Braver design for a brighter tomorrow.

Reality Sucks

With our craving for escapism never greater, how can brands can inject a little magic into our lives?

by Lisa Desforges on 11/02/2021 | 3 minute read

Hunkered down and in hiding from pandemics and politics, our craving for escapism has never been greater. As we await the Covid jab, how can brands inject a little magic into our lives?

From hallucinated chessmen carving up the ceiling in the Queen’s Gambit, to the return of the jedi in the form of baby Yoda, from the outlandish wigs of regency Bridgerton to the, err, outlandish wigs of RuPaul’s Drag Race, our appetite for the fantastic has rarely been bigger. Trapped in the numbing familiarity of our homes and restricted from any kind of travel, sociability or sensorial experience, we are craving escapism – and TV has delivered.

But are the brands we turn to every day creating similar moments of imagination, pleasure and delight?

As always, fashion delivers first when it comes to creativity, and Gucci’s characteristic flights of fancy are becoming an increasingly significant inspiration. The house’s penchant for rich symbology and elaborate details has long been a tonic in a landscape of mindful minimalism and authentic realism, and we’re now seeing its influence infiltrate new categories – from beverages to beauty.

Glossier, a brand known for its transparent and fuss-free approach, has recently launched a limited-edition trio of lip balms presented in a highly embellished and gold-embossed box, inspired by a deck of cards. Featuring a Glossier joker card, and decorated with a mix of magical symbols from the traditional four suits to modern day emojis, it’s a big departure in aesthetic, but perfectly pitched for the moment.

In the world of food and drink, the growing category of adaptogen- and nootropic-spiked products is paving the way towards a more fantastical approach to branding and design. Subtly suggesting the mood-altering effects of these products, brand worlds range from the psychedelic gradients and otherworldly landscapes of Kin Euphorics and Recess, to the goddess iconography and astrological communications of Droplet Drinks. Alcohol is picking up the beat too, with brands like Signature Brew creating psychedelic dreamscapes inspired by music and our nostalgia for vinyl artwork.

In fact, we’re seeing a whole wave of nostalgia surging its way through branding, whether it’s established brands turning back the clock – like Burger King rejigging its old school logo; growing brands cementing their purpose – like Dalston’s launching its 80s-inspired beatbox packaging; or emerging brands using remembered experience to drive innovation – such as Dream Pops’ plant-based ice cream lollies. An outstanding case in point is OffLimits Cereal, with its adult-targeted but kid-inspired cartoon characters. Embodying grown-up need states, from anxiety to depression, they tackle functional food in a way that makes us feel safe and comforted – returning us to a time before work-related stress and social-media-induced loneliness.

And while that return to safety is key to nostalgia’s appeal, it’s the combination of nostalgia and fantasy, as evoked by baby Yoda, that feels particuarly relevant right now. The joy of returning to our childhoods is bigger than simple comfort – it’s about returning to a time when fiction and fantasy were encouraged and celebrated. In our desperation to reach adulthood, we leave so much of value behind – imagination, play, and the gift of believing in the unbelievable.

Seriousness, we’ve learned, can take its toll. So after more than a decade of signalling worthy ingredients, mindful processes and earnest philosophies, is it finally time for brand design to have a bit of fun? Let’s hope so, because right now we all need a bit of magic in our lives.

Lisa Desforges is Head of Strategy at B&B studio. 

Originally published in Dieline