1. Understanding the brand: Ready when you are
Laphroaig is not a whisky for beginners. It is, however, the world’s favourite Islay single malt, a position earned over many years by excellence in distilling and careful marketing. The brand has created and nurtured a global club of ‘friends of Laphraoig’ who each own a square foot of the distillery’s land. Many have visited their property, and one even got married there!
Laphroaig has a very singular taste, and an attitude to match. It has avoided the ‘pretty’ designs that line the single malt shelves, and even shunned a neat design system for its numerous expressions. As we quickly learned, the brand’s consumers haven’t got much time for ‘that design nonsense’.
2 Understanding the consumer: Don’t make it too pretty
Laphroaig drinkers are people who are proud of having travelled the rough and rugged road to acquire the taste of ‘the most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies’.
They delight in finding the right path, not the most obvious, and they require the packaging to reflect their vision of Laphroaig as replete with intrinsic quality – to the point of being somewhat foreboding. In other words: “Don’t make it too pretty or everyone will discover it”.
3 Defining the task: same but different
Our challenge was to create designs for two of Laphroaig’s principal expressions, capturing the unique character of each whisky whilst remaining faithful to brand values and visual language.
For its Cask Strength expression, Laphroaig had decided to move away from a consistent proof level to bottling at natural cask strength. This created the opportunity to make the variable alcohol level into a focal point for this expression, reinforcing the brand’s authenticity.
The distillery also wanted to create a new 18 years old expression, from unbottled (and now older) stocks of the much-prized 15 years old. The design needed to befit a ‘mainstream premium expression’, and avoid the completely un-coordinated look (even by Laphroaig’s measure) of its younger sibling.
4 Creating: mellow and pure plus authentic and raw
Our planning phase draws together the various strands of information about the consumer, the brand, the marketplace, and the objectives of the brief. It looks for insights that connect these sometimes diverse stakeholders, and answers the question (in strategic terms): what should the design do? When extending an iconic brand like Laphroaig, we concluded: Don’t appear to change anything, create a system for expressions to shine, but don’t show the joins.
The tasting notes revealed a complexity of flavours that the designs can only hint at, but the key distinctive features of the two expressions were always kept in focus: Pure, authentic and raw for Cask Strength; mellow, premium and aged for 18 years old.
Addressing the co-ordination issue, we defined what had to be consistent on all packs: everything from the Prince of Wales feathers to the legal descriptor –Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky. We also explored the distinction between white and green backgrounds for outer packs, deciding to reserve the darker colour for premium expressions only. Some details such as rounded label corners were designated as signature elements, after which the rest of the design was allowed to focus on individual character.
5 Believing: Sold!
For a brand like Laphroaig that sells all it can make of its non-standard expressions, the objective is always more than simple volume uplift. These new designs enhance the reputation of the brand as the world’s leading single Islay malt, adding strategic support to the flagship 10 years old expression with clearly defined ‘ultimate strength’ and ‘extra maturity’ variants.
Halley Kehoe, Global Scotch brand manager: "Osborne Pike intuitively understood the Laphroaig brand story and personality. As a result, their designs for two quite different expressions communicate the character of each whisky without compromising the brand's idiosyncratic visual language.”
We’ll drink to that, Halley.