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The Coffee That Wears Its Art On Its Sleeve

The Flat White: the coffee that launched a thousand hashtags, the drink of choice for the few who like their coffee complicated. Or at least it was, until McCafé added it to their range in 2018. We were the lead agency tasked with delivering this ‘little dude from down under’ to the UK masses.

As a brand, McCafé are brilliant in their quest to democratise coffee culture. But how to reconcile this with a desire to launch perhaps the biggest hipster coffee of them all? Our proposed solution found its core not in traditional ATL campaign thinking, but in the cup itself.

The approach we took was a brave one, at least for our client. It meant bending the rules of the shiny new brand we had just developed on their behalf. But we knew this bold, confident coffee needed the haute couture to match. To look as good as it tasted. So, we took the art off the top of the coffee and put it on the cup for everyone to enjoy instead.

Our ambition was for the Flat White to zig zag from hipster to household name. Literally. We did away with the fuss and the frills and instead chose a simple yet striking identity that could resonate across all touchpoints, as well as across the line. Iconic and instantly recognisable, it’s as if the Flat White has always had its home at McCafé.

When it came to application, we stripped it back to the bare essentials; monochrome grey scale palette, logo and CTA to let the finished product shine. It’s this simplification of the design that enabled us to marry the dark visual cues of the McCafé brand and the unapologetically bold personality of the Flat White perfectly.

Perhaps most importantly, the Flat White doesn’t just look good on a menu board. It looks great in our customers’ hands. We believe that design can do many things. It can change behaviour, like causing McCafé customers to swap their usual coffee order for ‘the one with the zig zag’. It can also create conversations, as it is currently doing across social media, where pictures of our cup are currently being posted proudly, without the prompt of a well-placed hashtag.

In a nutshell, good design speaks for itself. And most importantly, in a world full of noise and distractions, will do a lot of the talking for you.

When designing the visual identity for the McCafé Flat White, we created some guiding principles to help judge the work beyond pure graphics. We’re sharing them with you, in the hope that when your next packaging brief asks you to zig, you can zag too.

Think Paris Fashion Week, not packaging

Treat the brief more akin to a fashion accessory brief than a traditional packaging brief. What you hold in your hand says a lot about you.

Tease taste expectation

One of the key opportunities is to dial up quality cues and taste expectation. Colour, type, message, logo can all play their part.

Create brand affinity

It may be only 188.8 cm² in size but don’t underestimate the coffee cup’s importance as a piece of portable brand media. Ours is seen by 3.8 million consumers up close and personal, every day. It is not often you get this tactile with a brand. Make the most of the opportunity.

Don’t polarise

Make it a positive gender-neutral experience, why alienate anyone? Don’t stereotype your audience, whether you’re a hipster, millionaire, builder, teacher or shop assistant, coffee is for everyone and should be as comfortable in their hands as yours.

Keep it simple

Don’t be ambiguous. Make it obvious, use your graphic marks and messaging to signpost clearly what it is. Instant understanding creates easier more fluent acceptance and participation.