Nexient delivers modern classics

It's not often that Canadian design firms see their handiwork shipped out to the far reaches the globe. But Corby Distilleries liked Toronto-based Nexient's work on three new brands making up the Canadian Whisky Guild portfolio so much that it exported...

It’s not often that Canadian design firms see their handiwork shipped out to the far reaches the globe. But Corby Distilleries liked Toronto-based Nexient’s work on three new brands making up the Canadian Whisky Guild portfolio so much that it exported the designs to the U.S., Europe and East Asia. Not only that, but along with selling well overseas, the three whiskys turned heads when they landed, winning Product of the Year from the German Bartender’s Union and silver medals at the U.K.’s International Spirits Challenge.

The secret to the success was finding solutions to a series of design contradictions.

The packaging had to look expensive, but cost little. It had to exude heritage, but appeal to contemporary urban professionals. It had to entice the Canadian market, but fly in Japan.

The three brands that make up the Canadian Whisky Guild – Gooderham & Worts Ltd., Lot No. 40 and Pike Creek – debuted in Canada in 1999 and have subsequently rolled out in the U.S., Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, France and the U.K.

Nexient (formerly Russell Inc.) had worked with Corby (a subsidiary of Allied Domecq PLC), once before, on the redesign of its flagship Wiser’s brand, but this time they were starting with a clean slate – no bottle, no brand name, and no product.

The team – creative director Bob Russell, along with designers Pippa White (Lot No. 40), Cara-Lynn Rumack (Pike Creek) and Clare McGoldrick (Gooderham & Worts) – had to work with the Corby plant to understand their manufacturing capabilities, its marketing department to ensure that the design stayed true to the brand vision, and ad agency Harrod & Mirlin/FCB on the naming of the products. All in all, the project took almost two years.

Annie Gaudreault, Nexient’s vice-president of customer management, says Corby developed the Whisky Guild products following research that showed there was room in the marketplace for premium, high-quality whiskies that would appeal primarily to a white-collar crowd in their 30s.

‘Each of the three products had to have its own personality while conveying a sense of authenticity and craftsmanship because those are the inherent qualities of the products,’ she says. ‘It was a delicate balance of giving a touch of heritage while being contemporary, and relevant to a target market in its 30s that doesn’t want to be drinking Crown Royal because it looks like their grandfather’s drink.’

The bottle shapes are all different: tall and slim for Lot 40; more substantial with a classic ballooned neck for Gooderham & Worts; and a squat look for Pike Creek.

Nexient was able to cut costs by customizing bottles that were readily available.

Lot No. 40 gets its personality from the fact that it’s distilled in a single copper pot still. Copper-coloured screen printing on the bottle details the process while a ‘Lot No. 40′ label is angled over it. A copper-coloured metal tie – real copper would have been prohibitively expensive, Gaudrealt says – suspends a tag around the neck of the bottle.

Gooderham & Worts Ltd. Natural Small Batch gets its personality from the fact that it actually is distilled in small batches. Silk-screened on the neck of the bottle is a lot number that changes with each batch. In addition to its paper brand label, there is a small label near the bottom right of the bottle with a number that is unique to each individual bottle. Seals of authenticity are on the bottom left.

While the bottle appears to have several layers worth of labelling, it is really one label made to look like several pieces.

Pike Creek is finished in port casks, hence the choice of a squat, cask-shaped bottle. Frosted silk-screening of the Pike Creek name is intersected by a thin horizontal label and topped with a double-barrel seal for a layered look.

The stopper has the appearance of a cork, the neck is covered with paper from Nepal, and both are covered with a clear, tamper-proof seal. Brown cord wrapped around the neck completes the handcrafted look.

Nexient came up with five concepts for each brand and Gaudreault says that once the finalists were chosen, very few changes were made, with the exception of a last-minute name change to one of the brands, on the advice of Corby’s lawyers.

‘We call this our gold assignment because the client was committed to a level of quality that is pretty rare,’ she says. ‘We are very proud that we’ve been able to put this level of quality in front of consumers in the U.S. and Europe. Canadians don’t usually get this kind of assignment because fewer head offices and decision centres are here in Canada.’

Also in this report:

- New designs draw on brand equity: Repackaging moves up on brand development agenda p.B7

- Michelina’s brand extension brings fine dining home p.B8

- Package design deconstructed p.B11