Our media landscape today is a strange one. Online features and stories fill the traditional press; which in turn, the online community continues to emulate. No longer do we find clearly defined boundaries, as the chicken and the egg are in a constant pas de deux with each other. At a time when editorial staff are being forced to look beyond the realm of traditional communication; Editor in Chief Melissa Gabriel, with the help of an elite Abovegroup Ogilvy team; launched her highly successful fashion blog Trinidad Lookbook as a full-fledged print magazine.
According to AGO Director, Alex Smailes, “When Melissa Gabriel asked if we’d help relaunch LookBook, her immensely popular homegrown fashion commentary blogsite into a print version; in the midst of the Great Recession, global print magazines 6-ft under several years ago, print advertising sales continuing to plummet regionally and a general fear and caution still clearly pervasive into 2012. For us, it was a resounding; Yup – a no brainer.” The team, comprising Creative Director Marlon Darbeau; Art Director Tanya Marie Williams, Designer Tricia Dukhie; Photographer Kibwe Brathwaite and AGO Director Alex Smailes; attacked the undertaking with gusto.
“I was excited about print and the opportunity to design a fashion magazine with stories. I was ready to put something fresh out into the Trinidad magazine landscape!” recalls Williams.
Smailes further explained, “...What a person does outside of work speaks volumes and is a clear indication of what and how they will contribute to the modern creative-business environment.” Trinidad Lookbook was already quite a successful online example of this; translating it into a tangible thing was clearly a good move.
The next hurdle was tackling the capricious fashion demographic, while maintaining creative integrity. Marlon Darbeau intimates, “The magazine is a sign of many great things to come, especially because it’s influenced by pop culture; not only in fashion but even design and photography. When people think of culture they often discount popular culture, and we feel that the publication is a solid contribution to this very valid part of our cultural existence.”
Indeed, in attempting to capture the newly burgeoning fashion demographic, the AGO Lookbook Creative Team knew they had to infuse the publication with their own style and flair. “The designers were encouraged to inject their own personalities into the project. It was about convergence of ideas and bringing minds together. It was about us contributing to the landscape,” Darbeau says.
Even with this carte blanche approach to the process, the team understood that the niche they were exploring was quite a demanding one. Tricia Dukhie explains, “Fashion magazines usually sanction radical layouts and exquisite photography, and I knew Lookbook would not be an exception.”
About his relationship with Fashion Photography, photographer Brathwaite reveals, “I realized that after years of looking at photos and dissecting images, performing commutation tests in my mind; replacing signifiers like hair color, skin color, camera positioning or model positioning, I developed an aversion to the conventions that everyone used.
“I never understood the contorted model poses, the super obvious flashy lighting techniques and the overall excessiveness of a frame that could have effectively communicated the same message with less than half of the things in them.”
What ultimately happened is that they produced a piece of work that embraced the Caribbean perspective and high fashion with candor. Smailes reveals, “We’re our harshest critics and by constantly refusing to settle for me-too design or copy-cat publications, the team never once sat back.“
Trinidad Lookbook currently graces the shelves of several fine establishments and will continue to shatter industry norms with great fervour.
Get your copy at:
- Meiling | No. 6 Carlos Street, Woodbrook
- Bang Bang | Frederick Street, POS
High Street, San Fernando
- Blaanix by Bang Bang, Aboutique Mall, Frederick Street, POS
212 Location, Aboutique Mall, Frederick Street, POS
- Runway Street | SimpliCity, 45 Murray Street, Woodbrook
- Indulge Clothing | Tragarete Road, POS
- The Pallet Stick | Havelock Street, St. Clair
- So Chic Boutique | Francis Plaza, Chaguanas
- SuperPharm | Westmoorings
Posted in BrandingDesignPhotography on 30th Jan 2012
(This article was written by Gareth Jenkins for the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Commerce’s Contact Q4 2009 Magazine on Brand Trinidad and Tobago - that issue focussed on Branding and Country Branding in general. Since then, there has been a change in government and while the overall direction of the country’s branding initiatives does not seem to have changed, things may be afoot.)
Much will have been discussed in this issue of Contact on the subject of brand, its application to nations and the benefits of a well-articulated nation brand to its internal and external stakeholders. What I’d like to do in this piece is to put the theory aside for a moment to take a look at what Brand Trinidad and Tobago appears to be through an examination of its Brand Identity. How does it stand up to what we are, what we say we would like to be, and what could we be as a brand?
