Finding balance with Equinox Kombucha - Part Two

Welcome back to our deep dive into the Equinox brand refresh.

7th April 2020

7th April 2020

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Estimated Reading Time 7 Minutes

John Taylor

John Taylor

John Taylor

Written by John Taylor

In Part One, we outlined the challenges faced by Equinox along with the process and learnings uncovered in the Discover phase. In Part Two, we will explore the Create phase, looking at how we defined Equinox's Brand Story and the most important visual assets in their Brand World.

You can recap on Part One here.

The first and potentially most crucial element of Create is restating the brief. Most clients come to us with a rough brief, often a loose idea of a deliverable they need or an objective to achieve.

The Discover phase is where we test assumptions and fill in the gaps. This means that when we restate the brief at the start of Create, we have clear evidence to base our creative direction on.

But a small band of idealists in Hebden Bridge have other ideas.

For Equinox, Discover proved that the soft drinks chiller is under the tyrannical rule of smoothies, fizzy drinks and waters.

Consumers are fooled by the illusion of choice and ambushed by hidden enemies of health such as 'innocent' fruit sugars and not so innocent chemical sweeteners.

Equinox believes everyone who is making healthier choices has the right to a better soft drink. A drink that has nothing to hide, a drink that tastes good, does you good and is crafted with authentic care and genuine love. These rebel alchemists are committed to becoming the mainstream alternative.

The creative objective here is to better communicate the brand proposition visually, helping Equinox to stand out and grow up, without distancing it from the existing fanbase.

The marketing objective was to broaden the appeal of Equinox to attract a new mainstream audience of people who want to make healthier choices.

The Business objective was to secure enough new retail listings with mainstream suppliers to double production capacity.

Our brief casts Equinox as 'rebel alchemists', organic resistance fighters brewing the natural antidote to a global empire of health-sapping, sugary, sweetened soft drinks.

Fairly quickly we knew that the Brand Story had to revolve around the idea that "Everyone deserves a good drink".

Equinox is a force for good, but more than that, their objective genuinely aligns with their name. The Latin root of Equinox literally means "equal light and dark" EQUI - Equal and Nox - Dark. They want to redress the balance by offering a real option. Right now, in the chiller, there is no healthy option that is big on taste, low in sugar and low in calories.

The only options are high sugar gloop from smoothies and juice, high artificial sweeteners in fizzy drinks or low taste from waters.

On top of that, Equinox is totally organic, raw and fizzing with vitamins, antioxidants and naturally energising enzymes. All of this fed into the three beliefs we defined for Equinox.

Firstly, we knew they always wanted to, "Make a positive impact". Everything Equinox does is driven by the desire to make a difference, to offer a healthier choice.

Their next belief states that "Authentic craft matters". They don't compromise their process or their standards. From the way they brew to the way their bottles look - everything is real and transparent.

The third belief is about "Accessible goodness". Just because something is good for you, it doesn't have to look and taste like medicine.

The reality is that everyone knows how to be healthy, but often they think it comes with a built-in barrier or trade-off. Fewer calories usually mean less taste, environmentally friendly means homemade and half-arsed. Instead, Equinox needed to make it as easy, delicious and desirable as possible to stay refreshed and revitalised.

But making something accessible isn't just about making it taste good, it's about making it look good. Making it fit naturally into peoples lifestyle instead of feeling like 'the odd one out with the hippy drink.’ To help us achieve this, we also defined a personality made up of three values: bright, optimistic and grounded.

We needed to create a look that felt sharp, lively and intelligent.

Something naturally bright that doesn't overpower anyone. Something that felt positive without feeling fake, and yet still remained grounded enough to know that it's only a drink when all is said and done.

From these Brand Story elements, we drew up a creative checklist to accompany the brief:

Does it look bright and uplifting?

Does it feel genuine and positive?

Does it look like it was crafted with care?

Does it challenge the norms of competitors?

Is it straightforward and easy to grasp?

In a project like this, the final component of Brand Story has two elements: the on-pack promise and a more campaignable marketing strapline.

With seconds to stand out and get noticed on a shelf, any on-pack promise needs to be simple, direct and resonate with the target audience.

We choose just two keywords: Refresh and Rebalance. The first was chosen simply because this is what everyone wants from a drink, refreshment. It acts as a reassurance that this isn't going to be medicine, it is going to be refreshing. After all, Equinox has won taste awards, so this word was crucial in removing potential subconscious barriers and objections to trial.

