It tessellates around the tail-find of the aircraft, evoking sand dunes, funky Abu Dhabi architecture, and Islamic geometry, all the while somehow managing to look fittingly opulent at the same time. And you can easily see how the motif will extend across all kinds of touch-points. Funky, modern and sophisticated. Which is I guess the image Abu Dhabi would like to portray.




How can you not love Fastjet, the African budget airline that’s flying ahead of the flock when it comes to building brand charisma? It’s symbol is the African grey parrot, of course, and its warm yellow brand colour and clean, modern feel give it a reassuring air of quality.



Garuda Indonesia

You need to fly over the Indonesian archipelago on a clear day to notice how the tones of green and blue in the water below are reflected in Garuda Indonesia’s tonal brand identity. From a dodgy local carrier that was famous for all the wrong reasons, Garuda feels like a credible and even sophisticated global contender.



Air Inuit

Book me a flight to Kangiqsualujjuaq this instant! This little beauty punches far above its weight in terms of brand magnetism, with a striking red and white livery of two Canada geese taking flight. It’s bound to stand out in an icy landscape too, in case you can’t find the plane you’re looking for.



ANA’s R2D2 livery

What emblem could an airline brand use to communicate notions of trust, reliability, endurance and charm? What character embodies calm under pressure, loyalty and technical savvy? Who else but R2D2, who this year is adorning ANA’s newest Dreamliner aircraft as part of an exclusive deal with Walt Disney. Good for social media, but does it make the slightest difference if you’re inside the aircraft?


By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Featured in The Drum

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Take Five… Design’s top mineral water brands

Friday 19 June 2015

Water: the ultimate commodity. A category of identical products with no absolutely no differentiating product characteristics discernible to the average human being. And as a result an extremely innovative field for creative branding.


Ty Nant

Ty Nant’s now iconic ripple effect water bottle took the market by storm when it launched in the 1990s. For every ounce of praise the design earned, it took an equal amount of flak. ‘Poorly branded’, ‘no standout’, ‘a gimmick’. Really of course, the brand’s equity is in the bottle shape, not in a conventional paper wrap label, giving it more standout than almost all of its competitors. ‘You need to start everything afresh, like you know nothing’, said its designer Ross Lovegrove. Which explains why this design was so refreshingly counter-conventional.



While Ty Nant eschews convention by building its brand on a purely structural equity, Kirin’s packs favour a decorative styling over the formulaic ‘logo + image of a mountain’ approach. It’s wonderful, it’s whimsical, it’s confident, it’s quirky. And that totally makes up for the boring bottle shape.




The water-as-accessory brand most favoured by Hollywood celebs, Fiji wins the prize for most exotic packaging (and perceived biggest carbon footprint). The square bottle and slightly tacky South Pacific hoola vibe somehow resonated with those of us who had become tired of French volcanic spring water and Icelandic glacial springs. More exotic, please! Next up, water from Mars?




Non-carbonated (still) mineral water sells itself on purity, which is why covering up your product is such a bold move. But Aquapax’s eco-friendly card packs are beautifully different, with a rich, maximalist aesthetic that feels like it shares more ground stylistically with Italian aperitivo brands than bottled water. A brand that looks good, as well as makes you feel good about giving back? What’s not to love.



Evian ‘drop’ bottle

How damn cute is this little thing! Evian’s ‘drop’ bottle (or ‘La Goutte’) comes in a diminutive 200ml PET bottle and has all its legal and mandatory information in the lid label. The curves of the bottle profile contrast beautifully with the angular serrations of the Evian mountain motif, embossed in the bottle material. It’s small and sexy but it’s also smart: it’s easy to crush and therefore to recycle.



By: Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Featured in The Drum

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#fansofcannes: USA Today Tomorrow's News Today

Thursday 18 June 2015

‘A newspaper not a snooze paper’. An irrelevant medium in today's fast paced, low attention, multi digital format, content overload culture? Perhaps, but Wolff Olins Lion winning redesign of America’s 2nd largest newspaper certainly brought the brand a well needed injection of caffeine.


USA Today grew on the simple formula of easy digestible content supported with large format images. A formula perfectly suited to today’s generalist. Graphically, however, it was but stuck in the 1980s of its birth. Wolff Olins’ bold, clean, infographic branding reflected perfectly the editorial style of the brand. The design idea was christened ‘Pulse of the Nation’ which one hopes was the inspiration behind the evolution of globe pictogram to versatile graphical dot. The redesign pays a big respect to it’s predecessor in the retention of the Futura font and familiar roundel shape. By retaining the most distinctive elements whilst injecting both colour and imagery to the symbol, the overall effect has more pace and vitality.

The word may be mightier than the sword but a symbol is always more noticeable. This ever-changing dot delivers a fresh consistency to the brand image whilst contrasting with the classic grid structure of a newspaper, thereby nicely highlighting relevant pieces of content.


Fantasy Interactive took the branding and reflected it beautifully across all digital platforms creating a strong visual ecosystem that balances brand and content in a very distinctive way.

A well-earned Cannes Lion in 2012 that will no doubt be reporting on next weeks Festival winners. We wait with baited breath, as ever #fansofcannes.

By Chris Halton, Global Strategy Director, jkr London

USA Today Tomorrow's News Today: Wolff Olins

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#fansofcannes: Johnnie Walker The Man Who Walked Around The World

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Reports of the death of storytelling have been greatly exaggerated. We may live in a one second world of superficiality, swiping and scrolling, but that doesn’t mean narrative is irrelevant.

Case in point: this exceptional piece of work from BBH for Johnnie Walker. It’s a master-class in technical brilliance, with every prop placed at exactly the right moment in the story. It’s a lesson in the incalculable value of uncompromising craftsmanship – despite the world and his wife telling the BBH team it just couldn’t be done a single take, they went ahead anyway, knowing that it wouldn’t be as good if they cheated. It also builds the brand story. The opening seconds (Here’s a bagpiper in the highlands, here’s Robert Carlyle telling him to ‘shut it’) set up the central idea – this brand may be quintessentially Scottish, but it’s also absolutely modern. It’s irreverent, surprising, and witty. In the outset, therefore, the film moves from mood setting to emotional connection, and after that we’re hooked.

What makes it work? It’s Robert Carlyle’s personal magnetism. It’s the rhetorical verve in the copy, which turns a corporate brand story into the most powerful and compelling narrative. It’s the charisma implicit in the brand idea itself – personal progress – that’s so brilliantly manifest in the fact that this film was shot in a single, continuous take. Like Mr Walker, Robert Carlyle just keeps walking – for 6 minutes – without missing a beat. It’s literally breath-taking. Quite an accomplishment for a film of a man walking down a road, talking to a camera.

I think, to sum up, that’s what charisma does. It makes the ordinary extraordinary. And this kind of extraordinary is what makes us #fansofcannes.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Johnnie Walker The Man That Walked Around The World: BBH

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#fansofcannes: Chipotle’s Scarecrow

Friday 12 June 2015

For decades, having emotional resonance with consumers has been the heartland of successful branding. From tapping into the domestic revolution-led desires of the 50’s, to reflecting the shifting attitudes of the 70’s, to meeting the convenience-driven needs of the 90’s and 00’s, brands have lived or died on the basis of their ability to remain relevant.

However, today we are seeing brands being challenged in perhaps the most interesting way yet. There is a new need to build connections, not just through what consumers do or feel, but what they believe in.

We have entered the age of brand heart - a time where demonstrating strong values and sense of purpose is as important as the products themselves.

It’s no surprise therefore, that when Chipotle launched their Scarecrow campaign last year (which took on ‘Big Food’ in order to highlight their own sustainably-sourced ethos) that people took notice. Here is a brand that lives in the world of fast-food, not exactly known for it’s commitment to quality ingredients or possessing a strong set of ethics, but that’s exactly what they displayed. Telling a story that had always been at the heart of the brand, and in doing so anchoring Chipotle as the hero and purveyor of ‘good’ amongst a backdrop of bad.

Although prompting criticism from some, Chipotle's Scarecrow is undoubtedly a fine example of brand demonstrating heart. Where core values are expressed with charisma. And it’s this potent combination that takes brands further to building deeper and more meaningful connections with today's conscious-minded consumers.

We believe that is brand at its best, and that’s one of the reasons we’re #fansofcannes.

By Rebecca Ford, Senior Brand Strategist, jkr London

Chipotle's Scarecrow: CAA


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Hunting charisma at Cannes: how brand magnetism creates winning ideas

Thursday 11 June 2015


What is charisma? It’s a word that’s frequently used to characterise leaders. Something that’s difficult to quantify and rationalise. It’s not beauty. It’s not sex appeal. It’s not just power, or strength, or vision. It’s a quality that some people ‘just have’, and that most people don’t. We are drawn to charismatic people, without being able to explain why.

As all eyes in the industry turn towards the south of France for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, at jkr we’ll be watching closely for how the world’s most charismatic brands impress the judges, and to see if those with charisma are also the most creative and the most effective.

Can brands be charismatic? We believe that they can. Just as charismatic people have a magnetism that attracts us, so do charismatic brands. Charisma is a highly desirable quality in a brand because it provokes an emotional response. And as we know, brands that appeal to our emotions are the only ones we feel moved to care about.

We’ve been studying some of the world’s most successful brands to find out what makes one brand charismatic and another lacklustre. We’ve collaborated with a zoologist, an adman, a casting agent, a semiotician, a leadership advisor and a youth specialist to get under the skin of charisma. We’ve worked with a data house and evaluated past IPA effectiveness winners to positively correlate brand charisma with brand growth. And we’re betting that this year at Cannes it will be the most charismatic brands that are judged the most creative.

We’ve identified five qualities typically exhibited by charismatic brands. Here they are, along with some award-winning work from brands that display them. 

