Red Lion partners with Drake General Store

The agency pursues a new kind of client partnership to create merchandise for the retailer.

Drake General Store 2

Red Lion Canada will work with trendy Toronto-based general merchandise retailer the Drake General Store as part of a design partnership to build the retailer’s brand outside of traditional advertising methods.

Instead of creative advertising, Red Lion will design products that will be sold as part of the retailer’s selection of merchandise. The products will be exclusive to the Drake General Store and the partnership has the potential to see Red Lion design products for all of the store’s categories. There was not a traditional competitive RFP process, as the agency approached the store with the idea.

“The traditional way to make a brand stronger is to buy space and fill the space with messages. The other way is to just make the kind of stuff that people want to talk about,” says Matt Litzinger, president and CCO of Red Lion Canada.

“[The Drake General Store] is not a hard brand to be taken by, and we feel like the combination of creative direction on the products they are known for aligned well with the type of people and things we like to make here. It’s just more fun to make stuff, frankly.”

Processed with VSCO with acg presetThe first products (pictured, left) feature a design reminiscent of a certain Toronto baseball team, just in time for the beginning of the season. The products do not feature prominent branding for the Drake or Red Lion, only a small “RL” logo on the product and the label.

“‘Likelihood to recommend’ as a KPI has never been more prevalent, so if you can recognize and then design products that are instinctively shareable and desirable because of the design and what they’re aligned with, a lot of the selling is already done for you,” Litzinger says.

The Drake General Store has five permanent locations in Toronto, as well as one each in Ottawa and Vancouver, in addition to its occasional pop-up locations, especially at events and festivals.

Though he says it’s a trend that can be seen at other agencies and elsewhere in the industry, Litzinger says Red Lion’s shift toward “creative capitalism” has been happening since he joined the agency, and the trend of finding new creative solutions, outside of traditional ads, to impact brand and business will continue.

“It feels like the industry has changed more in the last 10 years than it had in the previous 50 and there’s signs around us that it’s going to change more in the next five years than it ever has,” he says. “A lot of times, the way a company gets paid decides what gets made. We’ve been attempting to change so that we’re solutions-driven and the desired outcome and the best way to achieve that is what guides us, even if it isn’t an ad in a bus shelter.”

Red Lion is still pursuing traditional advertising work, though, having won the work for the Canadian Film Festival last fall.