Coke is more contemporary than Pepsi: Sylvia Vitale Rotta

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | July 06, 2010
Sylvia Vitale Rotta, chief executive officer, Team Creatif spoke to afaqs! on the sidelines of the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, talking about design as a crucial contributor to a brand's equity

While advertising gives the consumer a reason to buy a product, very often, the design of the package or product plays a crucial role in swaying the consumer's choice and staying on top of the mind.

Sylvia Vitale Rotta, chief executive officer, Team Creatif spoke to afaqs! at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, talking of how advertising has little meaning without design, how clients worldwide are seeing the importance of this craft and its contribution to brand equity.

Team Creatif is an independent design consultancy based in Paris, specialising in branding, packaging design and corporate identity. The agency's major clients include Danone Worldwide, Gillette, Cadbury Schweppes, Apple, Kraft Foods, Proctor & Gamble and Sara Lee, among others.

Jury president of the Design Lions in 2009, Rotta was at the festival conducting two workshops on design this year. Excerpts from her conversation with afaqs!:

afaqs!: How do you think design helps advertising?

Rotta: Design is the start of it all. Without it - advertising does not exist.
I did a workshop here at Cannes on branding and how the identity and packaging create the equity of the brand. Without equity, a brand cannot live. Advertising takes the branding, the colours and the logo type and brings them alive in campaigns.

For instance, consider Coca-Cola. The product, the branding, the bottle shape and the colours - if advertising did not have all that, it would not have anything to advertise about.

It all starts in the brains of the creative designer and then advertising comes in. We actually bring the fundamental DNA of the brand.

Even with Apple and Steve Jobs, it started with design. That is what made the brand different. Design made him do things much simpler and more aesthetic. You could lick an iPhone. That is what is beautiful. That is design.

afaqs!: Do you think brands are looking to redesign and evolve their products in a far shorter span of time?

Rotta: Yes! Earlier, we designed something like a bottle, a product, a food form, a shape, an identity and it would last for many years. You could keep looking after it and polishing it.
Now, however, things are going faster and clients want to react quicker, which is of course fantastic for us because they have realised that you must never be fashionable but have to be contemporary, answer the consumer needs and you must never become old.

This is making them move forward, rejuvenating what they have, keeping the DNA but making the brand look young and fresh.

afaqs!: How do you differentiate between fashionable and contemporary?

Rotta: Fashionable is what everybody has, wears and talks about in the fashion world; something that is cool. It can last maybe for a few weeks, months or maybe a couple of years at the best.

What is really essential, good looking and real can last forever. No matter how much the styles change, it will always be liked for what it is.

Coke, for example, is never fashionable. It is just modern and follows the consumers. Pepsi, at one time, became old fashioned. It forgot to move on and got into trouble.

Contemporary is style. It is good looking style. You can have a car that is contemporary because right from the beginning, the style was right.

For instance, Apple, the computers, the iPhone - they are all contemporary. They are very modern but not fashionable. You will always have the black and white iPhone model - that will always be there. Maybe just to be in, a fashionable version might be launched in bright pink. The contemporary that will go on will always be the black and white model.

As a woman, I love fashion. I buy fashionable clothes and things but in design and especially branding, if you want it to last many years, it would have to be contemporary.

afaqs!: How have you seen product design evolving over the last two decades of your career?

Rotta: Design, branding and packaging are evolving towards more essentiality. Stronger, simpler images, more real and natural, less in the superficial 'I am pretty and cute' arena; that is where the big brands have realised that they have to be focused, be real, pass the key message, stay top of the mind, be essential and not go running after superficiality. Be honest to your brand.
So, design has become more essential, more focused and more respectful of the environment. You are not just doing pretty things anymore.

Influenced by the success of certain brands such as Coca-Cola, Apple and Activia around the world, with their incredible designed look, today many clients from the emerging markets realise the importance of design. They are coming to Paris for strategic inputs in design, knowing that it is very expensive for them. They have realised the importance of design to be on the top of the mind of the consumer.