Charismatic brands feel alive. They connect with you emotionally and instinctively. They shock you out of your stupor, tug at your heartstrings, they kick you in the guts. Honda’s Sound of Senna (Dentsu Tokyo, 2014 Titanium Grand Prix) is an utterly electrifying and visceral experience – a memory made hauntingly real and ‘vital’ by this visionary dreaming brand.

Charismatic brands attract people towards them, pulling instead of pushing. They cross over from isolated brand to cultural commodity. The man my man could smell like is currently on a horse (Old Spice/Wieden & Kennedy, 2010 Grand Prix), so wassup with that? (Budweiser/DDB Chicago, 2000 Grand Prix). Charismatic brands frequently enter the fabric of our culture, becoming part of us, as we become part of them.

Charismatic brands are authentic – they have integrity and truth. Not an absolute truth, of course, but brands that are faithful to their own truth, provided it is a distinctive truth, are extremely compelling. Marmite’s ‘love it or hate it’ idea locates it in a foundation of brand truth, giving it a strong compass that governs all brand behaviours (‘Neglect’/adam&eveDDB, 2014 Gold Lion). Ok, so it might not be crusading for a big social good, but Marmite still has its own kind of bravery. 

Charismatic brands do more than just sell stuff. They have a point, a vision. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a social vision, like Chipotle’s quest for ethical food (Creative Artists Agency, 2014, 3 Gold Lions) or Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty (Ogilvy Brazil, 2013 Titanium Grand Prix), but it does need to give the brand purpose. People believe in brands that believe in something, whether it’s the ‘progress’ behind Johnnie Walker (BBH, 2010 Gold Lion), or the moment of childhood wonder that Oreo believes we’re all entitled to (‘Daily Twist’/Draftfcb, 2013 Cyber Grand Prix).

Charismatic brands have personalities that feel ‘real’. They are multi-faceted and richly storied. If you engage with them, they reveal new dimensions. Consider Guinness (‘Surfer’, 1999 Gold Lion and ‘Sapeurs’, 2014 Silver Lion both AMV BBDO) a brand whose dimensionality permits endless variations on a couple of key creative themes.

All of these brands have that magical magnetism we call charisma. And of course they all display more than just one of the five qualities we’ve defined above. What they have in common is that by harnessing charisma, they have all found a way to transcend reason and appeal to our emotions.

That’s why charismatic brands are the ones that get noticed and chosen, and why we at jkr are #fansofcannes. 

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

First published in The Drum magazine.

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Take Five… Design’s top tinned sardine packs

Friday 05 June 2015

Tinned sardines: a classic kitchen cupboard staple. Much of the world eats this humble and somewhat unfashionable food. But despite its lowly standing, tinned sardine brands seem to attract a disproportionately high level of creativity to the design of their packs.


José Gourmet

Sardines are the national dish of Portugal, so it’s only fitting that José Gourmet, a Lisboan food retailer, should get top spot with their imaginative sardine packaging. There are 15 different designs for the same product – each one looking like artwork that’s good enough to frame.



Ayam Brand

‘Ayam’ means ‘chicken’ in Bahasa Melayu, the native tongue of this brand’s home turf – Malaysia. Its canny (excuse the pun) owners realised that its illiterate consumers referred to it as ‘chicken brand’ so they put a chicken on the pack. With a bold red / yellow colour split and a menagerie of fish and fowl, this brand has visual equity that most brands would kill for.




This wonderfully retro tin is from France, bien sur - the Breton fishing town of Carcarneau to be precise. Its flat, fresh colours and sharp graphic edges evoke the bright sunlight of a Mediterranean morning. Which, I think, has far more taste appeal than the best photography of dead fish that money can buy.



Lucky Star

With its bold, simple and colourful iconography, Lucky Star is a home-grown South African icon. Its bright, cheerful labels have long adorned townships walls and household items like these. Which just goes to show that simple is sometimes strongest.




Trust Ikea to deliver a design with ruthless and witty economy. The clever appropriation of the generic ring pull device to form the sardine’s head is typical of their playful and understated design aesthetic. And perhaps it’s also testament to how universally recognisable the sardine can is, that selling packs of ‘Skarpsill’ causes no comprehension issues anywhere in the world.



By: Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Featured in The Drum

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#fansofcannes: Volkswagen The Force

Friday 05 June 2015

I’ve always had a soft spot for VW. Perhaps that’s because of those early Disney films where Herbie terrorised people, or perhaps it’s because of the cool kids at college who spent their student loans on a Golf (if they were from my hometown in Essex) or a Campervan (if they went off traveling and were never seen beyond the second term).

Volkswagen has a great pedigree in design and creativity. Consider the brand’s brilliantly simple and graphically satisfying logo (made iconic by The Beastie Boys) or it’s industry-defining Beetle ad that encouraged people to ‘Think small’, successfully turning something other brands viewed as a negative into a charismatic plus-point.

VW has always been a brand that delights in not being taken too seriously, which is perhaps why it continues to endure. I always enjoy seeing something that raises a smile in a few seconds, because that’s pretty hard to do. It’s even harder for a big brand to pull this off and to still feel relevant. And to still make you laugh 4 years on is an even greater achievement.

Which is why I love this ad. It’s not really forcing (pun intended) anything down your neck or shouting too loud (remote locking isn’t a unique feature). It just wants to make you laugh and tell you about Volkswagen’s new car. There is so much to love; the fact it tells a great story yet there is no dialogue, the over dramatic theme juxtaposed with the silly subject matter (and the way the music ever-so-slightly slows down at the end for extra impact), the dog looking utterly bored, that look the Dad gives Mum, the overly dramatic flick of the kids’ head towards camera at the end…

Not everything award winning has to change the entire industry, use the current hot illustrator or make a client huge amounts of cash; sometimes raising a smile is even more powerful and long lasting. That’s why this one makes us #fansofcannes.

By Sean Thomas, Creative Director, jkr London

Volkswagen The Force: Deutsch

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Campaign Asia’s Top 1000: Designed for Success

Tuesday 02 June 2015

The Top 1000 Brands list contains a fair share of homegrown Asian brands, but only a handful use design for growth. The truth is that design is undervalued by Asian brands. Arguably, creativity itself is undervalued in Asia. After all, this is the region that’s central to the world’s counterfeit culture, with China alone responsible for 70% of a business that makes up a whopping 2% of global world trade. When imitation is so profitable, what’s the incentive for invention? What’s the role for design in Asia?

At its fundamental level, design is a discriminator – it helps us choose one brand over another.  In economies where choice is either poor or non-existent, design is superfluous. But as Asian economies mature, the need for brand charisma is increasingly essential not just to brand growth, but to brand survival. We need only to look to Japan, Asia’s most developed and established economy, to see how economic growth has led to consumer choice, and therefore to fierce competition and wonderful creativity. Asahi, Uniqlo and Shiseido are just a few of Japan’s global exports, all brands that are led by design.

As long as Asia keeps growing, design will become ever more valued. Brand distinctiveness is vital, and design is able to bridge cultures, markets, channels and media like no other.

Here are some stories of success from Asian brands that have championed design.



Can design transform a brand’s fortunes? Asahi’s fable of brand rebirth suggests that it can.

In 1982 Asahi beer was in a spiral of decline. From the No. 2 beer in Japan, its share had dwindled to around 10 per cent. Their solution? A new product innovation – a ‘super dry’ beer with a light and refreshing flavour profile. So far, so textbook. But what the Asahi Corporation did next was astonishingly brave: they threw decades of recognised branding in the bin and started again.

Asahi beer moved from nationalistic iconography – a rising sun and Hokusai-style waves contained in a conventional circular beer label – to something entirely original. It was a gamble, but it paid off. In trying to express the idea of ‘newness’, Asahi found its own voice - modern, urban and sharp.

In the year of its launch, the brand’s growth outpaced that of the category threefold. It’s now the biggest beer brand in Japan and one of the top 10 beer brands in the world. Sometimes, we need to be shocked into reappraising brands we think we know. And nothing says ‘we really mean it’ better than a visual promise that you do.



Walking into a Uniqlo store is like walking into a computer programme. Everything is systematised, logical and rational. Uniqlo’s look and feel is more than just a logo, yet at the same time, it’s all about the logo. From the store exterior to the visual merchandising; from the shelving to the packaging: the Uniqlo squares are everywhere. Love it or hate it, its stores are everywhere too.

Nobuo Domae, the US CEO explains how the brand embraces the Japanese concept of kino-bi, which loosely translates as the fusion of function and beauty. ‘The clothing is presented in an organised, rational manner and that very organisation and rationality creates an artistic pattern and rhythm... (this is) modern "Japaneseness".'

Uniqlo’s formulaic approach to fashion and branding has made it one of Japan’s biggest success stories. The brand started life as the Unique Clothing Warehouse in Hiroshima, 1984. Ten years later, 100 stores were operating across Japan. The brand’s ‘quality basics at an affordable price’ have proven to be an irresistible draw for millions. Its design aesthetic has been a key part of its success.

Red Bull


Red Bull’s evolution from quirky local drink to global mega-brand is a master-class in how to execute a brilliantly joined-up communications idea across big-idea events. But it’s also a lesson in the value of restraint and sensitivity.

In the 1970s, Red Bull was being marketed at farmers, construction workers and truck drivers in its native Thailand. Krating Daeng (‘Red Bull’ in Thai) was a populist drink for the working man: one that allowed you to overcome fatigue, pull a double shift, or drive all night. Its association with Muay Thai (Thai kick boxing) gave it popularity and street cred.

When Austrian businessman Dietrich Mateschitz went into partnership with Chaelo Yoovidhya to launch Red Bull in Europe, he was careful to retain the iconography of the brand, leaving its charging bulls virtually untouched. He recognised, perhaps, that a sense of the ‘foreign’, the exotic, the quirky and the potent would be positive associations for a new energy drink brand. Design icons aren’t built overnight, and knowing when not to change them is a rare knack.  