Before starting, I’d like to first differentiate between the oft-confused “Brand” and “Brand Identity”. Simply put, your Brand is the perception that you hold in the minds of your stakeholders. Your Brand Identity is the set of tangible elements through which these stakeholders interact with your brand - particularly the visual (such as logos and marketing collateral) but also the aural and the tactile. Your Brand is the intangible core that drives the tangible Brand Identity.
We are going to do a bit of detective work here. As I don’t have any insider knowledge as to policy decisions relating to Brand T&T, we’re going to have to examine the implementation, working backwards to figure out the intent. From a branding point of view, that means that we start with the Brand Identity to then (hopefully) decipher the Brand.
We are Next
It was only a matter of time before a national rebranding exercise got underway, given that a team of clever and empowered people are manning the consoles at e-Teck and that the previous identity had become too confused and outdated to continue any longer. A great deal of effort and resources were no doubt put into the most recent attempt at branding Trinidad and Tobago as an investment hotspot, culminating in the 2007 launch of “Trinidad and Tobago - We are Next”. (One hopes that the same investment has been made into rebranding our tourism product and soon there will be a launch of those results. In the interim, let’s work with what we have).
First, the good news. The fact that Trinidad and Tobago has undertaken such an exercise at all is commendable. Let’s not forget that Nation Branding as a discipline is still very young and that, while commonplace amongst developed countries, it is still relatively unexplored by developing countries. We should not underestimate how difficult it is to advance beyond the inertia that comes with having a ready-made market for your primary exports and a long-standing feeling that tourism is more of a hobby than a serious pursuit. Furthermore, the fact that this has been approached as a long-term branding exercise, rather than a more immediate advertising campaign, marks a sharp departure from the usual approach.
More good news: I don’t think that anyone could argue that the results are in any way predictable. “We are Next” is the sort of bold statement that gets analysts leaping out of bed and hammering out “hairy” on their keyboards. In the business of branding, standing out from the crowd is desirable (for the right reasons anyway) and in this regard it is as ambitious as it is unexpected.
Of course, It isn’t all good news, though not for lack of trying. It is almost certain that the chosen consultants have a proven methodology and will have put in the hours researching and understanding our history, culture, people, economics, strategies and policies. They will have submitted a tome of documentation to support this brand audit, and I think that we can be pretty sure that the information it contains is accurate and comprehensive. The process (if it follows a fairly well-trodden path) will have then drawn conclusions, highlighted the key brand descriptors, core proposition and driven the identity development and ensuing creative output.
At some point towards the end, however, things began to unravel a bit. The central statement, while strong and well-intentioned, is hindered by contrasting messages: by being vague it is over-ambitious (we can’t be next at everything, surely); by being specific it is relative (if we are next, then who got there first and what are they doing that we haven’t been doing)? Now I know that it isn’t meant to be taken literally, as if all the countries in the world had gone to the port to buy ferry tickets and were waiting for their number to come up on screen, but you can’t help but see it that way - that we have been waiting and waiting for ages and finally our time is here (well, almost here at any rate).
We’d better be
The one thing that can definitely be drawn from this is self-confidence, perhaps too much of it. The chance of failure (or at least, the delay of success) has not even been considered, and there is a danger that, if for some unforeseen reason, we aren’t actually next but have to wait a bit longer, the whole thing will be invalidated. Branding has to last, and needs to work in a range of political, economic and social contexts - you can’t keep rebranding every time there is a change of government or macroeconomic conditions. I’m not saying that an identity should wear risk on its sleeve - obviously not - but it should be flexible enough to acknowledge the possibility of change.
Graphically, the use as brand property of repeated banknote-like patterns sets a tone of something which is very beautiful, but also very complex and difficult to penetrate. It smells of bureaucracy. Cynics may jump at this, claiming it to be entirely accurate, that this country is indeed very beautiful and a nightmare to navigate. This is probably a part of our brand whether we like it or not. At the same time, we are a fiercely entrepreneurial and proactive society, and while there is still plenty of red tape things are certainly improving. A cleaner, simpler and more direct canvas would have focussed on this sense of improvement, change and modernity, rather than highlighting what is still an annoying reality. This oblique reference to currency is also unfortunate, in that it must have been very enticing in 2007 (when there was lots of it everywhere) but is perhaps not as appropriate now in 2009.