They have realised how it is the first touch-point and people do not all watch television, they do not go to the same websites and they do not do the same things anymore. So, the experience has to start somewhere more solid and that is the product or the service. That is for sure because the consumer can always have the product in the hand, feel it, eat it, touch it but all the other things - the consumer may not exactly be touched by them.

afaqs!: Sometimes, the look of a brand and its product sticks to the consumers' mind. You often cited the examples of Coca-Cola and Apple. The consumer has a certain perception of the two brands. Do you think it sometimes gets difficult for consumers to keep up with the constant changes that a brand undergoes?

Rotta: Changes will always have to be done with honesty, keeping in mind the DNA of the brand.

As a consumer, we always have a memory structure. This memory structure is something that is very strong in everybody. That is why something that you might have had as a child stays with you. That is why sometimes people, when they get a bit fragile, go back to things that are reassuring. That is why you like to go back home and find your room. That is a part of your memory structure.

So, when you do re-branding or new packaging, you always have to be careful to try and keep this area, which is the memory structure. When you lose that, you kill the brand. Your sales can come crashing down.

That has happened with some brands and they had to bring back the old design because the change was too sudden and abrupt. This is very dangerous. You can kill the brand like this.

Tiger Biscuits is a big brand in India. If you were to lose that funny tiger and that redness, you would lose the brand. You could make it more chocolaty or modern but you have to keep that innocent tiger feel because that is what consumers buy.

If you were to change the red of Coke, the consumers would tell you that it is wrong.

The essence of the designer's job is respect the past and create the future. If you do not respect the past and create the future, you are dead on branding and global packaging.

afaqs!: What is the diversity you see in the client's needs or is there a certain uniformity that you observe?

Rotta: Each client has its own DNA, its own way of doing something but they are all very much aware, especially in this moment in time, about the importance of being essential, providing value for money, creating emotions and being natural.

A lot of the big clients are very much concerned with the ecological responsibility. We, at Team Creatif, are helping these big brands to be more ecologically responsible and this is a big challenge because the consumers are asking for it. However, the consumers also want everything cheaper.

Doing work that is ecologically sound is not easy. It means new investments. So, these brands need to slowly learn to gain confidence and go into this new era. This is where the designers, design agencies and global branding are going to help them to do that.

Advertising comes later; design and design agencies come before that because that is the closest to the product and the client. What is important is to get into people's lives and to understand the consumers and their needs. Then, we answer it with design.

afaqs!: How difficult does it get to handle clients all over the world, working out of a city in Europe?

Rotta: Usually clients come to us via recommendations. Clients recommend us to other clients and because of that, we go into a territory of trust. So when we get a new client, the first thing we do is visit the country. We go and live with the marketing people of that country for a few days and we get to know the people, the company, the company's clients, consumers, the sales force, the factory and other aspects. Then, we go back, create and design strong proposals on identity, global branding and packaging.

afaqs!: Any plans to move beyond Paris and Brazil?

Rotta: We plan to open an office in Cairo, Egypt next year because 54 per cent of our clients are international. We now feel the need to open an office in Egypt so as to cover the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.

afaqs!: What are your five favourite product designs?

Rotta: Obviously, the iPod. Everything that Apple does is beautiful product design. I think the Nespresso coffee machine is very, very interesting. The Evian water bottle is a very beautiful and nice design. Ellie Coffee mugs are beautifully designed. And of course, the Fiat 500; I love it.

afaqs!: Finally, we would love to know your thoughts on Indian design and its potential.

Rotta: Indian design is extremely talented design because India has the talent of fine art. In other words, Indians know how to use colours, they have the sense of detail, the typography is beautiful, the drawing and the illustrations are beautiful; this is the art part of it.

The only thing is when you now go into design, it gets a little complicated. It is a little heavier, more traditional. The potential for designers is to keep the art skill that they have but make it simpler, more immediate and more striking because that is where the modern world is moving towards.

Indian designers have to hold on to what is unique but they have to make designs answer the modern needs of the Indian people and also to be able to export.

© 2010 afaqs!