So now the world is richer for having two Red Bull brands that are of course, same same but different.



In 2012, Shiseido celebrated its 140th anniversary, which makes it one of the oldest cosmetics companies in the world as well as the fourth largest. To mark the event, they launched a face cream called La Crème, which sold for around US$1,000 per pot. This is a brand whose allure has undeniably removed price out of the equation for its devotees.

Founded by Arinobu Fukuhara in 1872, it was his photographer son Shinzo who became de facto creative director, giving the brand a purpose (champion of art and design) and a visual style (elegant Asian chic) that are still evident today. The company became famous for its beautiful advertising, which blended art nouveau with a Japanese aesthetic.

Today, Shiseido sells their distinctive brand of cosmopolitan Asian elegance from department store beauty floors across the world. The purpose-built Shiseido Art House - designed by Taniguchi Yoshio - showcases work by Japanese and international artists and sculptors. Constructed with geometric forms put together to form an undulating ‘S’ shape, this is Shiseido’s architectural ode to beauty, and a testament to the brand’s commitment to celebrating creativity.

Jimmy Choo


Jimmy Choo sits in illustrious company alongside Manolo Blahnik and Christian Louboutin to form the holy trinity of designer footwear. Vanity Fair famously described his shoes as ‘every woman’s favourite phallic symbol’.

Devotees speak about their beauty, and workmanship, and feminine elegance. Jimmy Choos are understated, yet unmistakable. To quote The New York Times:  ‘They’re not gimmicky or overly trendy; a thrill of added elegance and sexiness is what they offer the wearer. She knows she’s wearing the shoes, and not the other way around.’

How Jimmy Choo, poor cobbler’s son from Penang, Malaysia, became a shoemaker to the stars is a story of old-school craftsmanship, red carpet glamour, devotion and desire. It’s also a story of how brands are built by people, not by sole crusaders. It might have been Mr Choo’s relentless pursuit of perfection that got him named by Carrie Bradshaw as her favourite shoe designer in Sex and the City, but icons aren’t built overnight, and usually not by one man alone. Jimmy Choo’s partnership with it-girl and biz-whizz Tamara Mellon and his talented Central St Martin’s-trained niece Sandra Choi created the dynamic that turned a small, exclusive boutique into the global empire we know today.

Singapore Airlines


Can people be part of a brand’s visual identity? The Singapore Girl, brand icon of Singapore Airlines since 1972, would suggest they can.

Part of great branding is defining a unique and ownable visual asset, then celebrating it consistently. Singapore Airlines has done so for over four decades, showing unswerving faith in the immensely powerful and almost mythical allure of their brand emblem. The Singapore Girl isn’t just part of the brand – she is the brand. Through accusations of sexism, she has nevertheless endured for decades as a representation not just of the airline, but of Singapore itself.

I believe the biggest lesson we can take from the success of this Asian giant is in the power of emotional branding. Singapore Airlines might have been the first to fly the A380, the first to create ‘above first class’ suites complete with double beds and boast the widest seats in business class, but that’s not what they sell their brand on. Singapore Airlines was a pioneer in elevating magic above logic and has continued to champion an emotional bond with its consumers in a market where the convention is to sell on price or on aircraft features. The Singapore Girl, symbol of gentle Asian hospitality, promises a return to the romance of travel that we lost long ago.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

First published on Campaign Asia

Campaign Asia 2


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#fansofcannes: British Airways Magic of Flying

Friday 29 May 2015

There are brands that you choose because they get the job done, and then there are those that you have an emotional affinity for. Particularly when considering airlines, very often it’s the emotional factor and their ability to expand beyond lifestyle within the cabin or terminal that sets them apart.

For decades British Airways challenged the norms, staying true to its impeccable depiction of the highest British standards of quality and service, championing understated elegance and dedication to passengers. And it is the latter that got them the Grand Prix at Cannes last year. 

Whether you’re a frequent flyer or not, we've all innocently wondered at least once 'where is that flight above us heading to or coming from' (or at least tried to ‘read’ the tailfin). BA’s interactive billboards capture the answers to all those questions in one sequence of actions, without trying too hard. That is what true brand vitality is all about.

Disruptive and imaginative, the idea instantly connects with you and puts a smile in the mind. It’s the kind of brand you would embrace in your daily life firstly because it understands that the consumer journey starts way before the traditional touchpoints, and secondly because it viscerally engages with you on a personal level, unlocking memories, desires and needs. By doing so, BA doesn’t sell just plane tickets, it’s selling you an experience. It creates new moments and emotions.

Without shadow of a doubt, British Airways is a superb depiction of a naturally charismatic brand. A brand with heart. A rightful #fansofcannes winner.

By Alina Pirvu, Creative Planner, jkr London 

British Airways Magic of Flying: OgilvyOne

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#fansofcannes: Honda Sound of Senna

Friday 22 May 2015

A classic expression of the functional & emotional RTB? Essentially a product demo for the Telemetry system pioneered in Ayrton Senna’s Honda Formula 1 triumphs. Its spirit reimagined in their Internavi system today. It’s evidence of the innovative legacy of the Honda brand that burns bright in its present day products. All demonstrated via a classic advertising vehicle of film – pardon the pun.

So far, so old world model, eh? Well to us it’s yes and no. This is all about the vision of Honda to actually make this piece of creativity a reality. The impression left is that they did this because they can. No scrub that. Because they must. Because it’s in their business DNA to bring the power of dreams to life. If they can create a dream, they will.

And that this work is an utterly visceral experience. Truly vital in every sense of the word. Who cares if there is logic and reason in there, you have just seen, felt and been in the presence of something special. And that will be what stays with you. Peacocking in the most positive sense of the word, if you will. The construct and the brand logic we’ll leave for us industry folk. The tingles down the spine, the bristling hairs down backs of necks and the jaws dropped open we will leave to the pleasure of the punters in the stands, on the sofas and in the showrooms.

By Lee Rolston, Strategy Director, jkr London


Honda’s Sound of Senna (Dentsu Tokyo)

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#fansofcannes: Oreo’s Daily Twist

Friday 15 May 2015

There are a handful of brands that boast a seamless thread running from product to brand idea and onto design and communication. Oreo is one of those.

Oreo may have launched various product innovations over the years, but the purists amongst us will agree that there’s only one true Oreo – a creamy white filling sandwiched between two black chocolate biscuits. It’s a simple product formula that happens to lend itself well to a ritual (twist, lick, dunk) as well as to graphic design (black and white! What could be more visually arresting?).

So far, so serendipitous. But what Oreo did next was to take a simple product idea and create one of the biggest brand ideas out there. The Oreo ritual allows everyone to be a kid again – just for a moment – and that’s a hugely potent and rich emotional territory to own. Oreo is a brand that sees the world through the eyes of a child: it is playful and curious; it has imagination, naiveté and goodwill. All of that has given it the charisma to propel it from humble cookie to biggest biscuit on the planet.

The 2012 ‘Daily Twist’ campaign, realised by an inter-agency team involving 360i, DraftFCB New York, Weber Shandwick and Mediavest, was a riff on that brand idea. To celebrate its 100th birthday Oreo committed to producing 100 pieces of topical content every single day. Each execution interprets the most talked about real-time event through the lens of Oreo’s product iconography.


Striking, witty and imaginative, the campaign combines relevant content and timeless execution in one breath. Its first execution – for Gay Pride – started the campaign with a bang but also positioned Oreo as a brand with values and courage. And for each successive ‘twist’, the brand reinterpreted the world through its playful imagination. Oreo gave the world a much more appealing way to read the news.

The idea won the Cyber Lions Grand Prix, but really this is much more than that - a truly integrated idea that demonstrates what happens when charismatic design, bold brand idea, and quick-footed social engagement can come together to build brand value. That’s why this campaign has turned us into #fansofcannes.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Ogilvy Daily Twist: Draftfcb

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Charisma at the polls

Friday 08 May 2015


Well, that was a shocker.

Today’s election results might not have been what everyone was expecting, but one thing hasn’t changed. Despite its startlingly exciting finale, there’s no denying that until today, this was one of the least dynamic political races we’ve seen in years. At jkr, we’ve been taking a special interest in how the main political candidates have used personal magnetism and charisma to persuade the voting public. It turns out, they haven’t.

In a study we commissioned in partnership with YouGov, we found out that only 16% of the voting public agreed that Nick Clegg and David Milliband are ‘charismatic, full of character’. That figure rose slightly for David Cameron, but only modestly to 24%. Whatever won David Cameron this election, it wasn’t his personal magnetism.

We also asked YouGov to measure how the voting public felt about some of Britain’s favourite supermarket brands. Why? At jkr we believe brands have charisma, just like people do, so we’ve developed a tool for measuring perceived charisma in brands. Comparing how we feel about our leaders and our favourite brands yielded some interesting results.

It turns out that as a nation:

• We are more drawn to Lurpak than we are to Nick Clegg
• We find Hovis more compelling than David Milliband, and
• We think Cadbury has more character than Cameron

Typically, our Charisma by Design™ tool shows that well-loved and leading brands score over 60% when we measure people’s views of their charisma – a figure that none of the political party leaders managed.

So despite the charm offensive of the last few weeks from all political camps, it seems that we still feel more affection for a loaf of bread than we do for the man at Number 10.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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Introducing our new home in NYC

Friday 24 April 2015


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Watch the watch

Thursday 23 April 2015

We’re on the cusp of a new wearable revolution, even bigger than crocs…


You’ve probably heard about it in the media already, you may have even preordered one, but when the Apple Watch launches later this month we will see the next leap in wearable technology and arguably the first major step of its kind into the mainstream. Yes, while wearable devices such as Google Glass have been lurking in the peripherals and other smart watches are already available, none have yet to grab the public zeitgeist in the same manner that the iPad and iPhone achieved in their respective categories.

