Unilever’s famous Wall’s brand came together with I-AM and created Soft Republick to re-imagine soft serve ice cream for Millennial and Gen Z consumers.
How were you commissioned?
Unilever’s famous Wall’s brand came together with I-AM and created Soft Republick to re-imagine soft serve ice cream for Millennial and Gen Z consumers, while ensuring that it remains as compelling as ever for traditional audiences. Unilever are at the forefront of enhancing the emotional connection between product brands and consumers, through ever-more experiential retail touchpoints. These are directly orchestrated by the brand owners themselves, working with creative agencies specialised in retail experience design, such as I-AM. Ice cream is one category which is ripe for this kind of activity, with pop-up and flagship retail experiences targeted at the Instagram generation appearing through the summer.
What was the brief from the client and how much were they involved?
Unilever created a ‘special projects’ division within Walls, with a licence to think and act as a disruptor brand would. The I-AM team worked hand-in-hand with this small team to create a new stand-alone experiential brand that reinvents soft serve ice cream for the millennial and Gen Z consumer. The Wall’s soft ice proposition is wide-ranging, with different products available outside of the home according to global location and individual situation & opportunity. The aim was therefore to create a fresh and vibrant new umbrella brand ‘ecosystem’, providing a contemporary & future-facing image applicable across, and flexible to this range of scenarios, helping establish Unilever as owners of the world’s best soft serve brand.
How did the brief affect the materials and design choices?
The resulting ‘Urban Explosion’ of Soft Republick is a brand world that encourages self-expression & creativity and celebrates individuality. The revolution began with the first brand expression realised as a Soft Republick retail pop-up at London’s iconic Spitalfields Market, inspired by urban art. The feel is playfully punky and vibrant to immediately appeal to youth and families alike, from hipsters to tourists. This meant an eclectic, expressive and informal palette of styles and materials – Sterlingboard for a ‘pop-up’ feel, scribbled with messages such as ‘Nice nice baby’, juxtaposed with premium foodie touches such as real marble.
How did your previous experience help you with this project?
The work of I-AM has for some time been at the heart of a dynamic revolution in food & beverage experience in the UK. Our first project in the sector, for the mexican fast-casual brand Chilango, epitomised the idea that consumers should receive a memorable, distinctive experience, even when spending relatively little on their meal at any time of day. We have now translated that thinking for many brands in the sector globally, making our track record a perfect fit for the idea of a highly experiential brand strategy with soft ice as the core proposition.
Can you explain the layout of the project?
Soft Republick as a physical space is designed to blend consumers’ own creative spirit of inventiveness, with urban art and a collaborative product assembly experience. An open and informal servery counter is the focus – inspiringly merchandised and manned with a friendly, engaging team who facilitate the customers’ favoured combinations of unusual bases, sauces and toppings. The rest of the space takes the form of a café/gallery, to enjoy, take photos of and share the joy of these creations, as well as engage with the artwork from the local community which forms the signature of the décor.
What problems or challenges did you face?
Maintaining a truly independent and fiercely creative spirit in the framework of a huge multinational organisation required passion and a high degree of collaboration and a compelling set of assets for the ‘internal sell’ as well as the external execution. It was a testament to the dedication of the client team as well as the ambitious vision of Unilever, that this challenge has been met and the project is seen as a showcase for potential future directions for a wide range of product offerings.
What do you feel were the most unusual design elements of the project?
A meeting place between street art and ice cream, a the servery sat opposite a specially commissioned mural expressing the local area and soft ice. Such urban art is a key aspect of the look & feel for Soft Republick, yet it’s designed to change! Every community that Soft Republick arrives in, will have a range of local artists, and we want to provide a platform for their self-expression. So for 2018’s ecosystems in Brighton and Istanbul, the corresponding urban art is realised in close partnership with local street artists, bringing a life and relevance to the concept which will never be identical in two locations.
How do you think this project is pushing design forward? What makes it special
Soft Republick is special because it embodies a number of important movements in society. It’s a timely & positive response to unsettling global developments; a force for unification over the simple joy of ‘Messy Creativity’ through the medium of soft ice & unrestrained toppings. It’s an antidote to the divisions, uncertainties and anxieties prevalent across the world in the ‘post-truth’ era. That’s why the expressive and light-heartedly rebellious identity feels current and edgy, whilst maintaining a connection with the Walls’ parent brand, providing a contemporary & future-facing image to unite the many outlets in the soft ice cream ‘ecosystem’.
The flexibility built into the concept also represents a future view of what consumers will increasingly want from products and organisations. Rather than designing a rigid identity ‘bible,’ the design language combines a wide range of varied visual elements, combined with a social-media led publicity strategy that informally encourages fans to spread the word and share their ice cream creations.
This allows the concept to adapt to its geography and engage with communities, merging a serious social purpose of ‘championing creativity’ with the simple pleasure of ice cream.
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