Memphis Creatives Walk Through Recent Branding Projects

By Andy Meek

Ben Fant and Andrew Holliday are principals at two Memphis creative firms that each undertook similar projects recently – crafting brand messaging for clients in the restaurant industry.

Ben Fant, principal and creative director at the marketing agency Farmhouse, says it’s often a creative “leap of faith” when working on projects like the Memphis-themed iconography his firm helped come up with for the new restaurant Agave Maria.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The way their firms approached the task showcased the level of creativity and the design and demographic considerations involved in crafting a message that resonates. The results: Fant’s firm Farmhouse helped design the branding for a new local Mexican restaurant, Agave Maria. Holliday’s firm Harvest Creative had the task of rebranding the Kid’s Meal program for Wendy’s.

Here’s how they did it.

Harvest’s rebrand for the Wendy’s Kid’s Meal program involved the development of a new strategic approach, identity, packaging, toy program and merchandising. The new brand went live nationally this fall. It represented an attempt, in Holliday’s words, to build more equity with moms and children instead of for the Kid’s Meal license partners, as in the past.

Holliday says his firm always tries to bring something fresh to each project, but the work generally starts from the same place, by kicking off with a structured creative process.

“First, before we start on the fun and pretty stuff, we have to build a foundation,” Holliday told The Daily News. “We need to get to know where the brand has been, the current situation and where they are trying to go.”

That means starting with a healthy dose of research. Company, product and competitive research all help get the ball rolling.

Next is the creation of a creative brief that defines specific aspects of the project. When it comes to the audience being targeted, for example, Holliday said it’s important to go deeper than demographics.

“We’re really trying to paint a picture of who we’re talking to so we can build something that will speak to them,” he said. “The more specific and detailed we can be with this description, the better for the identity down the road. Not to mention, every business should know who they are trying to target. This is an important step for them to go through for their business in general.”

There’s also the communication objective. What is it that needs to be said to the target audience? What emotions, attributes and qualities is the brand identity going to portray?

“Having this list helps us when we get into concepts because we can judge the concepts on more than just simple aesthetics,” Holliday said. “This is especially important when there are numerous stakeholders on a project with different opinions. There needs to be an unbiased checklist everyone can go through to see if the identity achieves the goals and objectives.”

Projects also need to have a specific desired response identified from the outset. There are creative considerations involved, which for the Wendy’s Kid’s Meal meant Harvest had to take into consideration that the identity needed to reinforce the overall Wendy’s brand while also being able to stand on its own as unique and playful.

Once Harvest has everything in place, including any executive considerations, Holliday says only then it’s time to build a communication strategy and identity.

“We have a strong foundation and we can go into the fun part of showing them how all of the above translates into identity concepts,” he said. “Obviously, the design phase is where things start to get really exciting because you can see it all coming together graphically. This portion of the process starts with simple one-color concepts, goes through multiple revision rounds and finally ends in a comprehensive identity system encompassed in a complete brand guideline.”

He said an identity should be able to stand the test of time and avoid being too trendy in a way that limits its influence.

“We can’t make a company have a fantastic product, but if they have a great product we can put them in a position to succeed with a well-planned and executed identity,” Holliday said.

Fant describes this kind of thing as something of a “leap of faith” when it comes to working with some clients, especially when the work involves helping build a new business like a restaurant from the ground up.

His firm helped conceptualize an identity for Agave Maria, the new Mexican restaurant Downtown whose interior design includes a collection of iconography that appeared to canonize famous Memphians.

“The church and its iconography really go naturally hand-in-hand with a Mexican-themed restaurant,” Fant said in a Farmhouse blog post spelling out his firm’s approach. “The Hispanic culture is steeped in Catholicism, with approximately 82 percent of the Mexican population considered practicing Catholics. The concept of family and religion forms much of its cultural identity. A number of religious and secular occasions – from Dia de la Candelaria to Dia de los Muertos, Christmas to Mexican Independence Day – are marked by feasts during which special dishes are served.”

What’s more, each Latin American country has its own patron saint or virgin that they celebrate, with physical images of them on items from prayer candles to colorful wall prints. Farmhouse took a cue from those facets of Hispanic culture, and the branding grew from symbols of religion and custom.

“Working with Graham Reese Design Group, the interior evolved into our client’s vision of ‘Tijuana Chic’ in which Mexican street food is elevated to an exceptional dining experience in a funky yet authentic atmosphere,” Fant explains. “Tufted leather, handmade pendant lights from Mexico, splashes of fucsia, a taxidermied bull named La Furia (The Fury) – every detail ensures Agave Maria is clearly a bona fide restaurant, a class apart from your typical Mexican eatery where cacti and sombreros are de rigueur.”

The heart of Agave Maria’s branding, however, is its collection of patron saints. While tossing around the idea of depicting patron saints, Fant says the team had a Eureka moment – Why not look toward the art and culture of the city by “canonizing” famous Memphians?

“The task at that point was to narrow our initial group of Agave Maria Patron Saints to seven – a number arrived at basically because of limited wall space – while keeping a list of alternates,” Fant says. “The idea is to later auction off our original artwork for charity to make space for rotating in new saints. Narrowing our inaugural class of saints down to seven was hard – Elvis, Isaac Hayes, B.B. King, Al Green, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lawler and Aretha Franklin made the cut – but we have an ever-growing roster waiting in the wings.”

The artwork captures them all at points when they were at the height of their celebrity. Fant says they’ve proven to be a draw for the restaurant, fulfilling a creative vision from Farmhouse’s client but also telling a brand story that encompasses the restaurant’s decor, menu design and everything in between.