Art direction for NON’s 2020 animated campaign.
A conversation between Rhys Gorgol (RG) and Luke Brown (LB) from The Company You Keep and Matt Leach (ML) from Australian Design Radio.
Rhys, we’re here to discuss NON, a zero alcoholic beverage and the brand and packaging you designed for it, which I have to admit really feels like a TCYK brand, because it’s got a number of things going on. On the surface the product appears like a refined, upmarket alternative to wine, and it fits perfectly on any dining table next to top shelf wines or spirits, but underneath there’s this punk aesthetic, this counter-culture language that’s coming through. Is that just me? That’s there, isn’t it?
It’s definitely there, thick and in your face. It’s one of those overriding questions that sparks a lot of responses to briefs that we have within the studio, but here it was inherent within the client’s energy as well. And that was this optimistic/naive question of why; why does something have to be a certain way? With people going out and indulging in wine or alcoholic beverages, there’s a social context to that. If you aren’t doing that, why do you have to have a second-rate experience? This rebellion, or this question why; questioning that status quo and pushing away from it is this connection into this punk counter-culture, subculture ideology. That was really an overriding attitude or presence that came through in not only the design response, but everything the brand does as an operation.
There’s a real energy to the promotion as well. I’m jumping ahead to some of the more recent stuff. That energy feels like it’s constantly increasing, like a protest that builds and builds and then starts to get a little bit crazy. Luke, I’m thinking about some of the campaign posters and promotions that I’ve seen where the type’s almost unreadable, but the brand still manages to come through. It feels like it’s building to something dramatic.
‘Dramatic’ is a really interesting word. ‘Complex’ would work in place of dramatic. The drink takes you by surprise when you taste it for the first time. It’s different to anything else out there and it’s really rich in flavour and impactful. Visually we’re really interested in that and expressing that or exploring that in a way that can link those two together. NON doesn’t conform to any traditional expectations and neither should the artwork that we create.
We’ve also got that imagery where there’s famous films and you’ve censored out the alcohol in a very lo-fi way. It’s coming back to that punk aesthetic. Rhys, how do you get this to work with what is seen as an upmarket product? It feels like it’s a fine balancing act to remain consistent.
It is. Consistency can come through an inconsistency in terms of how you apply things. So if you’re always flipping and changing the script, then that becomes a hallmark or a signature that you can become known for. This attitude, this joyous, optimistic counter-culture questioning allows you the latitude to then think, well, if it is a campaign, we can be very interventionist. We can take things that exist, reappropriate and create something that alters the meaning or redefines the meaning with those things, which is almost paralleling what the product and what the brand is doing in terms of shifting the expectation of that existing narrative. The other thing that it allows us to do is to talk into cultural norms that everyone else has had. People have seen The Big Lebowski; people have seen these movies and they have a really strong place in their heart. When you have this moment that is connected, this shared experience that everyone has, and then you intervene with that, there’s this sense of ‘aha’ or this sense of wit and humour that really brings a little bit of rapport with the brand and can permeate some of the austereness of that aesthetic of punk, where you’ve got this uncompromising sans serif that’s placed ad hoc around compositions. You’ve got this soft angle to it. A little bit more to Luke’s point of the complexity of the beverage and the complexity of the brand – this is a way of that visual language showing its complexity of note, through expression. In terms of how that works with the upmarket, really that’s almost talking to other sectors and other industries. Fashion has done this really, really well for many, many decades, whereby they have taken things that are seemingly lo-fi or seemingly not highbrow, and then expressed those or given them a podium and really looked at the beauty inherent within those things. This definitely would have existed within an FMCG or within a hospitality context, but we felt that there was rich territory there to lean into that and champion something that is quite rudimentary. By giving it value in the brand’s eyes, maybe it challenges society to see it again. The labels aren’t necessarily highly produced, they’re just black, one color on a white paper stock. It’s more about the graphic mark-making and the product inside that suggests value rather than trying to mask that or create facades. A lot of the wine industry leverages that because, especially within a retail context, you’re looking at a shelf and you have a 5×5 centimetre square of paper that delineates one object from another object that consumers of various understanding of the specifics of that sector are making decisions on. There’s something interesting in countering that. Well, it’s not going to use any of this trickery. It’s going to be unapologetically it.
