‘The phrase “brand experience” is so overused now,’ says Phil Nutley, director at Jam Design. ‘Everything has to be an experience. You can’t just open a retail space any more – it has to be theatre.’
He’s got a point. But considering it is exactly this brand experience that Jam itself was pioneering when Jamie Anley and Astrid Zala set up in business almost 15 years ago, and that it is exactly this brand experience that has seen the company grow to become the established consultancy it is today, it begs a certain question: what next?
The world of brand communication has changed a great deal in the time that Jam has been in business. As a design group whose main talent seems to have been to inspire, coerce and sometimes confuse its clients into embarking on bizarre and – to the outsider – unfathomable projects, which would ultimately result in soaring profit margins, Jam has lately experienced a new type of customer. One that actually gets what it does. That’s good in lots of ways, of course, but, explains Nutley, just because everyone and their architect (and the post-production company, too) now talks in the same vernacular, it doesn’t mean they are close to actioning it. And therein, he says, lies the future.
Early Jam Design projects have had considerable press coverage. For Whirlpool, one end result of a thorough co-creative brand dissection resulted in a range of objects constructed from washing-machine drums. For Audi, a few years later, car parts became home accessories and the context for a national print, online and billboard campaign. The group has designed, exhibited and sold a number of products in this vein under its own name, and those looking for an easy pigeonhole to put Jam to roost in saw a company that was quite slick at reappropriation.
Others saw more potential still for radical change, and having heard about Jam through word of mouth, simply called in its services. ‘With the work we do – that we’ve always done – it doesn’t matter whether you are communicating internally or externally. The result is the same,’ says Anley. ‘It’s about action – actions speak louder than words. Our work always begins by energising the internal audience, which, if it’s done well enough, ultimately can’t fail to filter through to the external audience.’ Nutley puts it another way. ‘We apply creativity to help people become more passionate about their jobs,’ he says. ‘It still feels like we are taking a very progressive approach.’
Indeed, while some of Jam’s work is now adopted as typical currency, it’s the more temporal ideas, the ones clients have to be really brave to take on, that we are still to see trickle into the mainstream of communications. While there is hardly a brand name out there without an art programme or design sponsorship deal, using contemporary culture to actually create content for a brand is still very unusual. The results, however, are infinitely more sustainable: many Jam products, for example, have made it into the permanent collections of design museums around the world. When it comes to interior architecture, meanwhile, Jam uses the ‘continuous media landscape’ – YouTube and the rest of the Internet – in place of roll-outs to keep its message growing and spreading – and it does.
‘We believe it’s not just what you associate your brand with, but how,’ says Nutley. ‘The output created here is not done advertising agency-style, it is used in contemporary culture.’ The difference is in the process as much as in the end result.
‘From the outset we could only work with clients that are going to take risks,’ Anley explains. ‘About five years ago we realised the Jam offering was not being used to its full potential. We stepped back and explored the creative process. We quickly realised that for our output to work we had to take the client – its protagonists and the whole brand system – with us.’
All too often a brand’s communication strategy is split into two – internal and external. By the time design gets involved we’re usually way outside the staff headquarters. This, says Anley, is where things are changing. ‘This is a disenfranchised way of thinking – it disconnects the brand immediately from its customers, which is obviously very dangerous.’
Jam, as we are seeing more and more design and architecture groups start to do, works co-creatively. ‘We are not building campaigns behind closed doors like an ad agency – and we will stand behind our work as much as we would expect the client to.’
This summer, several major sporting events bore witness to Jam brand experiences. The Evian VIP Suite at Wimbledon was a considerable success, with its custom-designed wallpaper, crockery and furniture, as was the Veuve Clicquot Comet Architecture used in the bars and rest areas during Veuve Clicquot’s Season, which included the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Jam is not the only consultancy creating good work in this area – another summer hit was the ‘Krug is in the Air’ initiative, which saw that manifestation of near-unattainable luxury that is the Krug Balloon set off on its European leg.
It’s refreshing to see companies starting to engage with design and architecture in a more thorough way than they have in the past, but it’s still a rare occurrence. Jam may have an easier time with a business that generally understands what it does, but it has also got a job on its hands to persuade potential clients of the value of experimentation and risk-taking. Hundreds of brands today want to associate themselves with the design and architecture worlds, but very few go further than sponsoring what they deem to be the right events, and commissioning a few token pieces from up-and-coming names. This approach, says Anley, is not going to have a big impact on consumers any more.
‘Every other mobile phone company will describe its stores as brand experiences – they’re not. They are still standard shops with 50 different phones inside,’ says Anley. ‘A lot of people say they do it, but they aren’t truly doing it.’ The whole idea is still very much in its infancy, explains Nutley. ‘Brand experience is a bandwagon that everyone’s got on to – and that’s very much true with design in general. Brands buy into it with token gestures, but at the end of the day it doesn’t mean very much.’
•But we are seeing companies start to take more risks as a matter of survival – it’s just a gradual process. ‘Ten years ago there were only a handful of channels,’ explains Anley. ‘You were going to get something across whatever you did. Now brands are starting to realise they need to get more experimental to stand out.’
Oversaturated with information and advertising messages as we are today, it is important to have a more meaningful and inspiring engagement with the audience than ever before – you need to create powerful memories and emotions. This, as we know, means creating something very sensory – but how do you do that? For Anley it is about getting to the essence of the brand and ‘making it really come alive – making it tangible and giving it form’. The three Es of Jam are, says Anley, ‘explore, express, energise’. It’s not completely clear whether or not the pun is intended, but the effect is clearly addictive. ‘We have more and more retained relationships with clients – they are no longer just viewing our services as the cherry on the cake.’
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