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Checkmate: How Studio7 helped Club-Mate take on stiff local competition through surreal design

In 2017, an alcohol-free energy drink that was taking Germany’s clubbing scene by storm called Club-Mate migrated its way over to New Zealand. But it faced an problem: the underground beverage needed to generate some hype in a market that hadn’t heard of it before, so the company enlisted agency Studio7’s help to give it a local twist. The quirky designs recently nabbed a gold at the recent 2018 Best Awards. Here, Studio7 creative director Gianni Russo explains the thinking behind the designs that were splashed across cocktail cards and outdoor murals.

What is the driving idea or concept behind the design you've done for Club Mate?

Club Mate is an energy drink with an intriguing history, with roots as ancient South-American tonic, to a contemporary, cult status as the pick-me-up of choice for hackers and clubbers in Germany. Our challenge was to launch this beverage locally, staying true to Mate’s alternative roots, while adding mainstream appeal. Our brief was to give Club Mate a visual identity that was unique, quirky and distinctive. Our creative idea, ‘Originally Different’ spoke to Mate’s long history and alternative background – we then had the exciting task of bringing this to life in an engaging way through design.

What was the design process like in figuring that out? Did you face any challenges along the way?

For us, this meant taking classic elements associated with beverage consumption (the mouth, hands and bottle) and flipping them on their heads. Luca, our design-lead on the project, went to work creating surrealist, urban-inspired art pieces with the bottle and logo as hero. As a drink popular amongst urban subcultures, we wanted to complement, not intrude on the spaces familiar to them where our outdoor media would be displayed. As event posters and graffiti add vibrancy to grungy street corners and character to jaded walls, these thoughts led the design of Club Mate’s visual identity.

How does it push the creative boundaries?

The energy drink category is a space with considerable room for innovation. We had the opportunity to enter a category dominated by brands largely associated with extreme sport and boldly champion the unconventional.

What kind of audience demographic were you targeting with this? Do you feel like it hit the mark with them?

Club Mate differs in that it’s naturally caffeinated, entirely organic and has a really unique flavour. While our core audience were millennials, we weren’t really trying to hone in on a specific niche. In its ambiguity, we hoped the branding would retain universal appeal and attract all those with a taste for the unusual. We had a soft launch at The Golden Dawn in Ponsonby, providing their self-declared community of freaks and geeks with one of the first tastes of Mate in its new brand identity. Cocktail cards, beverages and posters were all rolled out at this venue as an introduction to the new branding, and the reception was overwhelmingly positive.

How did you ensure the messaging for this drink was tailored to a New Zealand market?

New Zealanders are quite self-aware and proud of our relative obscurity on the world stage – a healthy mix of honesty and self-depreciation. With bold, peculiar imagery and minimal messaging, we believe we crafted a brand identity that didn’t scream for attention but was quietly aware of and comfortable in its peculiarity, standing out as a result. We asked many people what the visual elements made them feel and while answers differed, the shared interpretation was that we had crafted a brand that was genuine and authentic. We couldn’t have asked for better than that. Winning Gold at the Best Awards was the icing on the cake – a huge moment for us and one that really demonstrated the ability of our team, and our shared vision for our client’s brands.

What are some of your other favourite projects your studio has worked on prior to Club Mate?

At Studio7 we’ve developed a unique digital analytics tool called CRUX. It allows us to conduct an in-depth analysis of a client’s digital marketing efforts against a number of strategic markers, assigning a score, and providing a detailed map of performance. We use this tool to create leading digital strategies to help brands excel in their respective niches against their competitors. We’re now proud and lucky to work with a diverse spread of brands, from Purina pet food and AI pioneers Imagr, to start-ups like Vitally vitamins and streetwear brand, Earls. In addition to keeping our creatives on their toes, it fuels our ongoing passion for helping clients across a wide range of industries grow their brands.

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