The second word added something slightly more emotive and intangible. It linked with the Equinox name and objective, as well as tying into the effect the drink has on gut health. But more than that, it also hints at something our audience is seeking at point of purchase. They want to make healthier choices, they want a more balanced diet, they want a more balanced lifestyle. When faced with a sea of the same old drinks ... Rebalance gives Equinox something a little different, it hints at a positive alternative.

During strapline exploration, we investigated several themes and mash-ups of themes: Attitude + ingredient story, Natural goodness, Alternative taste/drink, Taste + benefit + intelligence.

One area we had to be wary of was anything too closely aligned with energy. We knew energy drinks were the antithesis of everything Equinox does. However, we did have some consumer research that said kombucha gives you a natural lift as opposed to a chemical buzz. In practice, most ideas that tried to express this came off as too sporty and masculine. Again, our research told us that the audience had a slight feminine skew, so anything overtly aggressive and masculine got discarded immediately.

Following a long list of 50 strapline ideas, we boiled it down to a shortlist of 4: Stay sharp, Really real refreshment, Fizzibly different and the eventual winner: Alive and fizzing. The Alive and Fizzing line covered a lot of bases. It expressed a kind of natural energy. It had a positive attitude that would resonate with our audience. And finally, it also nicely referenced the fact that authentic kombucha is literally a living drink.

With the verbal heart of the Brand Story signed off, the second half of Create focussed on how we bring that story to life visually on Equinox's most crucial brand asset; their bottle.

Alongside expressing their brand character and themes, there were some important functional design issues to be addressed. One of which involved clearly identifying the flavour variants. During Discover we'd identified that the flavours cannot be discerned by the colour of the kombucha alone, and with the existing bottles one flavour was easily confused with another. With six flavours (at the time of the rebrand) and more on the way, we needed to develop a much more precise way to identify flavours at a glance.

Another key challenge that was part form and part function was the bottle shape itself. When we started, Equinox used a standard, off the shelf 'alcopop' bottle. This presented a variety of issues. Height, for example, it was very slim and tall, so it didn't always fit into the chiller cabinet shelving in the 'grab and go' aisle. Unsurprisingly, at a glance, the alcopop bottle looked alcoholic. This often made potential soft drink customers avoid picking it up.

A secondary issue here was that the 'standard alcopop' bottle wasn't ownable by Equinox, it was available to everyone.

This meant there were a lot of plates spinning at once with a lot of dependencies.

Also, there was a tight deadline in the form of long lead times required to blow custom glass bottles. As we began exploring logo, typography and supporting symbology, we also had to continually test label shapes, and sense-check their impact on the bottle shape. This was so we could keep in constant contact with the bottle manufacturers to test feasibility.

Creative work was reviewed by our creative team, our creative director and brand strategist.

Suitable work was then shared with Equinox's creative director, who acted as a filter before elements were shared with Equinox key management. On top of that, there was a final layer of opinions and approval from investors.

While we handled five layers of feedback and approval on every creative decision, we also had to keep in contact with bottle makers, cap makers and label printers. All of which were in different locations and operating to their own individual lead times, working practices and calendars.

Bear in mind that almost every decision, from any element, at any level, would have a knock-on effect with every other item.

So even with three layers of approval on bottle shape, there was always potentially two further layers that may not agree. This would require re-negotiation and feedback with bottle suppliers, then revised timelines on production. The new bottle shape would effect label size, which would affect the scale and proportion of graphic elements. Or, maybe a colour would change, then the bottle cap maker wouldn't be able to match it, so changes would cascade again.

Very few things are ever a blank slate, the bottle shape, in particular, was technically challenging. There were dependencies on which bottle supplier Equinox would select, what their capabilities and restrictions might be, combined with which sizes and shapes the existing bottling machinery at Equinox could tolerate. These decisions, tests and analysis all take time.

Yet, all the while, the clock is ticking. The bottles had to go into production long before the brand was finalised, so at one point in the project, they theoretically became everyone's primary focus.

Nevertheless, we couldn't just pick any old bottle shape, just to get it done. Our label concept had to work with it. This meant quite often, instead of prioritising sequentially, there were actually multiple 'top priorities' happening simultaneously. And of course all those 'top priorities' had an effect on one another, all with numerous layers of approval dependencies.

So lots of fun logistically. But putting all that to one side, we still had to tackle the design challenges systematically.

We began, as we always do, with visual themes and visual metaphors. These are filtered versions of initial exploratory mood boards. This is the first step in translating verbal concepts into visual ones.

We use them to try out potential approaches. These kinds of rough concept mood boards are beneficial early on, to help test feasibility. If you have an idea, theme or metaphor in mind but can't find any reference material that anyone else has done to help you express that idea ... either you've got an earth-shatteringly unique idea ... or it's something that can't really be represented visually. More often than not, if you can't find reference material you've probably written a concept you can say rather than an idea you can see. This is great for advertising copy but not so great for packaging.

