Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Icon and Challenger: Jonathan ford goes fishing for pearls in Beirut

It is with much enthusiasm that the advertising, design and business community learned about the conference that Jonathan Ford was going to throw in Beirut based on an initiative by Bader as part of its speaker series. Titled "Icon and Challenger" the insightful presentation saw Jonathan tipping the audience pearls of wisdom, now wonder as he is a "pearlifisher" himself... Indeed, Jonathan leads the overall creative direction of Pearlfisher, and has built up a global reputation for design excellence and effectiveness from the Pearlfisher studios in New York and London. He is fervent about the value that fearless thinking, great ideas and design can bring to brands and in short, believes that great design, sells. Pearlfisher was co-founded by Jonathan in 1992 and is still an independent design company, working with iconic and challenger brands around the world including The Coca Cola Company, Cadbury, Kraft, InverHouse, Jamie Oliver, Green & Black's, Innocent Smoothies, NUDE, Fortnum & Mason and Unilever. Beirut/NTSC took this opportunity to strike a Q&A with him.
- What defines an icon and a challenger?
"Challengers bring about change and progress, creating and defining the way forward. Icons provide continuity, keeping our culture alive and enriching our lives."
- What is the role of design and strategy in making an icon?
"Icons have a quality that permeates them, an aura that surrounds them and a charisma that no one else can match. The role of design and strategy is to symbolise the brand, surround the symbol with meaning and look at ways to take this meaning to a new level because to remain iconic they need to constantly refresh their magic and allure.
Iconic brands need to use design to stay fresh on shelf and can evolve by taking bold creative steps but, the fact us, their future depends on where the connection is with its past. It’s about preserving and cherishing the right part of the visual brand equity. The part of the visual brand equity that taps into and expresses our deepest feelings and inspires the essential love and connection in the consumer that icons need to survive and grow."
- How does Pearlfisher actually help its clients through design emerge as icons and challengers?
"We believe that what makes brands powerful is a big idea that can be constantly reinforced, explored, magnified and evolved . In our opinion a truly iconic brand never stops challenging because the reason people love it is because of what it stands for. It doesn’t attach itself to fashionable ‘issues’, it doesn’t challenge to look edgy – it challenges because it believes something very strongly and strongly represents this through its brand identity. It’s about knowing why people love it and nurturing this through the design and finding new and creative ways to take this meaning to a new level."
For challengers it’s about knowing what you are challenging and challenging it. Challengers have a clear purpose to bring about change and with design being the living embodiment of change this is where the opportunity lies for brands to move away from the norms and conventions that have defined the mood and climate for a long time and match visionary brand propositions with truly creative identities to show that we are living in a new age which truly has a new influence.
- Concerning "brand Lebanon" at large, how can the country rectify its image and be able to find its own competitive advantages and sell them to the world?
"Lebanon already has the competitive advantage. It is a challenger country that has survived against all the odds - turning terrible adversity into an opportunity and packaging it up as something truly desirable in the creative, vibrant and reinvented leisure culture that it has been famous for many times in the past. The 'Paris of the Middle East' is once again a creative and hedonistic destination with its intoxicating mix of Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern glamour and ancient culture being reborn amongst the bullet-ridden ruins. It is a territory bravely fusing elements of its heritage and cultural civilisation with a no holds barred contemporary edginess and this is also very much reflected in the nature and look of a new wave of entrepreneurial brands from this region which are making their mark both in the Middle East and abroad."
- You seem quite fond of Beirut and knowledgable about the local market through the insights you gave, any particular places or brands that made you skip a beat?
"Beirut is a city of focused entrepreneurialism and you see it everywhere especially in the restaurant, coffee house and bar scene. Brands - some local - are emerging everywhere and there's a healthy smattering of the home-grown reinterpretations of Lebanese cuisine, like Al Mandaloun, Cafe Blanc, La Plage and the very impressive Al Falamanki. Al Falamanki is a brilliantly evolving multi-zoned space. By day you can take coffee, mezze or water-pipe in the open but shady courtyard, dotted with vintage motorcycles, cars and other collected paraphernalia of the legendary Mr Al Falamanki whilst inside there are several restaurant zones for a cooler gathering. By night the place is transformed to a buzzy, crazy meeting place for people of all cultures and, as you can imagine, there is now always a queue going round the block. La Plage stands on the waterfront and is a great design reinvention of what was once an old pier. The designers have now transformed it to a Soho House style, urban quayside beach restaurant and day club - a great place to see and be seen and enjoy the copious amounts of delicious fresh foods and local wines like the classic Chateau Musar. Lebanon can actually lay claim to be the first wine makers with a historically fertile land as rich as its creative spirit."

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