December 29, 2003


My favorite new brand experience (though not really new, just new to me) is the Lush soap store, which opened a branch in SF a couple of months ago, but which has been in Europe for about eight years. Lush is built on a simple premise: they sell soap as if it was food. They take all of the symbolism of a gourmet deli and map it to soap: big pieces of soap get cut into small chunks and sold by weight, products are labeled as to whether they're vegan, big wooden bins are filled with spheres (is it an orange or a bath bomb?), etc. What's most interesting to me about it is that it's a brilliant insight about how people--women, really, since I'm sure their target market is at least 80% female--shop for "intimate consumables" (for lack of a better term). In a food store, quality is usually judged by how something looks, how it feels to touch it and, most importantly, how it smells. Traditional soap tried to hide all three (except for smell, which leaked out of packages not really designed to let it out). It's an admission that factors such as how well something works or how well it was made or where it was made don't really matter: what matters is the immediate experience. It's also an interesting counterpoint to the presentation of cosmetic products as a kind of medicine, which is the other big trend. Sephora looks like a high-class drug store, with the implication that you need to trust them to make something so high tech that you'll never understand it, but it'll be good for you. Lush makes everything seem so low tech that you feel comfortable choosing simply on immediate experience and impulse.
The insight that people shop for these goods by immediate kinesthetic experience, and the soap-food remapping that follows it, is really fascinating to me. It's a small shift that creates a whole world of design ideas. It's almost dream-like in its simplicity ("doctor, I had this dream where I walked into the deli and all of the food was made of soap..."). What's also interesting is how it's all about the trade dress, the look and feel of the store, and not really about a designed brand identity. The Lush logo doesn't look like their store, and they don't seem to have a particularly consistent visual presentation (for a $60 million company, their Web site looks almost amateurish), but the trade dress is so strong, that it may not matter (and maybe they're trying to look rough around the edges--but I kinda doubt it...).
The futurists, who liked to play with the idea of food (make food look like things that are inedible! Make things that aren't food look like food!), would be proud.

Posted by mikek at December 29, 2003 05:34 PM | TrackBack
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