Fernson’s identity evolution
One of the questions we love to ask new clients is this: If your brewery were a person, who would it be and why? Clients can struggle to answer. It’s not unusual to hear, “Oh, well, I don’t really know any celebrities.” So we’ve started to ask instead: If your brewery were a person, what personality traits would that person have? The goal, for the sake of the creative process, is to give ourselves an idea of tone and approach. Almost never would we actually consider putting this person into the final logo itself. That way lies danger: at best, the output will be corny and clichéd. At worst, you’ll have on your hands that most dreaded of advertising fallbacks: A mascot.
Mascots are so, so stupid. Actually, a mascot is the most literal, condescending, heavy-handed application of branding we can think of. Paint a guy’s face with makeup and now kids want hamburgers. Give me a break. Loathsome. Even contemporary applications of mascots are offensive to anyone with half a brain. The Most Interesting Man In The World? Please, dude … you drink Dos Equis.
And here we are: self-avowed mascot haters, presenting a logo that literally centered around the face of a made-up, idealized person. I’m reading that back now, and it sounds incredible even to us. But the damnedest thing is, it felt right at the time, and it feels more right now. The only way to do this project justice would be to create something (someone?) entirely new, out of whole cloth. This will make sense to anyone who has been out there in the middle of nowhere. Surely this will make sense to anyone who has felt that expansive vacuum all around them, tugging, urging us all to pursue something better. To want more for ourselves and the communities we call home.
After working with these guys long enough to understand where they’re coming from, it clicked into place. Somewhere, by the shoulder of the highway, past the industrial parks and weigh-in stations, you may come to meet a man. If you were to speak with him, it would not be clear if he were highly educated, homeless or some combination of the two. Was he a rich man forsaking a gilded life of luxury? Or is he a brilliant genius who slipped through the cracks of society?
Is he magical in nature? Has he forgotten more than most would care to ever know? Has he been around a lot longer than many would guess? Would he play a friendly prank on you, given the opportunity? Yes, yes, yes and yes. And still more. We’re not quite sure what we’ve helped bring to life. Without realizing what we were doing, we split the atom that makes up more established American folk legends like Johnny Appleseed or John Henry. And hey, if that’s too pretentious for you, maybe you could imagine him palling around with those guys. Or at least knowing a guy who knows a guy.
Or maybe, in the minds of South Dakotans, somewhere in their collective consciousness, floating above peaceful, flat bergs, as good citizens sleep soundly, outlined in twinkling starlight: There was a FERNSON-shaped hole. All Derek, Blake and CODO did was draw an outline around it.
Here’s the thing about being a designer: You can come up with the most dazzling execution of a concept; you can sweat every detail and gnash your teeth polishing mockups for a presentation; you can wrack your brain into the wee hours of the night, bleed for your craft and then drive halfway across the country to present. None of this is a guarantee that your work will land with the client. I guess we got lucky this time because Fernson stuck the landing.
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Since completing Fernson’s brand foundation and package design work, Derek and Blake have been putting their 30-bbl system through its paces and are already eyeing expanded distribution, cranking out well-reviewed beers at a good clip and have opened a cozy taproom. It’s been fun watching them grow and breathe life into the brand. If you’re ever making your way through the plains, swing by for a pint — it’s worth the detour to Find Fernson.
This column was provided by the folks at CODO Design, a five-man branding firm based in Indianapolis, IN. They’ve spent years working with startup craft breweries on naming, branding and positioning, responsive web design, and package design. They’ve gathered their experience into a comprehensive Craft Beer Branding Guide to help startup breweries navigate the entire branding process. Check it out at www.craftbeerbrandingguide.com.