Branding is particularly powerful in the soft drink industry. Just the names alone conjure up images of logos and color schemes: Dr Pepper, 7UP, Sprite, Gatorade, Pepsi, Fanta, Mountain Dew and of course, the grandaddy of them all, Coca-Cola. No wonder beverage companies take rebranding efforts very seriously. Yet one soft drink company tossed the traditional rules of rebranding and emerged with what would become a wildly successful refresh.
Flavored sparkling water brand LaCroix is in the midst of a popularity explosion augmented by social media. Its sales doubled in two years’ time, and it’s become the drink of choice for fitness fans and tech-savvy millennials around the country. Before any of that happened, though, the company underwent a rebranding effort that took an unexpected turn for its manufacturer, National Beverage Corp.
As a recent profile in Bon Appetit details, National Beverage initiated the LaCroix rebrand in 2002. At that time, without social media to carry any messaging, LaCroix’s fate rested on its eye appeal from grocery shelves. It had to stand out from its carbonated water competitors and be enticing enough for a customer to put it into his or her cart. The old logo — black block letters with a blue double zigzag — was dated and had to go. Alchemy Design Group, the firm charged with the redesign, offered multiple revisions, which were soon narrowed down to three. Two were spins on the original logo, with similar color schemes, updated typefaces and in one case a revamped version of the watery zigzags. These were National Beverage’s favorites.
However, the third option was a total departure, with frenetic blue lettering and a swirled background — both evocative of water in motion. To National Beverage’s great surprise during the testing phase, customers loved this version. “We were surprised by how overwhelmingly it was preferred,” Lyle Zimmerman, the head of Alchemy Design Group, told Bon Appetit. “It was a landslide.”
About preferred design, Lyle said, “In a sea of logos that were more sedate, precious in size, and often sans serif, the script denoted movement, energy and fluidity — all traits applicable to water and especially the effervescence of LaCroix.”
National Beverage ran with customers’ favorite, and Alchemy Design Group adapted the design to each LaCroix flavor and packaging type. Their work on the ubiquitous LaCroix cans won 2003’s Gold Global Design Award. In the years since, LaCroix has become a bonafide phenomenon, with photo-ready packaging that seems tailor-made to Instagram and other social media — a happy accident since social media didn’t exist at the time.
Other designers weren’t so thrilled with the new look, as they told Bon Appetit. One commented, “It goes against everything I stand for as a branding expert and designer. The logotype is not especially well-crafted.” Another added, “The only compliment I can make…is that it defies all the rules of design, given that the logo is barely legible…. Compliments to them for playing all the wrong cards and still beating the house.”
What can a small business looking to (re)design its logo and branding take from the success of LaCroix? Here are four lessons to keep in mind.
1. Consider where your logo needs to perform best.
The LaCroix packaging needed to visually leap off cluttered, tightly packed grocery shelves; Alchemy Design Group purposely designed it to stand apart from its competition by looking very, very different from the rest. Where will your logo be seen, and where does it need to be most effective? Large-scale, on company vehicles or billboards? Or smaller, primarily on business cards, letterhead and paperwork? Perhaps on a storefront or shop window or retail packaging? Knowing where your logo needs to make its best impression helps inform its design.
2. Consider what your logo needs to communicate to customers.
Even though the LaCroix logo was styled to stand out, it still conveys what’s at the heart of the brand: carbonated water, with strategically deployed colors to denote a rainbow of flavors. Additionally, the movement inherent in the lettering and background communicate energy and motion — positive associations with a soft drink. What message does your logo need to send? Remember that a logo has less than five seconds to communicate its brand to people. What should yours say, and how can that be incorporated into the design?
3. A professional designer can provide a wide array of concepts to work with.
A design team with expertise in logos offers concepts and ideas that accurately represent the services and values of your business, and they can find new and creative ways to incorporate those elements. A recurring theme through much of the LaCroix redesign was the stylistic representation of water — it was important to preserve that even in radically different design iterations. A professional design team can also provide concepts that range from the more traditional to the “out there,” and, through the refining process, help you decide which one is most appropriate for your needs and goals.
4. Sometimes rules can be broken.
Knowing how to play the game can give you license to bend or break the rules. Either of National Beverage’s top two logo picks would have been a safe, solid rebranding choice, and many designers would have applauded either one. But by considering a wild card idea that didn’t play by traditional rules, National Beverage discovered a new way to connect with customers. A design team that has expertise in logos can bend the rules to create out-of-the-box concepts for your business’s branding that may be more effective than a more conservative option.
Depending on your business, an unusual branding approach may be the right one, or you may be better served by a more traditional concept. Either way, working with a professional design team helps ensure your logo and branding efforts bubble up above the competition.
Get the secrets to great logo design with our comprehensive guide