Creative Licence to Sell Beer, Wines and Spirits

While you can hardly lay the blame for broken, binge-drinking Britain at my feet, one thing that has cropped up throughout my career has been the packaging and promotion of booze in various guises.

Vital is rightly proud that its longest-standing client of 17 years is Marston’s – the largest brewer of cask ales in the country and operator of over 2,000 pubs – and as such it’s been an account that has featured heavily in my life over the last few years.

Before I joined Vital full-time as Creative Director in November 2003, I did a cheeky bit of freelance for them in the evenings and weekends. By the time I started, I’d already completed a few projects and had a few on the go with deadlines looming, so I spent my very first full-time morning putting these together.

Drinks promotion poster with type made from ripped labels
2003 | Pathfinder Pubs drinks promotion poster

I stood over the sink in the kitchen soaking labels off bottles and I was all like, ‘Yeah? The new CD’s in town and I’m gonna get arty on yo asses’ while my colleagues made their cups of tea and they were all like, ‘What a clown, he won’t last five minutes’.

I’d been briefed a week or two before to come up with a set of posters to promote offers on drinks in all of Marston’s (or Pathfinder Pubs as it was then) busy town centre ‘circuit’ pubs., and, after observing’ how drinkers would sit and pick at the labels on their bottles, came up with this idea. Usually with these things it’s all pack shots, big logos, starbursts and loud, shouty type, but this was a way to get the participating brands front and centre in a more interesting and cool-looking manner.

So once the labels were dry, I ripped them, and a few beer mats, into the best letter shapes I could and slapped them on the scanner.

As they went through a couple of rounds of amends the type got bigger and the images smaller, but, for a compromise, I was happy enough with where they ended up.

Drinks promotion poster with type made from ripped labels
2003 | Pathfinder Pubs drinks promotion posters

A few weeks later I was tasked with creating some more in the same style. But without paper labels to rely on, I had to approach it a bit differently. The curry one came first, with the burger briefed some time later, but we managed to keep the theme going…

Pub promotion poster with type made from food
2003 | Pathfinder Pubs food promotion posters

These promotions were a regular fixture in the studio for the next year or so, but with ever fiercer competition from supermarkets, the pubs had to be more and more competitive and offer-driven. With each new concept the pack shots got bigger (the drinks brands played an increasingly prominent role in funding their existence) and the type got bolder and brighter, until they just became down-and-dirty retail posters.

There’s nothing subtle about bulk buying a round of the cheapest drinks at an the bar, so I guess it follows there shouldn’t be anything subtle about the posters that promote them.

There’s nowt clever, or particularly nuanced, about this next job either – a one-off billboard for Banks’s situated outside Walsall’s Banks’s Stadium next to the M6.

Banks's beer outdoor poster
2008 | Banks’s 48 sheet poster

It’s a very simple and immediate message, aimed at drivers on one of the biggest arterial routes in the UK. And as the poster itself was situated in the heart of Bank’s country, it was only proper that the pint should be shot in the heart of the stadium that bears its name.

Passions run as deep for a local brew as it does for a local team, and there was never any question that we would try and fake the shot of the centre circle or the stand. Provenance is a big deal in the ale world and it had to be 100% authentic, so on a grey and drizzly Tuesday I headed off to Walsall with renowned local photographer Sam Moxon, a car full of high-end kit and a few cans of Banks’s.

We camped out for the day on the pitch and picnicked in the centre circle like local radio prize winners. There was a fair bit of poncing about, trimming individual blades of grass with nail scissors, though our stand-in pint was always going to be way too riddled with reflections to be useable and was later replaced with a pristine-headed beauty, shot in the warmth of Sam’s studio.

Photoshoot on the pitch of Banks's Stadium, Walsall
2008 | Banks’s Stadium photoshoot

It was struggle to get all of the elements onto such a proportionately long poster site. We needed to show the full length of the pint and the fact it was sat on the centre line, as well as showing enough of the goalmouth and stand to give it a sense of place, AND get the fugly-fonted headline as large and legible as possible within the turf area.

But we managed.

Ourdoor posters
2008 | Banks’s 48 sheet poster site

I haven’t been up that way for a while, so I’m not sure what’s ther now, but it was there when the Google street view van went past anyway.

Always Womble-esque in my quest to re-appropriate old files on my hard drive, the same pint shot was used for one of the more low key Marston’s jobs I’ve worked on, but also one of my favourites…

Brewery Three Peaks team poster
2008 | Team Marston’s poster

A team of workers at the brewery were attempting the 3 peaks challenge to raise money for their local hospital’s neurological unit, and we donated some of our time to help them create some posters and web graphics to help them hit their target. It was great to work with a group of people that never usually get to do stuff with agencies like ours and help them to spread the word wider and further than they could have on their own.