With Apple’s track record this could be the wearable to bet on, so what exactly will an Apple watch offer the consumer? Or more importantly what features will Apple offer other brands so they might in turn offer new experiences to their consumers?


Notifications or ‘glances’ as Apple call them are interacted with, as the name suggests – at a glance. As the watch is always a glance away for the wearer, this type of communication offers complete immediacy. Combined with location specific messaging this opens up a realm of possibilities that smartphones are unable to offer from someone’s pocket.

Imagine you are walking past a particular store, let’s say ‘Zara’ and a message pops up from them; not only the bag you looked at online is in stock here but it’s also on sale. This message would both grab your attention, and most likely encourage you inside a store you might have just walked past. 

Or imagine walking down the cereal aisle in a supermarket and a well-known Tiger mascot pops up on your watch, telling a joke or wishing you a “Grrrr-reat shop”. This type of immediacy offered by wearable tech gives brands the opportunity to communicate in a way that is both relevant and personable to the wearer at that moment, in a way an email received on a smartphone but not read (and most likely dismissed) until that evening cannot. Instantly, not eventually, is the name of the game.

With sales predicted to hit 1 million units in the first weekend of release it will no doubt be exciting for brands to think of the opportunities to engage wearers. It is important however that they strike a balance between being attentive and overly needy if they don’t want their wearers to develop notification fatigue. For example, that joke from Tony the Tiger might not seem so funny when followed by messages from seven other mascots.

There is always a novelty when adopting the notions of new technology but this can quickly turn to apathy if not utilised effectively – just scroll through your phone notifications to see what I mean.

In the end a watch is to tell the time, right?

By Chris Stevens, Junior Designer, jkr London

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A play on words, words, words

Tuesday 21 April 2015

It’s a common complaint from designers that they’re handed copy that’s far too long and compromises the impact of the work. And it’s also a common complaint from copywriters that designers don’t appreciate the power and persuasion of the written word. They are complimentary mediums, of course, rather than ‘either/or’ approaches to creativity. And when they’re used together well, they can create some very, very cool ideas.

Being in the business of storytelling, the advertising industry has known this for years. Here’s some of my favourite examples.

Ogilvy & Mather’s South Africa’s work for VW’s Don’t Text and Drive campaign uses only a few words and no shocking imagery at all, but it’s no less hard-hitting as a result. It’s not just a copy campaign of course – it’s the visual idea of the predictive text that makes it so resonant. It’s just a few economically chosen words with a simple graphic idea.


I love this work by Grey Buenos Aires (photo thanks to Coloribus). Two words, one visual idea. Oh, and a great restaging of water-proof mascara to ‘emotion-proof’ mascara.



This campaign from Publicis London for homelessness charity DePaul is also extremely clever. By using the physical space (a corner, with two sides), the message is dramatised in the very places homeless youths find themselves without a place to sleep.



For me, all of these pieces are the most powerful examples of when the partnership really works. The partnership isn't always this slick - it's not always even appropriate. But it is perhaps, something to take inspiration from.

Pictures speak a thousand words, so the saying goes, and of course that is true. And though language can build a narrative in a way that imagery can’t, doing something ‘copy-driven’ in design doesn’t necessarily mean covering a pack, poster or promo piece in loads and loads of copy – it very quickly just becomes white noise. But the good news is that we seem to be moving beyond the phase of language simply being something cutesey and quirky on the back of a juice bottle. Perhaps in the future, we'll see language playing more of a central role, and less second fiddle.

Perhaps in design, copywriting is about to find its voice. 

Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore 

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Champions of Design Asia - Uniqlo

Monday 20 April 2015


Uniqlo’s formulaic approach to fashion and branding has made it one of Japan’s biggest success stories. The brand started life as the Unique Clothing Warehouse in Hiroshima, 1984. Ten years later, 100 stores were operating across Japan. The brand’s vision of ‘quality basics at an affordable price’ has proven to be an irresistible draw for millions. Its design aesthetic has been a key part of its success.

Uniqlo is a young brand and its look and feel reflects that. There’s no hint of tradition or old-fashioned Japanese aesthetics in its bright, pop-culture identity, which feels more manga than zen. Yet it still feels recognisably Japanese in its simplicity and in its blend of styling and engineering. Nobuo Domae, the US CEO explains how the brand embraces the Japanese concept of kino-bi, which loosely translates as the fusion of function and beauty. ‘The clothing is presented in an organised, rational manner and that very organisation and rationality creates an artistic pattern and rhythm. All these qualities reflect the defining characteristics of modern Japanese culture, modern ‘Japaneseness’.



Walking into a Uniqlo store is like walking through a computer programme – a bright and cheery computer programme. Everything feels ruthlessly modular. Everything is systematised, logical and rational. In design terms, the entire experience – both graphic and spatial – is descended from the single building block of the red logo. From the store exterior to the visual merchandising; from the product line-up and shelving displays to the packaging: the Uniqlo squares are everywhere.

The brand’s look and feel directly reflects the brand idea, whilst also acting as the visual glue that holds it together. It’s absolutely consistent, but it’s far from a visual straitjacket. Paradoxically, it’s the single-mindedness of the system that permits creativity. It can flex and change across media, allowing the brand to feel fresh yet familiar, constantly reviving itself within predefined parameters.


For the Japanese, form and function are not two opposing forces that need to be balanced – they are simply two sides of the same coin. Perhaps that’s why this brand manages to reconcile systematic logic with vibrant creativity. You can have any colour of polo shirt at Uniqlo, as long as it’s one of 80 available tones.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, Singapore

First published on Campaign Asia

Campaign Asia 2


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Magenta, cerise and the perils of designing for women

Monday 13 April 2015

Now that the hype has died down, I think it’s time to talk about the pink minibus.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, The Labour Party recently launched their Woman to Woman campaign by parking a pink (or magenta, as Harriet Harman put it) minibus in an Asda car park.


The logic behind the campaign I can only imagine was thus: get some women, put them in a minibus (not a normal bus, a mini one, because smaller things are cuter), paint it a colour that women like (pink) and park it where all the women are (at Asda, buying food for their husbands).

Granted, I’m filling in the blanks myself, but many others have done the same and have concluded that a pink minibus parked outside of Asda is a patronising and old-fashioned way of not only marketing to women, but to marketing in general.

So how should Labour have done it? Was it just the colour choice at fault or was the approach more deeply flawed? And what can politicians, heaven forbid, stand to learn from marketers?


The debate around colour and gender is nothing new. In 2013, Ferrero came under heavy fire for launching blue and pink Kinder Surprise variants – the blue eggs containing toy for boys and the pink eggs containing dolls – reinforcing gender stereotypes. Bic have also fallen foul of an obvious gender-play. Their ‘Bic For Her’ pens – apparently ‘designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand’ and available in pink and purple – were widely ridiculed online and the subject of many a wry Amazon review. I highly recommend reading them here.


Beyond their use of colour, Ferrero, Bic and Labour’s approach is unexpectedly old-fashioned as it assumes ‘male’ equals one thing and ‘female’ another. And that all members of each gender share the same desires and behaviours. Adopting this binary approach shows a lack of consideration of consumers beyond a stereotype that consumers themselves are no longer willing to accept. Social media allows consumers to react to targeting in real-time, raising the stakes for brands to get it right – Coca-Cola were recently forced to pull an ad campaign featuring nude women covered in milk standing on weighing scales for their premium milk brand Fairlife in response to a social media backlash.

When brands are in constant dialogue with their consumers and know more about them than ever before, is there really any excuse to make a gender play?

If the last 5 years have taught us anything, it’s that the one-size-fits all approach to products and targeting has run out of steam. Personalised products and bespoke services rule supreme and brands can offer us relevant content, customised products and services based on our spending patterns, previous purchase behaviour and preferences. Customisation is also delving to a level deeper, with brands beginning to offer products that are tailored based on our genetic make up: beauty brand Geneu has launched a new service that uses DNA testing to create products that will optimise their consumers exact skin type.



If consumers are beginning to share their genetic information with brands in return for more effective products, could we see a shift from targeting based on previous behaviour to predicting consumer behaviour based on their genetic make up? What if rather than just targeting someone now, we could predict how to target them in 10 years time? Scary stuff, but perhaps not so far away.

So then, back to the bus, and to what politicians can learn from marketeers.

When it comes down to it, what brands and political parties have in common is the goal of winning hearts and minds. They both need to be charismatic, they both need to understand the people they are talking to, and they both need to talk to them in the most effective way. The consequences of getting these things wrong can be damaging for both. What iconic brands do well is be unwaveringly themselves, but in a way that is relevant to their consumers regardless of age, gender, and the like. And they certainly don’t turn up in an Asda car park in a pink minibus.

By Elissa O'Brien, Senior Brand Strategist, jkr London

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The Future of Packaging

Wednesday 08 April 2015

In a recent article for YCN, Katie Ewer explores the role of packaging for today's consumer, what makes for a successful design solution, and what trends we'll see moving to the fore in the coming years...

We live in an age of media fragmentation. It’s reckoned that the average person is exposed to around 5,000 commercial messages every day. Our world has changed, but our attention spans are no less finite – we’ve had to evolve to survive, and we’ve become experts at screening out the noise.

But we can’t skip through the bottle that holds the water we’re drinking, or swipe away the box holding our morning breakfast cereal. As the last communications medium that cannot be ignored, packaging is uniquely poised to resonate with us long after we’ve skipped the ad break. Twenty years ago the dawn of e-commerce had pundits proclaiming the imminent demise of the physical pack. That prediction couldn’t have been more wrong: design and packaging are even more important now than they have ever been.

