Teach a Brand to Fish.

How thoughtful design strategies can promote new connections between people and products.

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  • Branding

In November 2009 Vince Frost was approached by Woolworths South Africa (a vast retail company and department store in the vein of Marks & Spencer, with 400 locations and 20,000 employees), to reposition the country’s leading retail brand and to evolve, implement and oversee the new brand identity produced by Massimo Vignelli.

Vince flew to Cape Town to manage the integration and implementation of their in-house design studio alongside a Design Director who headed up and developed the packaging design for Clothing, Home, Foods, Beauty, Digital and Advertising under Vince’s direction. A Senior Account Director also joined the team to put systems in place for the running of the studio.

To facilitate the new design studio and the first project involving the packaging re-design of 8,000 products, we employed local designers and art workers, both experienced and new talent, and worked with design schools to provide valuable opportunities for local students.

Woolworths’ Foods is synonymous with quality, however we discovered this was matched by a perception that it came at a price. As a result of the global economic downturn, retailers had seen significant increases in sales of home brand value ranges, while discount stores like Aldi and Lidl were the fastest-growing grocers globally.

Work was undertaken to reduce prices where possible, including the re-engineering of products to deliver the same quality and flavour expected from the Woolworths’ brand. Woolworths launched their own Essentials range in March 2010, which included everyday items such as baked goods, fresh food, frozen food, and non-food lineszincluding cleaning products.

The Essentials range focused on everyday items representing true value for money without compromising standards. The packaging design used a combination of photography and vector illustration on a white background across all formats to ensure consistency. The friendly design solution allowed the product to interact with the illustration imparting a subtle wit. Named the ‘Great Value’ campaign, the introduction of lower-priced, high quality goods made a significant contribution to changing the existing perception of Woolworths as a destination solely for expensive food.

Charmaine Huet
Group Director Marketing
Woolworths South Africa
To successfully articulate our competence as innovators we needed to learn how to more effectively manage our design and creative processes.”

The initial stage of the Essentials range packaging project took in more than 150 lines including dairy, meat and poultry, cereals, beverages, dry goods, biscuits, bakery goods, frozen foods, household cleaning, laundry and personal care products. Woolworths’ Essentials are high-quality, basic staples set at entry price points with the strategy to contemporise while “ensuring the packaging communicated the quality which defined the very essence of the Woolworths’ brand”.

“We really aimed to underline Woolworths’ philosophy of ‘the difference’, by embedding good, thoughtful design into the brand through packaging,” says Vince. “There is a unique idea behind every single product and that is a real innovation in house brand packaging design. Each idea expresses the function or benefit of that individual product.”

Whilst generic or house brand lines are often devoid of any personality, the Woolworths’ Essentials range used design to inject a sense of energy and life. Simple, bold typography and the use of elements like photography and graphic shapes, aimed to speak to the consumer in an engaging way. Colour was also used in category-leading ways to differentiate variants within the lines.

“In addition to the packaging and design team mentoring, we were charged with delivering an updated version of the Woolworths South Africa Brand Book to complement the packaging strategy and introduce clients and staff to their fresh look and feel,” says Vince.

To ensure Woolworths’ personality was reflected in the right way, Frost* decided it was important to step away from traditional corporate brand books and communicate in an honest, down-to-earth manner. With the theme, ‘what a difference a day makes’, the brand book reflects Woolworths’ round-the-clock commitment to quality in their stores and to their communities.

The visual narrative is a stunningly rustic demonstration of this approach. The reader is taken on a journey that begins at dawn as Raven the cow waits patiently to be milked and ends in the dead of night as an energy saving globe is switched on. The stories provide insight to the care and attention each Woolworths’ employee brings to making a difference to the company and the people it supports.

Vince chats with Woolworths South Africa’s group director of marketing, Charmaine Huet about new beginnings.

Vince Frost: I remember a meeting with you early on, when you said, “help us to do this ourselves” help us to be able to do our own design at a world-class level.” And that was a really fantastic thing to hear and a fantastic goal to have; it’s now amazing to see that you’ve certainly achieved that.

Charmaine Huet: “We’d been on a quest to modernise the brand for some time. We had been thinking it was time to get a Creative Director in to help me to direct the brand. A colleague of mine asked if I knew Vince Frost and that we should speak to him. We had been working with different external agencies but we were having an issue with their creative output. We kept wanting more and more because we were seeing a lot of innovation happening in our business, but not being able to articulate it frequently enough. And that’s when we started to toy with the idea of bringing the creative in-house.

Our team is always on a quest to make the brand more modern and deliver better innovation, because we always think we can do better. At that point I had inherited the CAD Department and when you came on board, we instantly understood that we had to work out a way to combine these elements into our studio. So our goal was to get you to turn that division into a studio with three or four designers—and that’s where the journey started. And that was big for us, moving from completely outsourcing our design to now integrating it internally.

You came in and really looked at the skills we had, and I didn’t think at that stage that our designers were any good, I really didn’t, and in fact I remember discussing that with you. But what you brought to the area was that you gave the designers the confidence they needed in their ability to do the job, and the standard has just raised so much. It’s actually quite amazing, they are the same people, but now they are producing such terrific work. So your work in mentoring the designers and putting those critical processes in place has really enabled us to develop so we can do everything independently. WE now do all our packaging, we do all our TV ads, and again, it’s the same people we began with, which is incredible. So for me, what you’ve been able to do for our team and the Woolworths South Africa brand is get us into that mindset to be able to move from CAD to a big internal studio, and gave us the skills and processes we needed to be able to manage that—because we hadn’t a clue!

Frost*’s work with us has really taken our design from just mediocre to delivering world-class creative. And I am so excited to continue on that journey and keep pushing our team with your guidance.

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