The rise of brandless branding


In a world where logo tees reign supreme and brand-babble is a language in and of itself, a curious phenomenon is afoot. The brandless brand. That pared back packaging, those no-nonsense labels – it’s branding, Jim, but not as we know it. We take a look at a few brands who are doing ‘brandless’ their way.

Going brandless, literally

One US online grocery retailer has taken the concept to its logical conclusion and called itself Brandless. There’s very much still a brand identity – think muted colours and honest labelling – but, in a bid to keep their prices low, they’ve cut out everything that could be considered Brand Tax™. By running their own delivery system and retailing online, for example, they’ve been able to up their quality while keeping their prices at $3, for everything. Consumers appreciate the honesty and feel like they’re getting a great deal – it’s pretty clever. See also, Target’s Smartly range, with 70 items of life essentials, many for under $2.


Eating, unbranded

The brandless revolution stretches way beyond mere FMCG and has taken a delicious leap into eateries. Take Tommi’s Burger Joint. Nestled into London’s busy Brewer Street, it has the kind of thrown-together, oh-so cool styling you’d expect to find in a late-night bar. The vibe is relaxed, the patrons are stylish, and the menu? Painstakingly designed on expensive paper stock with a prominent logo at the top? Not for Tommi. Try four delectable burgers and two sides scribbled on a piece of cardboard. The lack of branding becomes its own brand, and right now that feels so fresh.


The Muji way

And then there’s Muji. The grand-daddy of brandless branding. Taking its name from ‘Mujirushi Ryohin’, which literally means ‘no brand quality goods’, it channels a clean, minimalist aesthetic, and its products are designed as empty vessels for customers to use as they wish. You won’t find a trace of branding on any Muji product or in a Muji retail space – even product messaging is scaled back to a minimum to allow the pieces to take centre stage.

What does it all mean?

If the purpose of branding is to create a shortcut for the brain and help us make quick, informed decisions, why the sudden do-down of everything brand engineers hold dear? Well, authenticity is name of the game. A brandless brand doesn’t feel like its selling to consumers – we feel like we’re getting a good deal, we’re in on the secret, sticking it to the man. Smartphones mean we have endless information at our fingertips. If we’ve seen a branded product once, we’ve seen it a million times. So it makes sense that sellers with a scaled-back identity feel new and exciting. What’s the next step? Do away with packaging all together? There’s an eco movement already working on it – we’re interested to see where this trend takes us.


Sean Dwyer

The future of retail is in the hands of Gen Z

Gen Z

Forget millennials – enter Gen Z. Aged 24 and younger, with famously short attention spans and an insatiable appetite to have-everything-right-now-and-if-they-have-to-wait-a-second-for-it-to-load-they’ll-give-up, the next generation are set to have huge influence on the retail market. What do we know about them that can help retail brands prepare for the future?

Recently, there’s been an influx of findings telling us that, contrary to popular assumption, digitally-savvy Gen Z-ers are actually more traditional when it comes to shopping – especially compared to their predecessors, the Millennials. A major pan-European study found that nearly a quarter of Gen Z do their research and purchasing in store, compared to only 14% of Millennials (Retail Buying Study 2018). And in the UK, the same study found that 56% of Gen Z respondents said they most prefer to shop in a physical store.

Does this really suggest that the next generation have reverted back to the ye olden days? If we dig a little deeper, we find that 84% Gen Zers report that they make shopping part of their day out (Retail Assist, 2018). With under 24-year olds much more likely to have free time on their hands, this makes sense. So, is the question for retailers actually about how to keep the shopping spark alive as this audience grows up?

Merging the online in the offline
The obvious answer lies in technology. Gen Z are the first group to grow up with mini computers in their pocket, learning to tap before they can talk. Smartphones live perpetually in either their pockets or hands, so it’s inevitable they feature heavily when they’re shopping in stores.
When shopping in store, according to the National Retail Federation and the IBM Institute for Business Value, 52% of Gen Z compare prices with other retailers, while a whopping 73% interact with social media, telling family and friends that they’re shopping and asking for advice on what to buy. Furthermore, as they’re making their decision, 51% hunt down a coupon, discount or promotion.
A good Wi-Fi connection, therefore, is clearly a must. But is there more that can be done? Retailers should be wary of going overboard, and ensure tech they provide supports a simple and intuitive shopping experience, as this group will see straight through gimmicks. As one might expect for these digital natives, Gen Z are considerably more open to personalisation, with one study by the NRF and IBM reporting that over half feel comfortable sharing their personal data in order to ensure a customised experience, compared to 41% in mature markets. When assured their data will be properly protected, this increases to 61%, highlighting trust as a key theme.

The future’s social
For brands looking to capture and keep this generation, social media has to be a huge focal point. Whereas first adopters of social media joined Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are more popular Gen Z – these primarily visual apps offer an ideal spot to capture an attentive (or addicted?) audience. As time-poor as Gen Z may become as they enter emerging adulthood, you can bet they’ll always find time for social media. And with the tech supporting direct sales via these apps becoming more prevalent, the gap between content and sales is closing fast.

It’s a changing world out there, and never has a Darwin-esque quote been more relevant: “It’s not the strongest retailer that survives, but the ones most responsive to change”.