Design is always inextricably tied to commercial or brand value, so it’s quite difficult to judge great pack design without knowing the commercial context. But from a subjective point of view, I love Hibiki whisky for its distinctive Japanese design aesthetic, Bombay Sapphire’s Limited Edition Electro Pack for the way it harnesses technology in a branded way, and South Africa’s Solar Jars, for their repurposing of packaging to create six hours of solar powered light for a country that is frequently without electricity.


The digital revolution has shown us that identity doesn’t need to be fixed and unchangeable. Google showed us that brand identities can be malleable, responsive and topical. If identities can do that in the digital sphere, then why not in the ‘real world’? New technologies such as digital printing are also allowing us to be more inventive with how we employ packaging within the marketing mix. The Share a Coke campaign, for instance, blurred the lines between design and advertising. Clan Finder, our recent ‘design campaign’ for IRN-BRU, also built the brand story in a way that’s not often expected from a pack.


Perhaps because we live so much of our life in the virtual world, we want our brands to be as authentic and tangible as possible. We’ve seen a design aesthetic that’s less preoccupied with building brand monoliths and more concerned with connecting through a friendlier, more ‘real’ visual brand language. We’ve also seen a continued pursuit of simplicity – both in structural and graphic terms – that can be viewed in the brand evolutions of everything from Apple to Coke.

I think the ‘craft’ trend is finally turning up its toes – what was intended as a signifier of uniqueness and authenticity quickly became a tedious set of clichés centred around hipster logos, letterpress type, sepia-toned labels and the vernacular of the ‘small batch, hand crafted’ idea. That trend has far outstayed its welcome. I think we’ll see a new design aesthetic that achieves authenticity in a much more joyful way – more spirited, more colourful, more exuberant and more maximalist. The recession is over! (for this week)

And sustainability will be even more important – not just an increase in the use of sustainable materials, but also inventive new ways of giving packs a purpose after purchase (think about Puma’s Clever Little Bag for instance)… or about using less material in the first place.

Read the full article here

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Love at first sight

Tuesday 07 April 2015

"Architecture isn’t about math or zoning. It’s about visceral emotions." So says Marc Kushner in his excellent Ted Talk about architecture in the last 20 years.

I like the idea that we respond emotionally, not rationally, to spaces. Of course we do. We have to live in buildings, not read or analyse them. Buildings that need to be explained – whose ideas need to be deconstructed in order for us to connect with the idea behind their construction – are not buildings that we tend to fall in love with.

Take the work of Thomas Heatherwick for instance, one of Britain’s great design exports. Personally, I love almost all of it. That hardly makes me unique, but I don’t really care. His work has that ‘visceral’ effect that Marc Kushner describes in his Ted Talk – my reactions to it are always instantaneous, instinctive and absolute. I’m guessing that again, I’m not unique in this respect.

Why does it make me feel like that? Is it the combination of boldness and simplicity in pieces like the Harvey Nichols storefront? 


Is it the resonant use of organic forms in something like the East Shore Café – confident, powerful, and without cliché?


Or is the resolution of form and function in something like the Paternoster Square vents that speaks to our need for things that are both useful and beautiful?


Whatever it is that makes Heatherwick’s work so wonderful, it’s effect is the same: we respond to it immediately, instinctively, emotionally. Nobody needs to explain the Longchamp store staircase for you to love it. What Heatherwick does for objects and spaces is create something that's more than simply functional – they try to create ‘...something extraordinary, to generate a sense of wonder, beauty or delight’.


In our world, we use a slightly different term – charisma. Charisma is the compelling attraction generated by an idea, object or brand. It’s not about persuasion, or narrative, or logic. It’s about a lightning bolt.

Whether it’s in a building, a chair, a logo or a can of beans, charisma is either there, or it isn’t. In this context, no amount of logic is going to help you love something if you don’t love it at first sight.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

The work of Heatherwick Studios is in its final week on show at the National Design Centre in Singapore.





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Champions of Design Asia - Hello Kitty

Wednesday 01 April 2015


This is a brand that deals in superlatives. In 1999, the little white cat appeared on 12,000 different products annually. In 2008 there were over 50,000 Hello Kitty branded products in more than 60 countries (and that’s just the licensed ones). By 2008, it accounted for half of Sanrio’s $1billion revenue. Hello Kitty has adorned credit cards, aeroplanes, wines, Swarovski crystal jewellery and Fender Stratocasters. She has her own theme parks, restaurants, hospitals and cafés, as well as films, games and music.


Hello Kitty was created by a young designer called Yuko Shimizu for the Japanese company Sanrio in 1974. She is a gijinka (an anthropomorphism) and more specifically, she’s kawaii – the quality of ‘cuteness’ so highly prized in Japanese culture. She was originally called ‘Hi Kitty’ but the story goes that her first name didn’t really stick, so she became Hello Kitty (ハローキティ or Harokiti in Japanese). Originally targeted at young girls, she caught the imagination of an older audience. Since then, mums have been buying Hello Kitty products for their own daughters, performing the role of brand advocate in a neat little case study of cross-generational marketing.

What’s the secret of her appeal? As any Hello Kittyist will tell you, part of her charm is that you can project whatever mood or character you want onto her expressionless, mute face. Hello Kitty has no mouth, so she’ll never say anything you don’t like. Critics say this feature has limited her reach in animated media, but she seems to have weathered the storm so far.


In truth, I can’t really figure out why Hello Kitty is as wildly popular as it is or why it’s achieved cult status like no other animated character. But I do suspect that the simplicity of its execution – two dots for the eyes, three lines for the whiskers on each side, and a red ribbon – have given it enduring influence. Certainly, the sheer numbers and complexity behind her kitsch kitty empire stand in stark contrast to her quiet, simple design.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, Singapore

First published on Campaign Asia

Campaign Asia 2


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Upcycling it in style

Friday 27 March 2015


A few years ago will.i.am had an idea and like most of his ideas, it didn’t just stop there. He got Coca-Cola involved and soon the fruit of this collaboration was born under the name of Ekocycle™.


Ekocycle™ intends to change perceptions about recycling by creating aspirational, yet attainable lifestyle products made in part from recycled material, from plastic bottles, to aluminum cans and other types of consumer packaging. The brand aimed high from the very start, curating some of the best brands to collaborate with and more recently having its own branded space in Harrods where generous pockets will open to buy the trendy yet sustainable designs. 


A similar project is the G-Star RAW line made in collaboration with Bionic Yarn, under the creative supervision of Pharell Williams. The garments use textile woven partially with recovered ocean plastic, highlighting the brand’s philosophy of bringing the best out of denim.


At the heart of this movement is a simple equation: take what you have, partner up with like-minded brands and people, and add some creative dust to transform it into something meaningful. And remember the key word is ‘collaboration’.

There is a genuine thirst for more initiatives like this, where brands become a catalyst for a future-proofed, better living. You might not see it yet, but those coming after you hopefully will. To feed this desire, brands are rethinking materials and supply chains, changing perspective to create things that help the planet, not just the individual. In other words, thinking holistically about their purpose and impact.

However, changing a paradigm is never easy. It’s time consuming, risky, takes a lot of effort... why even bother?! Because this is how all great initiatives that make the world and the way we live a little better are born. Because when you get there, all that effort would have paid off. Because this will make your brand a little more valuable as well. 

By Alina Pirvu, Creative Planner, jkr London

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Champions of Design - Blunt

Thursday 26 March 2015


Once in a blue moon, the right combination of enterprise, ingenuity, tenacity and luck results in a design that revolutionises a category by solving a genuine problem. Tetrapak brought resealable, efficient ease to fiddly, fumbly milk cartons. The Biro made ink blot-free writing available to the masses. And Blunt have fundamentally redesigned a product that has been frustrating people around the world since 1928: the modern umbrella.

Greig Brebner developed his uber-umbrella in his native New Zealand. He reasoned that if he could build an umbrella that could withstand Kiwi-style gale force winds, he would have built an umbrella that would work anywhere. He did it, creating a strong lightweight umbrella that can withstand winds of up to 50mph (that’s a ‘strong gale’ on the Beaufort Wind Force Scale, by the way). He also managed to build one that wouldn’t poke anyone’s eyes out.


Here comes the science bit: Blunt umbrellas use a radial tensioning system that distributes the effort used in opening the umbrella throughout the entire canopy, which makes the umbrella really strong so it won’t bend
in a bluster. The distribution of force extends to each point of the umbrella – which, you will know by now, isn’t really a point: it’s blunt. The Wall Street Journal describes the structure of Blunt umbrellas as ‘somewhere between suspension bridge and NASA space probe’. How cool is that?


In short, Blunt umbrellas are a real innovation. In functional terms, they are light years ahead of anything else on the market. But in stylistic terms, they pull off something equally brilliant because for the first time, we have an umbrella brand that’s distinctive and recognisable. This is quite possibly the first real ‘designer umbrella’ we have seen – and I mean that in every sense of the word. It’s engineered, it’s stylish and it’s totally unique. In the grey sleet of windy Wellington or the tropical downpours of Singapore, you can spot a Blunt a mile off by virtue of their characteristic rounded corners and bright, cheery colours.

I believe that the sign of a really great design is when our response to it is a kind of bemused, satisfied incredulity. Statements like ‘Of course! How obvious! Why haven’t they done that before?!’ are really the best feedback you can ever hope for. Blunt umbrellas solved all of our umbrella issues in one intuitive, human and joyful design.

Can’t wait for the next rainstorm.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

First published on Campaign Asia

Campaign Asia 2

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How the last 10% can sabotage the great 90%

Tuesday 24 March 2015

This Chinese New Year, the big box office hit in China was a film called Dragon Blade. It's a multicultural-historical-kung-fu-fighting-high-octane-epic of adventure, betrayal, friendship and courage, featuring Jackie Chan, John Cusack and Adrien Brody. Blood is spilled. Horses perish. A cast of (probably literally) thousands of people charge at each other on battlefields. Brave warriors shout and grunt, and fight with balletic skill. You get the picture. (You can watch the trailer here)

I might go and see it. Or I might not. But if I do, it won't be because of the enticing promotional gift on offer here: 



Perhaps it's just me, but as a memento of an exhilarating, bloodthirsty, Han dysnasty cinematic experience, a coffee mug with a sticker on it ranks pretty low on my list. Or perhaps I'm being unfairly critical. Perhaps the thing Genghis Khan wanted most of all was a nice mug of Nescafé after bloody conquest. But I doubt it. 