Mind you, it is great to see that new elements are being added to the national identity beyond flag, geographic outline and national colours. This is an incredibly varied visual and cultural landscape and deserves more than the traditional nationalist route, which was perhaps part of the reasoning behind the use of the rainbow as a key part of the identity. After all, why choose just one colour when you can have them all? The typography is equally confused. Is it futuristic, high-tech and strong, or warm, human and quirky? When the flag is actually used, its strong modern lines are immediately softened by heavy decoration, the result resembling what might be the illegitimate offspring of a doily and a PC. It’s just too much, and doesn’t help when you are trying to introduce a nation that not many people know a great deal about.
Is this then a case of being inclusive or indecisive? Sadly, it seems to tend towards the latter. You can’t help but feel that someone either simply ran out of ideas, or that the sheer weight of national diversity proved too difficult to manage and had to be replaced by neutrality. There is always the risk that by trying to be everything to everybody, you end up being nothing to nobody. Summing up this country was never going to be easy but surely that is what makes Trinidad and Tobago so interesting in the first place. This round of rebranding goes further than previous rounds have done, but there is still quite some way to go.
One step at a time
Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, there is an overarching sense of wanting to be noticed, wanting to be taken seriously, wanting to sit at the grown-ups’ table. The imagery puts us at the centre of the world, radiating outwards for all to finally notice us. Trinidad and Tobago! We’re not kids anymore! We’re next!
Well, it is true. We are growing up as a nation. The fact that there isn’t a Soca Warrior, steelpan, budding metropolis or bikini-clad bottom heading up any of the recent collateral I’ve seen demonstrates that there has been a fundamental shift in the way we are approaching our brand. What we haven’t yet achieved is communicating what we claim to almost be. This isn’t the identity of a nearly-diversified economy, or one that is heading towards developed country status, or even one that has a handle on education, social issues or infrastructure. It doesn’t feel like a particularly easy or inviting place to do business (as yet) and it certainly isn’t at the crossroads of the Americas, no matter how many maps are produced to prove that it is. These things are all possible, even probable, but they aren’t yet ¬true and are going to take some time, hard work and a bit of luck before they are genuine attributes of Brand T&T.
In a bizarre way of course that’s part of the plan - that we are next, not now, so everything doesn’t have to be ready just yet. Fair enough, but to avoid the obvious “in which case call me when you get closer” response, why don’t we focus in the interim on what we have? The investtnt.com website hides away in a sub-section a phrase which I think captures it beautifully: The Nation of Possibility. This to me seems infinitely better - it is, after all, actually true. If used across the board, it also opens up the opportunity for our trade and tourism brands to be aligned and working together, rather than the awkward standoff that we currently have.
Let’s be honest - this is an unpredictable place in a suddenly unpredictable world. Our strident, self-confident identity has been caught out by the swing of the tide. We can still salvage this however. If we can convey that in Trinidad and Tobago “unpredictable” is a good thing because it brings unexpected opportunity, we can make it a positive brand attribute. If we can convey that rather than being divisive, our plurality brings exciting new combinations of ideas and directions to the table, that’s got to be good. If we emphasise and demonstrate that we are capable of forging our own course rather than passively standing in line, waiting for our turn, then there will be more than a few good business partners wanting to join us. Our brand should be the thread that runs through our policies, aspirations, people and realities. Until we get there, we should keep working at it.
Posted in BrandingDesign on 09th Sep 2009
This project evolved from a few conversations with Gareth Jenkins in 2008, and developed into a program committed to educate about the importance of design in our everyday world. How do we get across the value of well thought-out design? We implement it in all our work and client projects - but as he often says, “good design should be invisible.”
Yet often when viewed from a different position, it all makes sense. What I am trying to emulate is that slightly smug satisfying ‘a-ha!’ feeling when you understand.
You certainly notice lack of it when design is not there. Signage systems in licensing office, milk carton pourers that ejaculate, a billboard with five phone numbers on it as you speed past on a highway, the list is endless. In larger competitive markets, products, services and companies that are not well designed from the core add to the high failure rate of start-ups.
Nature on the other hand takes care of this by itself - Darwinism.
I take everyday objects and construct them into a logo-mark using our corporate typeface. Using photography I capture a point-of-view that we would normally see. But by then changing that position - we see the real subject is a lot different. By using the ‘everyday’ I can utilise our wonderful vernacular, colours, cultural events and seasons.
This is an obvious departure from my normal work, but we believe in pushing ourselves to step outside from our safety zones. When taking this on, I am actually exploring another journey a photographer can take. It involves pre-visualising a subject and making drawings, researching installation art, getting dirty with hands-on construction. It’s also just a whole lot of damn fun!
Posted in BrandingDesign on 26th Jan 2009