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Christmas is the time of year when my design radar goes into hyperdrive, with attentions and senses being delighted, engaged and frustrated in equal measure. Christmas 2015 had a decidedly cinematic theme for me.

Watching Spectre, accompanied by a box of Maltesers, kicked-off the start of the festivities. Maltesers are a grazing indulgence, its hinged ‘treasure chest’ lid and perforated seal layer could be intuitively opened in a darkened cinema without having to avert focus from the Hateful Eight trailer! Resealing the lid was just as easy due to the smart cardboard ‘lock’ detail that allowed stealthy and frequent dipping in and out. My only criticism of the entire experience was that in this setting I couldn't stow the pack in the cup holder, instead my dad and I comically took it in turns to balance the box on our laps and just as Bond navigated a partially disintegrated plane down an alpine slope, the contents had begun melting!

On-screen the DB10 provided another mouthwatering moment. The distinctive Aston Martin equities expressed with a modern, shark-like aggression left its C-X75 counterpart looking somewhat like a ‘generic-supercar’; fitting for its archetypal henchman driver Mr Hinx.

The Bond series has always inspired an array of affiliated products as defined by Ian Fleming’s literary blueprints. Nowadays it’s big business with both official and unofficial references making their way to the shelves, from classic Bollinger champagne to the more recent Tom Ford fashion wear. Everyday brands have crept in too, with the likes of Heineken and Gillette razors, the latter tastefully quoting Fleming on their packaging.

One example that stood out as giving an unofficial nod to 007 rivaling the ‘official’ Belvedere vodka was Chase Original Vodka. This design execution was more The Spy Who Loved Me than Spectre, where their seasonal offering donned a Union Jack bowtie to disruptively reference their provenance, but it was good to see the artisanal Herefordshire distillery keeping the British end up!

Moving on to the main event; Christmas Day. After an early start with my children, Minions, Marvel and Star Wars dominated their presents; from Lego sets, video games and DVD’s, to action figures and a range of associated paraphernalia. Despairingly excessive in terms of volume but somewhat offset by a pre-Christmas toy purge achieved via charitable donations and a couple of eBay listings to give unloved toys a new home - painfully reminiscent of Toy Story 3.

One of their more practical stocking-filler gifts came in the shape of a Despicable Me personal care set. The hand-wash featured an audible Minion giggle, the concept of which appeared promising at first glance to encourage kids to wash their hands – but - ‘the giggle’ activates at the lightest of touches, bypassing the need to fully actuate and dispense the liquid soap at all.  Alerted by a chorus of Minion giggles, I found my youngest son overusing it, wasting the hand-wash at an alarming rate. I assume the battery will run down before the end of the month and being frustratingly entombed in the polypropylene casing, will prevent battery replacement to prolong the life and usage of this system – a despicable waste.

Lego’s renaissance continues, partly due to smart strategic partnerships and co-branding bandwidth. Whilst in ‘Christmas-mode’ some of their complex block-building constructions can certainly test concentration levels but there were two examples that stood out as offering a little solace, the first being Lego ‘Robo Champ’. The concept neatly integrates block-build figure constructions with a dice based trading game where you compete to build your robot first. Whilst the construction guide wasn’t particularly well considered they’d made an effort to integrate the packaging as part of the game with a simple internally printed lid, graphically enhancing the ‘scrapheap’ of Lego parts it contained. The second was the Star Wars Lego packaging that, like all of Lego’s ‘complex’ assemblies, went a step further by including a numbering system on the part bags which helps correlate the construction sequence, sub-assembly parts and instructions – simple, a real time saver! 

Before New Years Eve dawned I went for another blockbuster movie, this time it was of course to see Star Wars, Episode VII. Like Bond the rebooted Star Wars brand successfully combined core values, and crowd-pleasing characters/hardware, with a refreshingly modern take and compelling narrative. It’s an exercise that most brands undergo periodically, particularly at moments of sales decline or when there’s a change in leadership.

Identifying core equities and immersing in the history and heritage of a brand is a key activity that we embed at the start of our Front-End projects so that our foundational knowledge is firmly grounded in what’s gone before, before we embark on defining what comes next. Quick-win approaches I’ve alluded to, like well-timed co-branding partnerships, can allow big businesses to leverage their combined strengths to refresh products in order to widen a products appeal.  Coinciding with blockbuster releases or global events rarely delivers innovation; they just raise awareness and fine-tune positioning.

Bond and Star Wars demonstrate that stripping back to core values and authentically modernising the brand reaps greater 'box-office' rewards and provides reinforced foundations for the long term much like many of the brand strategic innovation projects that we support beyond quick-win opportunities. 

Thanks for reading my Christmas blog – I’d love to hear about any insights and innovation opportunities you may have on products, brands and packaging that you’ve encountered.

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