At this stage, we're looking for 'words and phrases we can see'. All branching out from our starting points of balance, refreshment, Equinox, flavour, light, bright, natural, alignment, transparency.

Alongside this, we do some initial type tests, exploring very early 'font flavours' for a wordmark. This is a kind of litmus test, where we're asking ourselves what feels instinctively right or wrong, and why. It's also a quick way for us to get to know the 'shape' of the word. We can see which letterforms make up the word, how they sit together, how they look in upper case or lower case. We're essentially 'casting' typestyles, to see what resonates with our themes.

For a brand about balance, we were lucky that the word Equinox itself is reasonably well balanced. The letter i sits perfectly in the centre with three letters on either side. We tried playing with this a few different ways. Ultimately this observation fed into the simplicity and 'alignment' of the final design.

Another critical element was the sense of brightness. We wanted Equinox to have a cleaner, brighter, lighter feeling. So, quite quickly, we started to explore rays of light radiating from a centre point. In the beginning, we liked the idea of a stubby bottle that had ribbed beams around the shoulders. If you looked top-down, it would look like a sun, but from the side, it created an eyecatching, art-deco, crafted feel to the glass. But, this proved problematic in production, as bottles need to 'roll' smoothly together on the production line, with no points of friction.

Producing some early label sketches allowed us to do a similar exercise to the typography tests. It is an exploration of potential approaches, techniques for codifying flavours, stylistic experiments. None of this initial exploration is designed to solve everything. Instead, we are exploring elements and directions. At this point, bottle shape was a placeholder until Equinox had settled on a bottle supplier. Nevertheless, these experiments brought us closer to some key observations and ideas.

It was another way of saying, "we have nothing to hide".

One observation was the sense that less is more with this particular brand. We needed the design to feel closer to water and soft drinks than say, alcohol and smoothies. Another idea that emerged was the notion of punching a hole through the label. We really liked the way it let light through the bottle but also created a window on the kombucha inside.

The window also created a focal point for the rays of light and made the label feel less dense overall. But this came with its own challenges. First, we had to decide on how much of a window we wanted and also where it was located. Was it a full circle? A half-circle to represent the balance of light and dark? Was it many small circles or just one big one? How big could or should we go?

As we tested different ideas, we started to rule out any elements that made it look like alcohol. Certain typefaces or layout styles just began to tip into beer or even tequila codes. Research and common sense said we needed to avoid that at all costs. Nevertheless, there was a desire throughout the process to explore something that approached 'craft beer' without being too alcoholic in appearance.

You can see this thinking more clearly in some of the alternative options we created. Here, we leaned in either direction, making one style more robust, craft beer influenced. Something more traditionally masculine in style. Then we leant the other way and tried something that had a softer more bubbly feel to it, dialling down the boldness. In these options, you can also see the hints of an art-deco inspired sunrise concept, an idea that had migrated from the bottle to the label.

This idea of sunrise, an uplift, also became part of the wordmark. The original wordmark had some unusual, almost Aztec, influences especially when coupled with busy flower-like mandala. Although there wasn't a lot we wanted to retain from the previous incarnation, the serifs offered some stability. They added some of the crafted feel we needed to express.

We also set the wordmark to align with the rays. This fed into a refined, simple idea: A clear, bright circular focal point, perfectly aligned inside a circular label, equally split by the light and dark of the label and flavour colour. Finished by glinting light rays and text radiating outward.

As a final twist in the project, Equinox had unlocked some new relationships in food services who preferred canned drinks over bottled. As well as developing an experimental coffee flavoured kombucha with a kick.

So, just as the bottle design and label was close to being finalised, the can took priority. Of course, we couldn't have a transparent element. Still, otherwise, the design translated relatively painlessly and even allowed us to create an 'evil twin' variant for the coffee. Here we flipped everything turning white to black and adding a coppery gold flavour slice to the design.

When the dust settled, and all of the supplier wrangles were ironed out, Equinox's rebrand launched and achieved everything we set out to do.

It elevated the look and feel into a more grown-up, sophisticated space. Sales have doubled in key locations, and the new look and feel have unlocked further listings, new relationships and additional investment.

"We had grown up and it was time to change our brand look and feel to reflect this. 2018 was the year of rethinking, redesign and repositioning for Equinox. With the new brand complete, the big boys started to take notice. New partnerships with Holland & Barrett, Co-Op and Mitchells & Butler and investment from Yeo Valley."

Daniel Spayne

Managing Director, Equinox

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