The net result is I associate this film with inappropriate coffee. Not, presumably, the associations the director and marketing department had in mind when they conceived the film. 

It's not a massive leap to see how the same ill-timed or ill-conceived executions can undermine years of brand equity building in our own industry. 

Like when an isolated incident of staff incompetence poisons a customer's life-long relationship with a service. Like when a badly judged tweet can literally destroy a brand (or a career). Like when the forest of lacklustre promotional material at your swanky coffee shop counter suggests that perhaps your brand of choice is actually a little bit cheap and not as desirable after all. 

Sometimes, despite penetrating insight, clarity of message, distinctive offer, and months (or even years) of brilliant thinking and flawless creative, a single, careless gesture can sabotage the entire thing. It's worth remembering that seemingly inconsequential details can create great influence - both good and bad. Great, global brands are built by sweating the small stuff, not ignoring it. 

Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore


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When content and context make for remarkable creativity

Thursday 19 March 2015

There’s something about art in public spaces that feels particularly visceral. Outside the formal confines of a gallery or a museum, we seem to feel more ownership of art. We feel more involved. The National Gallery in London did it with a series of famous paintings mounted around the streets of London (see some coverage of the campaign here). The campaign brought the gallery to the city, rather than inviting the city to visit the gallery.

I think there’s also something about the disconnect between context and content – when we don’t expect to see creativity but do, the ideas become truly remarkable. Like when you come across the appearance of beautiful, whimsical illustrations in the inner city London borough of Tower Hamlets.


The outdoor campaign is conceived by AMV BBDO to promote the V&A’s Museum of Childhood. Each piece has been created by a different illustrator and reimagines everyday pieces of the cityscape as objects of childhood wonder. As the agency explains "Where you might see a drain in the street, a child sees a fire engine; a fountain becomes a whale’s blow-hole; and a lamppost is transformed into a monkey bar”. I think that’s why this one is so special – these aren’t just pieces of gorgeous design that are quirkily out of place – they're clever, witty and inventive in the way they draw on the space to deliver a message.




You can view the whole series here.

Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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An ephemeral identity for cloud computing

Wednesday 18 March 2015

There’s a well-established set of conventions governing the design of brand identities for technology brands (sans serif, clean, simple, almost always blue) and software brands (sans serif, clean, simple, but with a dose of friendliness thrown in).

Once upon a time we needed our technology to look ‘techie’ but perhaps we’ve now become familiar enough with it pervading every aspect of life to permit it some space to be a little experimental.

The new Sonos identity that made waves (pardon the pun) earlier this year showed us how identities could leverage technology to take on a kinetic nature. You can read our blog on it here.

But for sheer distinctiveness within its category I rather like this identity system for a cloud computing software company called Fugue, designed by New York agency Sagmeister & Walsh. It’s expressive, it’s organic, and it moves fluently across media with elegance and élan. And if this is a brand that lives almost exclusively in the digital space, why shouldn’t it be kinetic, malleable and changeable?


Fugue collateral

fugue logos



The identity, explain the agency, was created to reflect what the software does: so it constantly changes and regenerates. Watching the brand morph across screens it feels like a mesmerising fusion of Japanese calligraphy, binary code and abstract art. Interestingly, one of the agency’s deliverables was an app that automatically changes line drawings into the ‘language of the logo’. That’s one way of doing away with the need for a brand guidelines. Or the need for a designer.

But the system is great – its truly distinctive in a category that, despite constant innovation, is strangely devoid of truly charismatic design. Fugue’s brave move indicates that things are changing.

Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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A game of perceptions

Monday 16 March 2015

A recent research conducted by California Polytechnic State University revealed the power of touch in relationship with people’s perception of quality and value, focusing on cosmetics and beauty packaging. The testing method was pretty basic: creating 3 different types of packaging for the same product, but with different textures – plain, glossy, soft – and assessing different prices to each, ascending from plain to soft. As expected, results showed that people were more likely to pay a price premium for a product with a more engaging pack texture.

Which leads me to the following: why shouldn’t everyday objects feel special and give you a positive feel? Sometimes people are more likely to pay more for things if they know it will make them feel better.


Take EOS for example, a simple and basic lip balm dressed in a velvety ball shape, surprisingly soft at touch and aesthetically pleasant. I never actually needed one, but ended up buying two.

And here is one of our own: the Penhaligon’s Christmas music tin could have easily been just another limited edition box. Yet at closer glance, it’s a beautiful play on textures and layers of embossed and debossed details.


Quite often tactility is used as a functional feature of design, improving grip or helping those visually impaired to name just a couple. Yet, there is clearly an emotional side to it that sometimes speaks louder than any marketing campaign and can get a brand noticed, chosen and remembered.

By Alina Pirvu, Creative Planner, jkr London 

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Crowd sourcing and the cutting room floor

Thursday 12 March 2015


There’s a new website doing the rounds out there called Recently Rejected which sells itself as ‘a curated graveyard of both good and bad ideas’. So far, it’s mostly fairly obscure work like magazine front pages, album covers and t-shirt graphics. Disappointingly, no household-name brand designs from the cutting room floor are there to view just yet. But watch that space.

However it does underscore the weird attraction we have to designs that didn’t make the grade – because of how they shed light on the creative process, because we like to see what might have been, but most of all because we like stories of how either the creative team sold the wrong work or the client bought the wrong creative.

It reminded me of this ‘design competition’ that Sony ran back in 1981 long before ‘crowd sourcing’ became a fashionable way of taking advantage of designers. You can read the full story here.


(Image courtesy of Greg Prichard)

I’m interested, and also somewhat appalled, to see that organisations as big and profitable as Sony were asking for free ideas even then – long before Gap tried to clean up its logo redesign debacle with a ‘collaborative’ design invitation to the public. Thankfully however, Sony retracted the invitation and decided to stick with what they had. And you can see why – all of the three finalists are very much ‘of a time’, whereas Sony’s original logo – virtually unchanged since the brand’s launch, now seems timeless.

In retrospect, it seems obvious. But the insidious influences of culture and design are sometimes difficult to resist. Sometimes the greatest contribution that can be made to a brand’s visual equity is to leave it alone.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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Banking on something different

Friday 06 March 2015

Banking on something different 1

This week I have mostly been on hold to banking customer service lines. Perhaps that’s why this new retail scheme for NatWest bank caught my attention.

Whatever you might make of it, it’s certainly very different. The strategy behind the project is to reframe complex or boring financial products within the context of ‘real life’. As the agency responsible, Boldrocket, explained to The Drum, people don’t think about taking out a mortgage, they think about buying a home. I get that. So far, so good.

Banking on something different 2

To be honest though, I’d have been happy with a lot less. Specifically, a bank that helped me buy a home and did so in a way that was jargon-free, friendly and efficient. A bank that was easy to deal with, showed a modicum of personal attention and didn’t steal or lose my money. Until banks get the basics right, every attempt to define an ‘emotional territory to own’ feels like artifice. It’s unfortunate that NatWest’s creative execution uses the language of a stage set – and therefore connotes façade more than anything else.

The role of design is to align visual expression with brand promise. But if that brand promise is simply empty rhetoric, even the best design scheme is reduced to superficial styling. And that, arguably, can do more harm than good.

But perhaps my perspective has been coloured by own recent experiences. On the positive side, this is something different for banking – I think – and it’s been done as a pilot scheme in 2 banks before being assessed for wider rollout. And it’s also been done without endless consumer groups. And there’s surely something to admire in that.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

Imagery courtesy of Philip Volkers photography.

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Oreo’s fusion of idea and iconography

Thursday 05 March 2015

Oreo’s fusion of idea and iconography 1

Oreo’s big hairy idea is about ‘play’. What a humongously rich idea to own. One of the more recent executions is a set of outdoor ads featuring funky illustrations by 10 different artists. Each one of them is wonderful.

Beyond the individual cool of each execution, what makes this special is that it holds together as a collection of artwork so cohesively. Although every piece has its own personality, they all feel like Oreo. That’s a marker of a brand with strong spirit and flexible design language.

Oreo’s fusion of idea and iconography 2

It’s also another example of Oreo’s great skill in using design to drive brand distinctiveness. Like Coke and Stella Artois, Oreo’s communications are increasingly conflating big idea with design iconography.

As our attention spans gets increasingly shorter, I think we’ll see more and more of that.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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Champions of Design 4

Friday 27 February 2015

For the last four years, jkr have published a series of books that celebrate brands that use design for competitive advantage. Each book identifies examples of great design ideas, the people who created them, and the clients that bought them.

This year, we have focused exclusively on Asia. Champions of Design 4 places homegrown brands from India to Australia and China to Singapore in the spotlight. So, what makes an Asian Champion of Design? Is there an Asian design aesthetic, and if so what are its characteristics? What conclusions can be drawn from these twenty case studies?

The short answer, of course, is that there is no ‘Asian aesthetic’. Asia is a culturally diverse and economically divided collection of countries that happen to sit next to each other on the world map. Nevertheless, we can make a few broad observations about how design is used within the context of branding.

A ‘Champion of Design’, as we define it, is a brand that has a design spirit or idea that is distinctive and charismatic, and that is applied with skill, inventiveness, consistency or wit. Alas, finding convincing examples from this broad region is disappointingly challenging. Sure, we could look to Asian brands that have grown through canny business strategy (Alibaba, Huawei), ‘fast following’ (Samsung) product differentiators or great advertising. But visual creativity? That seems in rather short supply.