I love the idea about the refocusing as well, because by blocking out that prop, you’re actually able to focus more on the movie and see the actors’ expressions a lot more.
And the humour. The humour is inherent in NON. I come back to it being optimistically punk. Punk, when some people think about that, can be confrontational and aggressive. Whereas I think NON’s version of punk is uncompromising, but it’s also human and joyous and positive. It’s with a real optimistic outlook.
To take a step back, can you give us a little bit of insight into the original brief and what was being asked of you? I’m always keen to hear where you started because it gives some context of where you got to.
There wasn’t a written brief as such, so it was basically conversations, workshops, tastings, and just getting to understand the product. The product in its difference and complexity informed the brief that we wrote together with NON. We knew the product was delicious and totally unique for the space. Aaron from NON, he’s a DJ, he’s a unique character. He’s ambitious, irreverent, provocative and deeply passionate as Rhys was talking about earlier. So we know NON as a brand needed to embody that spirit.
Does that really help being in so early on a project?
Absolutely. It’s something we champion and want to do more with all of our clients, write briefs together, because we believe in these relationships and the commitment to making things great together; that collaboration.
Rhys, I want to talk about the name as well. I just assumed NON was ‘non’ from ‘non-alcoholic’. But when I started researching, I found it actually stands for ‘Notice Of Non-compliance’. I love how this is another layer of rebellion. It’s a very subtle one. I want to ask – why is it important to be subtly rebellious?
It’s important to be subtly rebellious because what that does is allows a foothold into the rebellion. Rather than it being here as a brick wall, and you either understand what our stance is or you don’t, and it’s binary, it’s black or white, the subtle adds a little bit of nuance or a little bit of grey to that, where it gives you a little foothold into understanding, opening your mind, and then making a decision about where you sit on on that position. With NON, as Luke mentioned, the original briefing and the process around getting to know the product, getting to know the founders and their vision of what they were seeking to do was really when the idea was in its infancy. There was a lot of product testing and the flavour profiles were really still under development. There wasn’t a name, it was a ‘project X’ type of situation. Naming can be one of those things which is inherently fraught with danger because there’s 20 million different businesses out there that have all used some kind of word to differentiate themselves. The idea of finding something that is completely unused within a sector is almost an impossible task if it’s to be not so abstract that it’s just a made up word. When we stumbled across NON, it was something that was such a perfect fit for that duality of reading. There on surface level it does what it says on the tin. It’s saying that the product is non-alcoholic, for which there’s still a huge amount of education needed. Because it’s the first in market, or one of the first in market, that is going to be credibly placed on dining tables at fine dining restaurants, at casual dining restaurants, at home environments, that is on par with an alcoholic beverage experience – not only in the complexity of the product, but also in terms of the volume and the format and the way in which it’s served. So by having NON on it, you’re almost staking a claim to that whole sector of non-alcoholic beverages, but in a subtle breakdown because it’s only three letters and there’s two repeating letters in there. The fact that it is an initialism or an acronym for ‘Notice Of Non-compliance’, then that is this peaceful protest. It’s not in your face saying, ‘Hey, fuck you’. But it’s saying, ‘We don’t subscribe to that belief’. From my perspective, it’s almost the core nugget of that embodiment of the questioning why. Of that thinking, no, we don’t just take that for granted. We think, why not?
That’s exactly right. It really comes down to the why, and it’s the thing you can pin on the wall and come back to every time we have a new idea for something you want to put out, if it’s a poster or a campaign or video, it’s got to be non-compliant in the sense of the norms of what’s traditionally done in the beverage space. It’s got to be unique to NON. It’s got to embody that spirit.