This idea of a ‘glass of something that, at the same time, is something else’ is spiritually akin to another dusty old job in my cellar…

Logo for a wine company Wine in Time
1997 | Wine in Time

My previous agency had a long-standing client called Ritchie Products who were, and still are, in the business of home brew. We did a lot of packaging and promotions for them over the years, and in 1997 were briefed to help them name and create a new brand for a revolutionary way of selling wine.

By importing ingredients and creating wine in the UK, the duty on alcohol was avoided and the saving passed on to the customer. The product was sold buy the caseload via Ann Summers-style party plan tasting evenings then made to order. So, in theory, you could stock up on decent quality stuff for a fraction of the price, but you had to wait for it to be created for you.

There were a few name options and ideas presented.

‘That’s Ritchie!’ was a 1950s ‘wine of the future’ thing (pretty terrible really) and ‘Dr Demi-John’s Wine Revolution’ had a traveling medicine show vibe to it, so it’s no surprise that the slick, modern approach was the clear winner.

Though while I came up with the name early on, it wasn’t until the second round of creative that I nailed the image. This was all a couple of years after Toy Story and CGI had slowly spread out from Hollywood and had just about reached Coventry.

We managed to find a guy locally to create us our realistically rendered wine/hourglass image within our tight budget and I proceeded to stick it on absolutely everything.

Wine in Time leaflets, stationery, and labels
1997 | Wine in Time stationery, leaflets and labels

The thriftiness even extended to the very cheap models co-opted to appear as the upwardly mobile wine conossieurs in the company brochure.

While the years have been kinder to the basic black and white logo, the full colour version really shows its age. That said, the David Carson-esque backwards numbers and exclamation marks standing in for letters are very of their time too.

The clipping path on that wine glass and bottle ain’t too hot either.

Wine in Time industrial unit in Sheffield
1997 | Wine in Time signage

It was one of a handful of jobs we put into the Cream Awards that year, and went on to be declared ‘bloody brilliant’ by curly-haired Brummie ad supremo and Wonderbra flogger Trevor Beattie, as well as winning Gold in Best Corporate Identity and Best Packaging.

And the Grand Prix.

Which, for a 27 year old, provincial, mid-table Creative Director, was probably as high-octane and thrilling as the one with all the racing cars.

Cream Awards 1998 clippings from Adline
1998 | Cream Awards Adline coverage

Wine in Time became a bit of a landmark for the agency (it was recently featured in their top 25 jobs) and a bit of a benchmark for me. The agency went into press overdrive, though it was nice that my local papers at home that had featured the calendar also picked up on the story.

Wine in Time awards press cuttings featuring Craig Spivey
1998 | Cream Awards press cuttings

The explosion of wine clubs and supermarket deals must have made the business model unsustainable, as it seems to have died a resounding death. I’m sure it was fun while it lasted.

Now it seems to me that a bit of drinks packaging is the mainstay of a design education. Most graduate portfolios I have seen over the years feature some in one form or other, and mine was no exception.

This was another one of those student competitions, briefed in as part of my degree course in Graphic Design at Coventry Polytechnic.

Bottle design for Grafitti Vodka
1990 | Graffiti Vodka

It was a similar situation to the calendar really. Only this time, rather than earnest town councilors wanting to promote the talents of the region, it was some geezer wanting some free design work doing for a range of Vodka. Recognising this as another opportunity fortune and glory I promptly went off and put as little effort into the brief as I possibly could.

I was always doing these doodles on backs of notebooks and stuff (still am) so, a couple of photocopies and a bit of Letrasetted Futura Condensed later, I had my entry.

And bugger me, if it didn’t end up being one of the three that were chosen to be developed as prototypes.

I got to go to Rockware in Doncaster and watch palm trees get screen-printed onto Malibu bottles before having to recreate my original scribbles into printable artwork. As I had to completely redraw it I took the opportunity to sneak in a pic of my dad and include a couple of guest doodles by my mates.

I’m not sure where the final stuff ended up. It was destined for the ‘gift market’ and I was told it was going to be sold in duty-free shops. I know there was, at least, a limited run made with my design as I did receive one solitary bottle of the finished product for my troubles which, as far as I know, still sits unopened in the back of my mum and dad’s drinks’ cabinet.

If any one out there ever saw, bought or got drunk on a similar-looking bottle of Graffiti Vodka in the early nineties please let me know.


Creative Licence to Sell Beer, Wines and Spirits

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