Sean Dwyer

Exhibitions and retail – footfall driver or style over substance?

Gentle Monster

This summer the competition to create the most epic ‘bricks’ experience got hotter with the arrival of South Korean sunglass brand Gentle Monsters in Argyll Street, London. Gentle Monster takes the idea of immersive shopping to a whole other level, with each of the brand’s stores around the world taking on its own story concept. And in London, that concept is… Kung Fu aliens (we kid you not) – the story being that a robot alien landed on Earth, became captivated by the beauty of Kung Fu and took it back to its own planet. So far, so nuts.

Walking into the store is like walking into an elaborate film set or exhibition, and a pretty bonkers one at that. Customers are greeted by a tribe of larger than life, kinetic aliens who, as a colleague explained, are ‘training in Kung Fu’. They’re doing this to a backdrop of a digital waterfall and a giant ceremonial gong, which goes off every 7 minutes as their cue to start training.

The eccentric idea continues on the lower ground floor at the ‘battleground’, where two giant kinetic aliens fight in a bamboo forest surrounded by an audience of smaller robots, cheerleading with glittering pom poms in their hands.

It’s totally amazing, impressive… and also rather bemusing. Because what on earth (sorry) does it have to do with sunglasses?! Well, seemingly nothing. Many retailers incorporate exhibition-style experiences into their store but usually it’s to aid sales, or at least related to the product in some way.

Nike Town

Nike is a great case in point, with an almost permanent exhibition area in Nike Town in which it borrows display techniques from gallery spaces to showcase its product and behind-the-scenes work (if you haven’t done so already, check out the current exhibition at London’s Oxford Circus which shows off the work of the motion graphics designers behind its latest projects).

Other brands align themselves to those in the arena of culture and art, seeing a symmetry between the two which will interest their customer demographic – like COS. Having established a legacy of artist collaborations which celebrate the brand’s influences from design and architecture, it’s soon to open a brand new hybrid concept store in London’s glossiest new shopping district, Coal Drop Yard in Kings Cross. Here, customers will not only be able to browse and buy from its latest clothing collections, but also immerse themselves in the work of established and emerging artists.

Both Nike and COS incorporate exhibitions into their stores in a way that feels seamless, credible and intrinsic to their brand essence. Also, they’re integrated in a way that keeps the customer in the store, whiling away hours, potentially leading to more sales. Gentle Monster on the other hand, doesn’t appear to use its concept as a sales tool at all. In fact the product – sunglasses – feels quite removed from the idea – aliens. And interestingly, it feels removed physically too, with the sunglasses themselves displayed around the perimeter of the store… presumably so that the theatrics are left to shine in all their eccentric glory. The thing is, when we were there, we didn’t actually see anyone trying the product on. Any customers that were in the store seemed to be there to get that perfect shareable shot … and, pic filtered and posted, they left. Gentle Monster may have turned its store into the perfect Instagram set, and in that way is bound to drive footfall, but will it actually sell enough product to sustain the cost of a bricks and mortar store in one of the country’s prime shopping districts? Time will tell… but one thing’s for sure, it’s awesome, original and creating a LOT of attention, and that is surely great for the reputation of any brand. 


Sean Dwyer

Latest Tesco Mobile look and feel goes live!


We’re thrilled to see our work for Tesco Mobile live in store. Cleaner and more pared back with a hint of ‘red dot’ personality, we’ve adapted the brand’s new look into the retail channel by designing and rolling out the entire suite of in-store comms, from POS graphics to leaflets. Nice to see our original logo design still going strong a decade on too.

Check it out in your nearest store – it’s gone live in all 473 phone shops!


Sean Dwyer

Paying it forward…

The JBJ Soul Kitchen is a community restaurant in Red Bank, New Jersey, created by the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation. It opened in 2011 with the mission of offering families and people in need a place for food, job training and resources to get back on their feet.

Unlike your standard restaurant, there are no prices on the menu. To dine there, you can either make a donation and ‘pay it forward’, or you can volunteer. One hour of volunteer work either cooking, washing dishes or waiting tables can earn you a certificate for a three-course meal. For paying diners, a $20 donation can be made to help cover the cost of meals for in-need volunteers. The ingredients used in the food served there are all local, seasonal and fresh.


Bon Jovi explained that ‘what this restaurant is truly meant to do is empower. You don’t come in here with a sense of entitlement. You come in here and volunteer because we need your help’.

Over 7 years, they’ve served more than 87,000 meals, with 51% being paid with donations, and in 2016 they expanded to a second restaurant, in Toms River, New Jersey. The successful concept has also made it across the pond to London, in the form of The Canvas cafe, in Shoreditch, and the Second Shot cafe, in Bethnal Green.

In The Canvas, you can pay it forward by buying a hot drink or meal for someone in the community who can’t afford it. The Second Shot cafe employees people affected by homelessness and trains them up to transition into employment. They also operate a pay it forward system where you can prepay for food and drink for someone struggling with homelessness.

Safe, judgement-free and ‘tackling homelessness one espresso at a time’, these cafes and restaurants are a totally new spin on social enterprise and we think there should be more of them. So next time you’re buying a coffee, consider paying it forward.



Sean Dwyer