Even coming into other projects that we’ve done with NON, as Luke mentioned, it’s taking that idea and applying it to the format and the medium of the communication. Thinking, what does a website look like for an alcoholic beverage? Well, a NON website should look almost completely opposite of that. What is a traditional advertising campaign for an FMCG product? Well, a NON approach would be completely opposite of that, not just for opposite’s sake, but more so for asking, what is all this other territory that’s been left unexplored because everyone’s just believing that this is the only way it can be done.
It’s really brilliant. It really sets it aside because it could have been quite a standard brief trying to follow what already exists in the market and across the whole brand. It feels like it doesn’t necessarily need to be just constrained to non-alcoholic beverages. I can see scents or food; it could really apply to anything where there’s an alternative needed.
With NON, we’ve worked together for quite a while now and we have a rich working relationship. We’ve always thought about the brand holistically with a sensory experience as opposed to, oh, it’s just going to be this one product and let’s see how well that does. It’s an attitude, it’s an idea that you embody and that you have as a benchmark for any expression of that. The product, whatever its form, is just a vehicle for the concept or the idea of NON. That could come through anything sensory, whether it’s incense or oils or bath bombs. There’s a lot of opportunity to explore anything that people experience, because that’s what NON could embody.
Would I be right in guessing that this comes about because you work so closely with the client? There’s almost a mutual excitement about what could come next.
Absolutely. A lot of the time Aaron from NON will just call me and he’ll say ‘I was having this idea’ and then we’ll riff on it for a while. We’ll just throw it back and forth. Then it’s in the studio next week and we’re working on it.
Rhys, it feels like this is a very common theme for TCYK. You work with clients really closely and almost take on their passion for their products as well.
That’s a fairly common trait for designers, but within TCYK, it’s inherent in the name. You are the company you keep and we seem to attract like-minded people, which is fortunate because you get great outcomes from that. Whilst they’re not designers, they’re creatives, they’re naturally born creatives. When you get creatives in the room together, regardless of subject matter expertise, the tennis ball starts going backwards and forwards. You could see that from day one, not only just from meeting them, but from tasting the product. When people are willing to take on a fairly ingrained sector; the fact that you have alcoholic beverages with good food and they’re saying, oh, well, there’s an alternative to this. Then the product inherently, the ingredients within that, really weird combinations that are so complex, you can tell, you can read between the lines that these people are really interested in pushing boundaries, but also in creating things. When you are interested in creating things, you don’t want to be bound by a vehicle. It can be anything; it could be any kind of sensory component. That’s where it’s integral to come back to what this core ideal is, because that’s the guiding light or the guiding vision. That means, ‘This is what is on brand and what’s off-brand’. That gives you a lot of free room to then go nuts and have a play. To come back to your original question, we are fortunate to do that with a lot of our clients. I don’t know what the magic sauce is though.
A lot of our clients are disruptors within their sector. That really resonates with us and we can get behind it because we love that passion and that attitude for never settling. We say this all the time internally – we don’t really believe in reincarnation. We believe you’ve got one time in this life. You’ve got to put your energy into everything you do, and with as much passion and zest as possible and why not shake things up a bit because same same, enormous boring.
Exactly. That’s why there’s such a strong kinship between TCYK and NON – that naive childlike wonder of ‘what if’ or questioning why certain things haven’t been challenged, and it doesn’t have to be these broad, huge, revolutionary challenges. They can be really minute challenges to have a new take or a different perspective or a different inflection or a little nuance, no matter how minor that shift might be. That’s something that’s hugely integral to every person at TCYK. You’ll see that energy comes through in a lot of our work; this optimistic, joyous ‘but what if?’ This possibility, and when you’ve got people coming to you with new businesses or with businesses that have potential, they’ve often got that same possibility in them, and design and that energy can almost be the key to unlock that.
I’ve noticed on the website there’s some beautiful imagery. It’s video showing the bottle in different forms. Can you talk me through that? It’s really amazing to look at.
