29 JUNE 2020

I’m in lockdown get me out of here: the design codes of Escapism

From our need to be protected with hospital level hygiene and viral killing machines at home to our need for comfort in a cosy haven of retro patriarchal warmth, another experience we’ve been seeking from brands during the crisis is escapism.

We’ve been literally locked down, trapped and with little control over our outside world – so no surprises that any slight hint of an opportunity to ‘escape’ the whole stressful, strange lot of it has proven a hit. There are the obvious categories and brands that own escapism – with entertainment and social media topping the list. Netflix reports 16 million new accounts in the first three months of 2020, which is double the same period in 2019. Semiotically their red/black logo nods to the velvety luxe seats of a plush dark cinema…the ultimate escape room.

Zoom users jumped from 10 million a day to more than 200 million users in just three months. A lot of this growth is tied to virtual work meetings, but Zoom has also helped us temporarily escape the mundanity and explore our creativity through virtual dinner parties, quiz nights, cocktail hours, talent contests, choir practice and dance nights.

Beyond entertainment – brands across all industries are tapping into our need to escape, especially in retail, and particularly the fun indulgent stuff namely booze, chocolate, and not forgetting snacking.

Gin o’clock has proven THE moment to evade reality with gin dominating overall booze sales with an increase of 42.5% from last year for the nine-week period, according to Nielsen data. Where gin wins is that the category offers a storytelling experience with surreal characters and settings, alternate dimensions and glorious bottle structures. Think Hendricks, Botanist, Bombay Sapphire and stunning Tanqueray.

Even whisky does escape. The Naked Grouse encourages us to break free of the traditional perceptions of the category, literally stripping away old school labels and pretences inspiring us to celebrate a whole new way of enjoying a tipple… and escape the intensity of lockdown.

Since losing 85% of revenue with closure of trade outlets early Crisis, storytelling gurus Beavertown craft beer quickly invested in DTC, digital and can vs keg production and turned profits around. With rich and detailed, totally mental illustrations on pack – they take the experience off pack with a ‘Beavertown Session’ every Friday at 4pm including art classes, beer yoga, live tasting or music and a virtual vacation with the Staycation IPA including a tropical sound track accessible through your phone.

Frito Lay in the US also radically went DTC to support deprived snack fans with their favourites for Netflix moments via newly launched snack.com. And in the UK, Nestle offers desperate snackers access to snack packs on Deliveroo for delivery in 30mins. Phew.

With flights and fun grounded we’ve got Walkers Sensations to transport us the world over with luxurious gold and moody black sensorial packaging, exotic flavours and evocative naming. Just hang out in Tesco crisp aisle 6 to visit the Caribbean, India, Japan, and Thailand.

If chocolate is more your thing and you’re based in Helsinki – Karl Fazer’s travel chocolate range semiotically helps Finns pack their bags to explore a taste adventure with travel journey visuals and explorer naming – increasing sales at the same time.

In searching for the design rules of Escapism in retail, the only rule is that there are no rules. Unlike Protection and Comfort which are super clear dimensions on shelf, Escapism simply has to lift us out of our everyday reality and there are many, many ways to do this. However, if we had to sum up our observations they tend to fall into 3 territories both expected and unexpected. We see literal travel/discovery codes of far distant places, super surreal fantasy with made up characters and alternate worlds and finally, there is the literal escape of a stripped back universe where our individuality runs free. Escape does more than entertain us it takes some of the pressure off, relieves stress and makes us feel something other than worry or boredom. Viva the day when we are truly free to literally escape.

Take a look at your brand and ask yourself if its visual codes and equities are resonating with a clear emotional consumer need? If things aren’t working as they should be, then your challenge sounds familiar to us. And we can help.