Contributed by Alex Vera, Director of Creative Services, IDL Worldwide


There’s an irony in the concern that brick and mortar retail is doomed to slowly erode: Some of the largest global brands are very intentionally giving birth to their brands in the physical space – in real life. Their challenge is, “How do we impactfully engage the consumer when the consumer only knows us on-screen or online?”

Google and Nickelodeon are two such examples whose thinking and executions offer key lessons for any brand. Why? Because this type of migration requires a deep understanding of what a brand stands for and the key elements of what makes a brand compelling to its consumers.

This goes well beyond replicating the brand’s visual attributes and intellectual property. It means revealing the underlying essence of these attributes that truly connect with the shopper and the fan. When you’ve hit on this, the transition from digital to physical is so transparent it’s almost self-evident. But when brands simply migrate their literal assets to the store setting and expect them to cue their deeper values, it’s very easy to miss the mark.


Evolved Play

For example, Google opened its first branded retail environment – actually a shop-in-shop – in London March 2015. In doing so, they thought long and hard about a key element of their persona – the notion of playful innovation. Yes, Google is a tech powerhouse underneath, but think of its two core brand beacons: the ever-changing “GOOGLE” logo on its search engine and the barely human but very lovable Android for its smartphone business.

Google took this sense of playfulness and adventure to heart and delivered it in-store – not just within the space, but in the store fixtures as well. Google used a wood texture that introduces a natural feel, and brought in their primary colours through a stained application. This appears in a broad range of executions that convey a sense of comfort and warmth, whether through the use of wood, lighting or accents.

The result is a retail persona that’s tactile and welcoming, and a tone that invites the sense of childlike exploration that matches what we’ve come to love about the brand through their search engine, Android platform and Google experiments delivered in the digital space.

When you walk into the shop and see these technologies brought to life, the experiences close the loop that the retail presentation started, with the presentation providing context and colour to their relationship with the consumer.

Google has continuously found opportunities to interpret its brand physically without adhering too much to its traditional brand guidelines. When the shopper combines his or her understanding of Google’s vast technological expertise with this very tactile, inviting context, the result is a surprising and delightful experience that meshes the human with the digital, elevating the brand in ways that support its digital persona.


A Sea of Colour

Nickelodeon’s migration to a physical space shows the same kind of deep understanding of the brand’s persona. Nickelodeon is a longstanding, iconic American brand with roots in the earliest days of cable TV and an overwhelming popularity with young people. But how did Nickelodeon interpret its evergreen properties and characters in a chaotic competitive environment for the first time? By delivering them very cleanly.

For its installation in the Times Square Toys“R”Us, Nickelodeon colour-bombed the entire space orange – one dominant colour drawn from its core brand. This is brilliant, because it’s on-brand but not necessarily what you expect in this context from the loud, boisterous, hey-you-can’t-do-that-on-TV home of SpongeBob SquarePants.

Nickelodeon chose to stand out with simplicity, to ID the brand and mark the space, then employ the medium it knows best to digitally implement the characters we know and love, on big bug-catcher video screens. There’s a surprising amount of physical space between the various installations to ensure that the orange context isn’t cluttered or obscured. And the installations themselves are geometrically precise and well organised, so that your eye can focus on them individually. Nickelodeon appears to have learned from the wiser children’s museums, employing the right balance of irreverence and focused presentation.

At that point you start to interact on the micro level, and here’s where it gets more energetic. There are buttons that say, “Do Not Touch” that, of course, you’re going to touch. Collages of characters on the columns provide visual reference and texture. Now you’re fully engaged and you say, “Yes, this is why I identify with this brand.”


Getting to the Core

There are some key lessons from Google and Nickelodeon’s successful interpretive executions. Consumers have come to expect that a brand promise will be delivered consistently through all touchpoints. This is the basis for omnichannel marketing. But this doesn’t mean that all – or even a lot – of a brand’s many assets have to migrate literally from the digital realm into the built environment.

First, the brand has to peel away assets that are merely layers to arrive at those that can identify with consumers most authentically at retail. These can be a broad range of physical attributes. Google and Nickelodeon employed very different physical, real-world techniques – for Google, subtle, surprising layers; for Nickelodeon, a single iconic colour.

In both examples, the brands dug deeply into their own core personalities and chose – then evolved – crucial assets to bring the shopper into a place that’s both exciting and new but reassuringly familiar.

As Director of Creative Services for IDL, Alex Vera brings over 16 years of experience in retail design to IDL. His career has focused on creative leadership, retail strategy, environmental graphics, fixture design and conceptual/thematic development. He leads the combined IDL design studio, which is comprised of industrial designers, print, 2D and 3D. Alex has executed projects for global brands, including Nike, Starbucks and Coca Cola. He was recently selected by design:retail as one of the publication’s Top 40 Under 40.
Alex holds a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute in New York City. He has worked as a Designer and Creative Director for several prestigious, retail-centric firms, where he designed and deployed initiatives for some of the world’s most recognized consumer and retail brands.

The author is a 3rd party contributor to AdAsia and this article represents his views.


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