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Soft Republic: I-AM Create a new Soft Icecream brand for Walls, Unilever
Who as a kid could ever resist the jangly chime of the ice cream van? There is something deeply nostalgic and special about SOFT ice cream, over generations. It retains its magic & charm, and new groups of grown-up kids around the world have lately been embracing the re-invention of what soft ice cream could be. With the world in a state of flux, many key consumers are seeking out new, social media worthy experiences, yet retain an apparently contradictory need for familiarity and re-assurance. Soft serve ice cream is the perfect product to deliver an experience that satisfies all of these needs.

Unilever’s famous Wall’s brand came together with I-AM, and created Soft Republic to re-imagine soft serve ice cream for Millennial and Gen Z consumers, while ensuring that it remains as compelling as ever for traditional audiences. Unilever are at the forefront of enhancing the emotional connection between product brands and consumers, through ever-more experiential retail experiences, directly orchestrated by the brand owners themselves, working with creative agencies specialised in retail experience design, such as I-AM. Ice cream is one category which is ripe for this kind of activity, with pop-up and flagship retail experiences targeted at the Instagram generation appearing through the summer.

Unilever created a ‘special projects’ division within Walls, with a licence to think as a disruptor brand would. The mission was to create a new stand alone experiential brand within their portfolio that reinvents soft serve ice cream for the millennial and Gen Z consumer. The Wall’s soft ice cream proposition is wide-ranging, with different products available outside of the home according to global location and individual situation & opportunity. The aim was therefore to create a fresh and vibrant new umbrella brand, providing a contemporary & future-facing image applicable across, and flexible to this range of scenarios, helping establish Unilever as owners of the world’s best soft serve brand.

The resulting ‘Urban Explosion’of Soft Republic is a brand world that encourages self-expression & creativity, and celebrates individuality –a timely & positive response to unsettling global developments. It is a force for unification over the joy of ‘Messy Creativity’ through the medium of soft ice &unrestrained toppings.The expressive and light-heartedly rebellious identity feels current and edgy, whilst maintaining a connection with the Walls’ parent brand, providing a contemporary & future-facing image to unite the many outlets in the Wall’s soft ice cream ‘ecosystem’.

The revolution has begun with the first brand expression realised as a Soft Republicretail pop-up at London’s iconic Spitalfields Market, inspired by urban art. It’s playfully punky, vibrant and immediately appealing to young andold, hipsters and tourists, and has launched in tandem with a social-media led strategy to encourage fans to spread the word and share their ice cream creations.For global roll-out, I-AM built flexibility into the brand. Rather than designing a rigid identity ‘bible,’ a design philosophy was established, combining a wide range of varied visual elements.

This allows the concept to adapt to its geography -street art plays a key role in the world of Soft Republic, and in the Spitalfields pop-up, Shoreditch artist Rich Fairhead’s work references local cues as well as a world of icy-softjoyfulness. In-store, customers invent their own ice cream creation -hot dog, burger, magic box, a cone, or even a soft-ice coffee (affogato) .I-AM worked closely with product development specialists F.I.S. on these new formats. Then customers are encouraged to share their creations with the world on their social media platform of choice.

The ‘Hall of Fame’ wall is covered in polaroid’s taken by staff of customer’s creations, and there are plenty of instagram worthy features within the store. I-AM enabled this by creating an alluring periphery for their photography: see more at ‘Creating the Instagram Moment’ Soft Republic liberates soft ice cream from its purely nostalgic associations, and is already generating excitement & pleasure in store, in the press and across social media platforms.

For Wall’s it’s a powerful new asset to re-energise an iconic product.The initial reception has been a combination of surprise, delight and excitement.Future plans include adaptation to local markets around the world using the in-build flexibility in the palette of brand assets and approaches to engagement with local culture such as street artists, as well as application across the range of soft serve equipment and packaging required for all the scenarios that exist for spreading joy through this iconic product.

Design: I-AM
Photography: Rafal Jezierski

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