By Joseph Duffy Oct 8, 2009

The only way to truly create an appropriate and effective brand is to do your homework. Whether you are building a brand from scratch or revitalizing an existing brand that needs to re-find its relevance in today's world. Immersing yourself in the brand's past, present and possible future is the most important first step.

When Brown-Forman came to us to help them revitalize Herradura Tequila, their most recent addition to their impressive spirits portfolio, I personally couldn't have been more thrilled. Not only because I am a tequila connoisseur, but because Herradura is a damn good tequila. In fact, it is the #1 selling premium tequila in all of Mexico. 

Casa de Herradura is the 2nd oldest tequila brand in the world dating back to 1870. It's heritage is rooted deep in the villiage of Amatitán in Mexico's Jalisco State, roughly 17 miles from Guadalajara where the distillery still sits today. This is the region which produces most of the world's tequila because the climate and terrain are ideal for the growth of the Agave plant, the spirit's primary ingredient.

The key to the success of this project was to not alienate the already strong consumer base in Mexico yet also appeal to a global market of essentially new tequila drinkers. These two consumers might want something different in a package and the goal was to find a happy medium. The other scary part is that the sale of Herradura to an American company did not sit well with Mexicans. Their fear was a new package could mean a change to the product itself. It was a fine line to walk and nothing was more important than for us to do our research prior to designing anything.

Our first order of business was to immerse ourselves in everything tequila. 

Houston, TX:
I was sent to Houston to check out some authentic mexican restaurants and bars to see how this brand and its competition functioned in America. In 2007, U.S. tequila sales surpassed Mexico for the first time. What was once thought of simply as those shots you took too many of in college, is now considered a premium sipping spirit much like Scotch or Cognac. Of course Mexicans have known good tequila all along but Americans didn't catch on until a product called Patrón hit the market. Patrón is an interesting one. It is made in Mexico but not sold in Mexico. In fact, the Mexicans we talked to basically acted like it didn't exist and many called it the "gringo's tequila". But say what you want about Patrón, it has definitely made an impact on tequila and I like to refer to it as the "gateway tequila". Once open to the idea of drinking tequila, you realize that each brand offers subtle differences in taste. This is when you know Herradura rises above the rest.

Our next trip was to Guadalajara and Mexico City. We experienced as much local culture in both cities as possible. We visited the Mexico City Cultural Museum as well as the houses/studios of both Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera. From Guadalajara, we drove to the village of Amatitán to tour Casa de Herradura. The place itself has changed very little in its long history. The distillery now boasts state-of-the-art equipment, but I was amazed at how much of the original operation was still in tact. Casa Herradura runs distillery tours and even has the "Tequila Train" which is a train ride from Guadalajara to Amatitán.

It all starts in the agave fields with the el jimador. An el jimador is an employee of the distillery who uses a round bladed tool called a "coa" to slice off the prickly leaves of the cactus-like plant to expose the pena. The pena is the heart of the plant and when cut it looks very similar to a giant pineapple. When I say giant I am talking about a 40-90 pounds each. They are stacked in trucks and hauled back to the distillery. The only thing different from the 1800's is now they use trucks instead of horses and wagons. It is still all manual labor. No cotton gins in the Jalisco State ;-)

After they cook in the ovens, the pulp is removed and used for compost. The juice is then put in giant vats and distilled much like many other spirits. An interesting note is all tequila is broken down into basically 3 expressions. Blanco (or Silver) which is bottled right after it is distilled. Reposado (or Rested) is aged up to 11 months in oak barrels. And Añejo which is aged for up to 3 years. Many high end tequilas also offer what is called "super premium" which is aged for 3+ years. And the key to finding a good "real" tequila is to make sure it says "100% de Agave" somewhere on the bottle. This means the contents are made exclusively from the Agave plant. It also means there are no additional sugars, caramels, or any other additives included. These are called mixtos and are much less expensive and not considered a true tequila. (i.e. Hangover of all hangovers!) 

From the distillery we went into the town of Tequila where both Jose Cuervo, the world's oldest tequila brand, and Sauza, another top seller are located. The town, although a bit touristy, is very reminiscent of old world Mexico. Brightly colored adobe storefronts and an old church that seemed to be sinking into the cobblestone streets. Also in town is the Tequila Museum which is all about the history of tequila.

Our cameras were flashing constantly and our sketchbooks were filled with drawings and scrap art that had direct impact on our design explorations. We stopped in every museum and every bookstore we could find to fill our shelves back at the office with inspiration.

And then there was the job of sampling tequila at every opportunity. We had to get our palettes up to speed with the juice itself and make sure we knew not only the brand in question, but the competitors as well. In fact, during the distillery tour of Casa Herradura, you are followed around the property by a donkey carrying wooden barrels of tequila, making sure you are always hydrated. It was really rough. Add some incredible Mexican food and it was safe to say I was in heaven!

Once back in Mpls and getting the rest of the team up to speed, we went through our process to create the visual briefs. We decided on 4 concepts that each focused on a different aspect of where we thought this brand came from and could go:  Authentically Mexican, Art/Craft of Tequila, Mythology/Legend & Super Premium.

We ended up combining aspects of all visual briefs into 3 design directions. The client settled on one but added touches from the other 2 concepts. We then passed along all of our files and left it in the hands of the clients with our fingers crossed. At that point we were excited to have it complete but extremely nervous about what would make it to the marketplace. After several months, we were still waiting. A sign of hope came when we got word it had passed through the B-F system and made it out with our design intact. We couldn't have been more pleased.

I would like to personally thank Brown-Foreman for allowing us to do great work and keeping the design priority #1 throughout. What you see in this new packaging is a great collaboration between their design group and D&P. Look for the new packaging on your liquor store shelves soon and more great things from Herradura in the future. . . Cheers!

What others think:

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