In short, Asia has plenty of brands with success stories, but only a handful that have embraced design as a credible part of the marketing mix. Why? Perhaps it’s because many Asian economies are only now emerging from years of cultural and economic suppression (China, Cambodia, Myanmar) political upheaval (Indonesia) or isolationism (India).

Perhaps it’s because branding is relatively young, and design even younger – an intangible, elusive medium that’s not on most business school curricula in Western Europe, let alone on the radar of family owned businesses in emerging economies.

The exception, of course, is Japan. Champions of Design 4 features six Japanese case studies, and could easily have included many more. Japan boasts some of the most unique, considered and well crafted brands not just in Asia, but the world. There is clearly something in the Japanese world-view and in its cultural inheritance that is a potent force for creativity.

But what about the rest of Asia? China is emerging from its love affair with Western brands to rediscover its own cultural heritage in brands like Shang Xia, Feiyue and Shanghai Tang, whilst it is also embracing product design innovation in the tech sphere, with the populace buying more Xiaomi phones this year than Samsungs. There are success stories in FMCG that stem from long established icons that continue to be sensitively evolved – Singapore’s Ayam brand and Tiger Balm, or Thailand’s Red Bull. And there are new brands, born out of a mixture of entrepreneurial flair and design sensitivity – take TWG Tea or Blunt umbrellas for example. There is a lot to be celebrated in all of these.

So what does the future hold for Asian design? I believe that in the next decade, we can count on Asia to give us stories of business success through design. As Asian economies mature, the retail sector will become ever more sophisticated, renewing pressure on brands to raise their game against the threat of own label dominance. And as Asian consumers continue to travel, they will become ever more sophisticated, ever more demanding and perhaps ever more appreciative of the rich cultural legacies at home that could become the seed for charismatic branding when they return.

Here’s to the next twenty Asian Champions of Design.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

P.S We're always on the hunt for future brands to feature so please leave any brand suggestions within the comments box below.

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OCD – Organised Creative Design

Wednesday 18 February 2015

OCD – Organised Creative Design 1

The Grand Budapest Hotel was one of the most talked about films of last year and a reminder of Wes Anderson’s genius. Or so I believe. I grew fonder and fonder of his style the more I started to dissect what makes it so distinctive.

One thing he’s been doing well is reviving the idea of authorship in the film culture, a behaviour that is being adopted faithfully by some brands as well, as they attempt to convey consistently and coherently the same message across all touchpoints using a toolkit of visual assets. Similarly, in the Andersonian film world everything tells a story and follows a formula: the plot, the narrator’s voice, the set, the costumes, the little details - you name it.

Carefully chosen and controlled colour palette
The hazy-hued lens through which you get into his world has a retro quality that casts a layer of nostalgia for a time that could have been.

OCD – Organised Creative Design 2 

Perfectly symmetrical compositions
The one-point perspective has become Anderson’s signature, carefully placing the most important element right in the centre of the scene.

Careful typographic aesthetic
Anderson’s films are a type-rich treat, combining the clean graphics of Futura with cursive handwriting and handmade type. 

OCD – Organised Creative Design 3

Rectilinear décor
Once you become aware of the constant use of geometry and particularly the straight lines, it’s hard not to notice them. 

OCD – Organised Creative Design 4

Adding a final touch are the distinctively comical dialogue and naturally awkward situations that give a unique tone of voice to Anderson’s cinematic approach.

This impeccable consistency, deeply methodical and distinctive visual style makes Anderson’s film direction uniquely charismatic and idiosyncratic, a valuable lesson for brands to take in. By drawing the lines to the creative exploration in a way that is not rigid and restrictive but, on the contrary, is tight enough to create a sense of discipline, you can set free the creative expressions knowing that it won’t get out of hand. Hence creatively designing in an organised way.

Whether it’s the saturated industry of filmmaking or the supermarket aisle, the fight to stand out is the same. Therefore embrace your uniqueness and celebrate it in order to build a confident and distinctive brand. How delightful and aesthetically pleasant would the supermarket aisle or shopping centre be if brands would find their own discipline?

By Alina Pirvu, Creative Planner, jkr London 

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Packaging as media in the age of digital printing

Monday 16 February 2015

Packaging as media in the age of digital printing 1

Despite the glorious moniker ‘Fast Moving Consumer Goods’, it takes a very long time to print a bag of sugar or a bottle of beer using a conventional print process. It’s not uncommon for pack design projects to begin 12 to 18 months before launch. Partly as a result of this, packaging has been obliged to play a rather static role in the marketing mix, symbolising, reflecting, and at the most suggesting the values of the brand that are created by other more versatile and quick-footed media. The role of the pack was to remain steadfast and unchanged. Consistency was king.

But that assumption is being undone. The role of the pack within the marketing mix is profoundly changing. For the first time, the pack is now able to build the brand idea, rather than merely reflect it. For the first time, the pack is able to drive engagement in ‘real time’. For the first time, the pack is now media. And what’s enabling this shift is the advent of a new technology: digital printing. What used to take several months can now be done in a matter of days. If conventional printing is like a freighter ship—large, cumbersome and slow—then digital printing is like a speedboat. It’s fast, nimble and responsive.


So how is packaging being used as media in this brave new world? Personalisation, as ever, is a key trend. Narcissists like to feel special, which is why we all loved seeing our name on a bottle of Coke. But it also worked because it was consistent with the brand promise, and helped add another chapter onto the brand’s gleaming, beaming happiness story. But just because putting names on bottles worked for Coke, doesn’t mean it’ll work for anyone else.

There are other ways to resonate with an audience that increasingly demands fresh, new content. If you are a global or regional brand, a geo-specific strategy is one way to create tailored design content for different markets, regions or cities. Imagine coffee cups with unique designs for each outlet. Or in-room collateral tailored to each destination if you’re a hotel. As long as it fits with your brand idea, then consider your pack as a canvas, not a branded receptacle.

In December 2014 my company created an idea for Scottish carbonated beverage IRN-BRU. IRN-BRU is described as Scotland’s ‘other national drink’ (after whisky) and outsells both Coca-Cola and Pepsi in its home country. It’s a Scottish icon and a source of national pride. We proposed that the brand celebrate its heritage by changing its packaging to the tartan of (almost) every clan in Scotland. The launch saw the biggest ever week of traffic to the IRN-BRU website. We call this a ‘design campaign’—an initiative that uses packaging as media to advance the brand story.

From a cult of consistency to endless experimentation

Forget about limited editions. Digital printing allows brands to produce limitless editions. Absolut vodka combined digital print with algorithms to create its Absolut Unique range, consisting of 4 million completely individual bottle designs. For the first time, technology was being used as a creative enabler—as a vital part of the creative process—rather than simply the executor of a designer’s vision.

As the tech geek in their promo video explains (below), the project required a complete reconfiguring of the production line "to create variation and randomness, whereas they were designed to create stability and control’’. For Absolut, using the pack as a canvas for millions of original artworks underscored its positioning as a creative, design-led and innovative brand. As a result the collection is more than mere novelty;; it seems to resonate at a brand level, with technology actively building the brand story. 

Me, me, me

But of course, sometimes a more brazen appeal to your audience’s narcissism is too tempting to resist. Diet Coke repeated the Absolut stunt in Israel with 2 million unique bottles. Why? Because, according to the VP of Marketing at Coke in Israel, the company wanted to show Diet Coke drinkers that ‘they are extraordinary by creating unique one-of-a- kind extraordinary bottles’. Hmmm. For me, Diet Coke’s never been about individuality, or creativity, or art, or design, so this collection feels technology-led, rather than brand-led. Just because you can print 2 million different bottle designs, doesn’t mean you should. 

Packaging as media in the age of digital printing 2

An opportunity for more creative packaging

If you’re the owner of a big brand, you’re obliged to make big bets with any packaging change. Big bets, therefore, tend to be safe bets. Big bets make for risk-averse clients and boring, safe creative. Digital print is more cost effective for short runs, so it allows you to experiment, to test, trial, adapt, test again and perfect a design idea. That means we should see braver, more experimental work from agencies and clients alike.

Digital printing is a new technology, and like any new technology, we haven’t quite yet got to grips with it. The same timeless wisdom still applies—start with the brand, not the trend. But for clients, designers and creators who can see its potential, the size of the prize is unprecedented. 

Here are some additional examples of brands that have made use of digital printing.

Just Right by Purina creates a tailored nutrition plan for your dog and allows you to upload the dog's name and photo to a website so personalised packs can of pooch food can be delivered to your door: 

Heinz Get Well Soups allow customers to send a tin of Heinz soup with a personalised message to a friend feeling under the weather: 

Packaging as media in the age of digital printing 3

To re-engage a young audience that shuns traditional media, Japanese newspaper Manichi took to printing news stories on bottles of water, a new story every day: 

Packaging as media in the age of digital printing 4

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

First published on Campaign Asia

Campaign Asia 4

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Designing identity in the digital age

Monday 16 February 2015

Designing identity in the digital age 1

Last week’s biggest identity story was about the new Sonos logo. In the unlikely instance that you missed it, here it is again. You have to scroll up or down to see it in action.

Cool, isn’t it.

Is this the first example of a logo that uses technology to create an optical illusion to express the brand idea in a way that is quite literally, dynamic? I suspect it is. Does this herald a new dawn for identity design? A future in which identities are kinetic, rather than static? A brave new world in which identities become multi-sensorial, fusing the audio with the visual, or creating new living, breathing, morphing brand worlds that redefine our understanding of identities? Let’s not get carried away.

The Sonos logo is wonderful, but it’s a rare, serendipitous confluence of events that produced it. (According to the designers it was a ‘happy accident’ which they only noticed halfway through the design process). It seems unlikely that we can all find our own ‘brand-centric’ digitally-enhanced optical illusion too.