It’s a promo video for the brand that obviously doesn’t feel like a traditional promo video, as we talked about. What we looked to was directors that we really liked or films that we thought were really interesting, whether it’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, or it’s Under The Skin, these films that at their time really challenged the status quo themselves and had this real interest. We wanted to pay homage to that in a way by creating these different alien-like environments where you didn’t know where it was. There’s no gravity, things are floating, it’s like space. It’s just a symbol or representation of this idea of ‘Notice Of Non-compliance’; it’s not the normal promo video for a non-alcoholic beverage, let alone an alcoholic beverage, or anything, it’s different. And it’s unique. As Rhys said earlier, it’s not for unique’s sake, but it’s true to their brand experience.
To jump on the back of what Luke was saying, in the landing experience of the website, with the video that begins the experience of the product for someone coming through that digital platform, quite often, you would have what is traditionally a photo shoot. It’s caught on camera, it’s real. It’s proof that this thing exists, that it is worthy and it’s not some market store that was there one week and is gone the next week, and isn’t legitimate. But in the same way, with this brand position or this brand attitude, the first thing you see with NON is not a real life physical embodiment of the bottle, but a computer rendered version of the bottle that we worked very closely with 3D2D on. The possibility of that is that you’re questioning what is real or what isn’t real because it’s hyperreal in terms of the rendering. The quality of the rendering is so good that it’s hard to see whether it is real or not, but then the way in which it behaves is obviously beyond physics, beyond what could happen in a real world. It’s again, that embodiment of uber confidence that it is something serious and the quality of the product is there. You’re not relying on external gratification to think, okay, it has to go and follow these cultural norms and these standards. Through doing that, you’re inviting the viewer in to see that more is possible than what they expect and maybe NON is a vehicle for that.
Also, the web address is non.world. This whole world is really important to the brand. You’re drawn into this world and the people that buy the drink and that are yet to buy the drink. You become a brand ambassador and advocate because it’s evocative and it overtakes you. It’s not just, ‘oh, it’s just that drink I like to buy’, it’s everything. This world that we’ve created as a 3D rendered visual is the representation of non.world.
Can I ask you how you get that across the client as well? Because on paper, it’s, well, ‘we want to create a bottle that’s not really a bottle in a world that’s not really a world…’
With this client, they’re like ‘it’s not weird enough’.
But it’s also trust; we have it, we’ve had it. We’ve had a long working relationship together the last three years. It’s just been a product of trust. If we had done this straight off the bat, we probably would’ve had to have a few more conversations around why, but we trust each other and they will push us and we will push them to create something that’s authentic to NON.
On a serious note, it comes back to those really initial conversations whereby you are seeking to understand the motivation behind not only the brand, but the business. Why did they start doing this? They could have chosen to do anything. Why this? And then through this, what are they hoping to achieve in the short term, in the mid term and the long term? Really being invested in understanding the complexity of that and not just seeing your job as an intervention at one moment in time, but someone that through your subject matter expertise can help guide them to realise that vision. Again, not putting your own biases on that vision, but really being a lens in which to distill down what is important, clarify that, and through doing that process, a lot of trust is inherently built because there’s this knowing that you understand, you truly understand what there is to achieve. With that, there’s a fidelity of expression that you really can embody through whatever it happens to be in terms of a specific project, whether it is a website, the packaging, a campaign, doesn’t really matter; that fidelity allows that latitude of trust because that groundwork has been laid and it underpins all the decision making that you’re doing, because it’s there to reinforce that core mission and understands where it’s at within the journey. Are we one year in? And if we’re one year in, where are we intending to be as a brand, as a business, as a world; have we reached our objectives? When we step up and we look around one year in, are we seeing what we expected to see? Or is it a different world? And if it’s a different world, that’s all fine. Now we’ve got more information to then jump off from there on, and that’s all really started from those initial conversations.
They trust us because they know that we have their best intentions. We want success for this brand. And we’re working for success for this brand. It’s not a vanity project. This is where we see the most opportunity and the most cut-through for them so that they can really succeed as a business.
Director: Luke Brown
Client Service: Conor McCabe