It takes spivs and scoundrels who thrived in the post-war austerity of London to teach us all a profound lesson in what good, glamorous branding is all about. Know what I mean, guv?
That secretive, thin-moustached breed and their spiffing, jolly-good-show clientele á la 1946 still exist in Cahoots just off the capital’s Carnaby Street – a new themed cocktail bar speakeasy set in a wartime bomb shelter now disguised as a disused Underground railway station. It’s more than just a giggly gimmick and as a branding case study engages on a depth and level far superior to most you might go hunting for.
The imagination and detail that surrounds the visitor, beckoning him or her to participate, even connive, in the dream, has every element required for great branding. Whether the concept is Coca Cola, cars, whole cities, or start-ups like this one, which opened in March and has boomed from day one.
Cahoots is living proof that –
- branding is not just about identity, but strong personality
- good corporate ideas are not enough. They must be buoyed by research, research and more research
- once the venture’s persona is defined, the public is more likely to identify with it and
- once that empathy is formed, loyalty proceeds as night follows day.
Using this principle the high and mighty corporations have flourished and become part of the warp and weft of 21st century international culture, such as: –
Apple which offers a lifestyle that is hip, fun and at technology’s cutting edge; General Electric which for decades has thrived through diversity; Coca Cola and Pepsi which have defied health warnings about sugary drinks through generational loyalty and carefully cultivated taste; and Disney/Pixar whose film animations are embraced by our children and their children’s children. You can read about these and other examples here.
A Marketing Science Institute report identifies four questions that customers ask – Who are you? (brand identity). What are you? (brand meaning). What do I think or feel about you? (brand response). What about you and me – ie what kind of association is needed and how much of a connection would I like to have with you? (brand relationships). And so the love affair between public and brand begins.
But that sense of public involvement works wonders for start-ups too. Cahoots is pure theatre, with staff as professional actors, memorising their own back stories, professionally made up, coiffured, and garbed in braces and titfers.
Their task: To transport visitors back to the days of spam and illicit hooch – a hush-hush retreat from the harsh world of rationing. The immersive experience is achieved with consummate skill and detail.
You’re welcomed at the top of the wooden escalator stairs by the lookout paperboy who hands you a four page wine and cocktails list in the style of the Illustrated London News, featuring period adverts for threepenny Eclipse shaving blades and socks and stockings for “wideboys and good time girls”.
Then you are greeted with a cheery “what ho!” by a station master in a bottom-of-stairs ticket office who denies all knowledge of Cahoots. (Tap your nose, wink-wink…)
Inside, you are handed popcorn in a bean can amid sandbags left over from the blitz, a dated Underground railway carriage and cocktails served in quirky hollowed-out busts of fire raid wardens (sip the Dunkin’ for Apples cocktail or OXO cube lemon curd through the head’s tin helmet). Food is served in ration tins, hot drinks in thermos flasks and shots of spirits in egg cups which in those days had probably never seen an egg!
The venue’s amazing success was summed up by manager Ollie Draper talking over 1940s jazz music and tannoy announcements. He told me: “Never half-arse the brand, believe in what you do and always work harder.”
Cahoots is the latest in a suite of successful ventures by entrepreneurs Charlie Gilkes and Duncan Stirling, both posh party planners who prove time and again that history’s mood is a crowd-puller, even for their contemporaries.
Among their other London creations are Maggie’s Club in the Fulham Road, a 1980s theme where loops of Mrs Thatcher’s speeches are played in the loo; Bunga Bunga, a themed restaurant in Battersea whose title alludes to the raunchy dinner parties held by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi; and, more recently, Mr Fogg’s, a former pub, allegedly the ground floor of the Mayfair home of Phileas Fogg, the hero of Around the World in Eighty Days and steeped in the Victorian’s relics of adventure. At Mr Fogg’s you’ll also discover a hot-air balloon basket, an elephant’s foot and of course all staff acting convincingly in character.
Key learning points: To be in Cahoots with branding means appreciating that branding is not just a logo, spokesperson or slogan. According to those who define the ineffable it is, instead, a product of “the millions of experiences the company creates with employees, vendors, reporters, communities and customers – and the emotional feelings these groups develop as a result.” You can apply these guideline principles yourself but make your mark with deep research, flair and flourish. Brand is never bland. The goal is romance and marriage between public and ventures. And when that happens, they’re in… Cahoots. Know what I mean, guv? (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink)…
Why not learn on the job and get in Cahoots with branding yourself. To experience the real thing visit the Cahoots website, book yourself a table and drink while you think!