That said, it does seem like we’re only just starting to master digital as a medium for brand expression. To state the obvious, digital screens are not the same as printed brochures; just as battling your way through the supermarket is not the same as ordering your groceries online. We’ve all been told that simplicity is an essential quality in an omni-screen world, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to the digital equivalent of rubber stamping a flat identity across banner ads, web pages and social media.

Designing identity in the digital age 2

This exercise caught my eye recently – it takes the logic of a responsive website and applies it to some big brand logos. If you reduce your browser size by dragging it, you’ll see the logos featured become increasingly simplified until just an icon remains: a Nike swoosh, a Chanel logo and the Coke icon. Click here to try it out.

For me, the digital space affords brands nothing but new opportunity: unrestricted by the restrictions of the ‘real’ physical world, (in which printing different logo variations costs money and time) we have a new playground. In this world, brands can be responsive, variable and malleable. The Sonos logo is great because it draws on an existing aspect of everyday technology to bring new dimension to the brand. Surely we have only just begun to scratch the surface of this opportunity.

To close, I love this work for the Quebec City Magic Festival by agency lg2, which beautifully fuses the physical and digital words in a rather, ahem, ‘magical’ way.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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Champions of Design Asia - TWG Tea

Thursday 12 February 2015

Champions of Design Asia - TWG Tea 1

Having tea at TWG Tea is like stepping back in time. Everything is more sophisticated. The customers are stylish, self-assured tea connoisseurs. The staff trained at Downton Abbey. In this magical world the tablecloths are whiter, the napkins are crisper, the teapots are shinier and the crockery clinks with a more elegant timbre. TWG Tea is to tea what a bottle of Chanel No 5 is to perfumes, a Moleskine is to notebooks, or a Birkin is to handbags. In fact, ‘having tea at TWG Tea’ is a woefully inadequate description of the experience. 

Champions of Design Asia - TWG Tea 2

TWG Tea sells ‘the finest teas of the world’ from glimmering gold teapots amidst beautifully constructed table settings and in lovely little tea rituals. It sells a vast range of packaged teas, limited editions and gift sets in old-fashioned caddies, each with their own graphic personality. It sells loose teas from a wall of big tins that look like they just got loaded off this morning’s clipper from Ceylon. The brand has a string of elegant tea-houses throughout Asia and concessions in Harrods of London and Dean & Deluca in NYC. High tea in any of them will make you feel like a colonial memsahib in old Singapore. 

So what’s the story behind this heritage brand? How did its Raffles-era sense of nostalgia suddenly eclipse Raffles hotel itself? Where has it been hiding since 1837? 

The truth is, ‘TWG Tea’ was only established in 2007 in Singapore by 3 entrepreneurs who saw the Asian nostalgia wave coming long before the rest of us, and also managed to tie it cleverly to our thirst for luxury living. Abroad, in markets like the UK, the brand’s colonial vibe seems to appeal to consumers with Fortnum’s fatigue. 

Champions of Design Asia - TWG Tea 3

Have we been duped? Does it matter? Do we even care? I have a hunch we care less about it here in Asia than we would in a mature Western market. In Asia, we still trust brands, and even those that dissemble don’t seem to faze us. Faux authenticity isn’t such a bad thing when authenticity itself is in such short supply. Ultimately, Asians are extremely pragmatic, and if a pot of tea and a macaron at TWG Tea is a supremely enjoyable throwback to colonial splendour, then what’s the problem? 

TWG Tea’s brand story is a splendid mirage, made persuasive and convincing by the fluency of its design language – old fashioned of course, but also not too slick or ‘designed’. The role of design is to give visual expression to intangible ideas – as it has done for this brand-new old-fashioned brand. I for one, am willing to suspend my disbelief in return for ‘a pot of tea at TWG’. 

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

First published on Campaign Asia

Campaign Asia 3

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The new whisky codes

Tuesday 10 February 2015

A couple of years ago, this was the prevailing category language for single malt whiskies.

The new whisky codes 1

Now, it seems that single malts are starting to look a bit more like the ones below.

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Crikey! What’s that all about?! That feels like a significant shift to me. Whisky’s always been a ‘manly’ category’, but with this development, it seems to be finally sloughing off its pipe and slippers image and embracing a new kind of masculinity. The sepia tones, heavily typographic labels, scripts, signatures, ink etchings, watermarks, crests and stags seem to be falling out of favour. This new whisky vision is bold, confident, uncompromising – whisky is no longer just for those in the know, these packs seem to be saying – it’s for those bold enough to choose a new whisky path! Or something.

The truth is, of course, that the category is in the middle of exchanging one set of generic category conventions for another. Out with one kind of typography (italicised, scripty, frills and bells); and in with another kind (letterpress and sans serif: brave and modern). Out with accents of gold, and in with accents of lime green and teal. It all looks exciting and new and on trend.

But that’s kind of the problem.

Trends come and go, and they can’t be ignored – not even by packaging, which has traditionally occupied a very static role in the marketing mix. But nor should they be embraced at the cost of brand distinctiveness. This bold reimagining of the whisky category is a welcome breath of fresh air, but the bottom line is that a sans serif caps type on clear PSL labels is neither unique nor ownable. The trick with trends is to own them, rather than letting the trend own you – in knowing what your brand stands for, and aligning its visual expression with its inner spirit.


By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

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Champions of Design Asia - Suntory

Sunday 08 February 2015

Champions of Design Asia - Suntory 1

‘Wabi-Sabi’ is the Japanese world view that prizes the beauty of transience and imperfection. It has no direct translation in English, but it connotes ideas of isolation, simplicity, longing and a closeness to the natural world. It explains the Japanese aesthetic: understated, contemplative and elegant. According to Suntory’s chief bartender, Takayuki Suzuki, it also explains his company’s approach to whisky manufacturing. 

Suntory has been making whisky in Japan since 1924 when Shinjiro Torii (aka ‘the nose of Osaka’) built the first Japanese whisky distillery outside of Kyoto. Japanese people laughed at his vision to sell Scotch whisky in the domestic market, whilst single malt connoisseurs in the West sniggered into their crystal tumblers. But he persisted and his blended whiskies finally came of age – both in terms of product taste and design aesthetic. 

In the Scotch whisky category, there is a set of visual signifiers we intuitively ‘read’ to infer notions of authenticity, heritage, complexity, strength and so on. Hibiki and Yamazaki share none of these established category codes. And yet, we don’t doubt that similar notions are suggested by this very different style of packaging. They feel credible, but they also feel quintessentially Japanese. 

Champions of Design Asia - Suntory 2

The Hibiki bottle design in particular, with its distinctive 24-faceted profile, is inspired by the 24 hours in a day but also the 24 segments in the Japanese lunar calendar. The label is made from traditional hand-crafted paper called washi, whilst the name ‘Hibiki’ means ‘resonance’. It’s potent, poetic stuff. And it’s a million miles away from images of highland glens and silhouettes of stag heads. 

It wasn’t always like this. When Suntory started out, the company clearly looked to Scotch whisky for inspiration and direction. The original bottle, dating from 1929, apes the conventions of the Scotch whisky category: big label, centred composition, gothic type and quasi-Christian symbolism. But eventually Suntory whisky brands found their voice. 

Which just goes to show. If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em. 

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

First published on Campaign Asia

Campaign Asia 2

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Champions of Design Asia - Asahi

Tuesday 03 February 2015

Champions of Design Asia - Asahi 1

There’s something about the combination of bold calligraphic black type against raw, shiny aluminium on the Asahi beer can that feels quintessentially Japanese.

Ancient tradition and futuristic optimism: these contradictions seem elegantly resolved in its design. The logo alludes to the kind of craftsmanship we expect from Japan, whilst the can feels unequivocally urban. The success of the design is that it speaks to heritage and to newness in one breath.

The design has become a visual shorthand for Japanese beer, yet the identity as we know it has only been with us since 1987. The story of its introduction is a fable of brand rebirth.

For decades until this point, Asahi’s logo consisted of a rising sun framed by Hokusai-inspired waves (‘Asahi’ means ‘rising sun’ in Japanese). It’s hard to conceive of a more authentic, nationalistic piece of brand iconography. I would like to have been a fly on the boardroom wall when company president Tsutomu Murai tabled the idea of throwing the whole lot in the bin and starting again.

Why? In 1982 Asahi beer was in a seemingly unstoppable spiral of decline. From the number two beer in Japan, its share had dwindled over time to just a little over 10%. Tsutomu Murai instructed the company’s R&D team to do something revolutionary: to really listen to the market. They came up with a new, light and refreshing style of beer they called ‘Super Dry’.

The new design broke the rules of beer branding. It rejected the vernacular of the category, with no conventional ‘racetrack’ device (the oval shape and cross-bar that signifies most European style beers) or star symbol in sight. In trying to express the idea of ‘newness’, Asahi found its own voice – one that is modern, urban and sharp. Somehow the elegant, strong brushstrokes of the logo manage to conjure a feeling of strength, dynamism and opportunity, without relying on the more literal rising sun icon to do it.

In the year of its launch, the brand’s growth outpaced that of the category threefold, and the redesign, along with the Super Dry innovation, received credit for reversing the brand’s fortunes. It’s now the biggest beer brand in Japan and one of the top 10 beer brands in the world.

Champions of Design Asia - Asahi 2

Would Asahi have achieved the same result with a Super Dry variant of its rising sun label? I doubt it. Murai knew that kind of superficial tinkering would have been a case of ‘rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’. Sometimes, when a company or product undergoes fundamental change, the role of design is to shout it from the rooftops. Nothing says ‘we really mean it’ better than a visual promise that you do.

By Katie Ewer, Strategy Director, jkr Singapore

First published on Campaign Asia

Campaign Asia 1

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The jkr Design Gazette offers up opinions, insights and stories from the crossroads of design and marketing.

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