Revolutionising 'The Fresh Food People'
Since the 1980s Woolworths had used the well-established strapline 'The Fresh Food People'. Yet their identity didn’t reflect this positioning - it had become tired and outdated and didn’t connect with their customers. It was time for a modern, timeless icon that spoke the truth about the company and helped forge their new direction: to make grocery shopping an easy experience in a contemporary environment. It was time to take 'The Fresh Food People' to a whole new level.
The Woolworths icon succeeds for a number of reasons: it immediately captures the brand truth by communicating 'The Fresh Food People'; the fresh, organic-shaped ‘W’ is shorthand for the Woolworths name; it’s welcoming and creates a sense of wellbeing; and it’s simple and easily identifiable.
Luke Dunkerley, Former Marketing Director
Retail is a tough category. An unforgiving combination of price, proximity, quality, service and range. ‘Stupendous Bargain Basement’ shouted the 1924 sign above the doors of the very first Woolworths store in Sydney’s Imperial Arcade. And what began as a bargain basement store evolved into an iconic company that has become synonymous with weekly grocery shopping in Australia.
Since the 1980s Woolworths featured a well-established wordmark, not a unifying logo, above its store entrance. Ironically, the wordmark actually contained the strapline ‘The Fresh Food People’, but somehow it didn’t say fresh food people at all. It didn’t reflect the truth about the company and as a result Woolworths were just not connecting with their customers. CEO, at the time, Michael Luscombe realised the brand’s image was simply not strong enough going forward. The old wordmark had become tired and out-dated for the savvy consumers who were demanding a new shopping experience. Woolworths needed a modern identity that not only reflected their position as ‘The Fresh Food People,’ more importantly they needed to forge a new direction that made grocery shopping an easy experience in a contemporary environment. So they called Hulsbosch in to review their brand.
Here was a golden opportunity to transform Woolworths and take the brand to the next level. Hulsbosch began by unpacking the brand, what it stood for and what the business wanted to achieve. Extensive research was done in Australia and in the US, speaking with staff and store managers and working out what made their businesses tick. This insight, combined with many in-depth sessions, discussing shopping experiences with customers, allowed Hulsbosch to create a strategic brand platform. The entire in-store experience for the customer was redesigned; from interior to exterior, store layout, staff uniforms, the strategies behind customer usage, all of Woolworths’ own packaging and staff to customer relationships. But they didn’t just stop there. Woolworths needed a logo that captured its new direction to clearly visualise their values and promise.
Previous brandmark, 1981 – 2007
During the rebranding process, Luke Dunkerley, Woolworths’ former general manager for marketing, takes up the story. ‘A tightly-knit team worked on its development, which helped make the project a success. The more people you involve, the more likely you’ll never get there. In fact, it came down to three people: Naum Onikul, Woolworths director of supermarkets, Hans and myself. My role was initially as a sort of man-in-the-middle watching the two men – one Manchurian-born and the other Dutch-born – working together. I thought Naum was passionate about our brand until I saw Hans in action. What really stood out was his determination to get the brand right. Not just right, not just ticking all the boxes, but as close to perfect as possible. What won the day was the way he matched Naum’s passion for the brand. To watch them working together and sparking off one another was amazing. The 3D ribbon dimension completed the look. That’s when I knew we had struck gold’ 1.
One of the key insights that Onikul expressed was: ‘I’m responsible for a team of over 100,000 fresh food people. I want my people to look at this logo and smile. I want them to look at it with pride. I want them to look at it and be happy and I want that logo to be instantly recognisable after just one year’ 2. He need not have worried. This was the first time the Woolworths identity was redesigned in 21 years. Woolworths is one of the most well-known, iconic companies in the Australian retail sector and designing a new identity was always going to be an interesting challenge. Ideas, symbols and thought - prompts featuring people, food and organic growth allowed Hulsbosch to visually clarify the aim: symbolising the concept of ‘fresh’ in a direct and simple manner. So when Hans lined up ten different items of fresh produce and then combined this with the ‘W’ and the colour green, the ‘fresh’ symbol began to appear.
Michael Luscombe, Former CEO,
Next became the unveiling and Dunkerley clearly recalls the big day: ‘The introduction of the new brand was a complete surprise and launched without warning on the last day of the annual company conference in Brisbane, with 3,500 staff present. Many of these people had worked at Woolworths for 25 years or more, and worked under the old logo since 1987. For them it was almost like changing the national flag. You could feel their hearts stop. The room went dark, a helicopter hovered above, strobe lights flashed, the music reached a crescendo and there was the new icon emblazoned on the side of a huge green pantechnicon. There was half a heartbeat of silence and then… the audience erupted. We could not have asked for a more powerful, or moving approval’ 4. Here was positive proof that a company brand is only as good as the people who work there.
Woolworths grasped that the brand image they had was simply not good enough for the future. They thought long and hard about the challenges facing the brand and it’s wordmark. But the timing of the change had to be absolutely right. Woolworths conducted previous research in 2003 and 2005; 8% of respondents had said ‘don’t change it’, 8% said ‘do’, and 83% said ‘whatever’. In 2007 it was different: ‘Just do it’ was the overwhelming response5. The company Board and CEO understood the power of branding and listened to their staff. They were prepared to invest time and funds toward the rebranding project. So what was the experience of rebranding like for those at the coalface who felt so passionate about the brand?
According to Dunkerley ‘If you do decide to take the plunge [to redesign the brand], do not accept the outcome until it speaks the unspoken truth with the clarity of a bell. It must be love at first sight. You must see it and go weak at the knees, then go to bed and love it even more the next day. Should you consider changing the icon that identifies your company? The only sensible advice I can offer is: absolutely not, not on your Nelly… unless there is a compelling truth about your company, some intoxicating essence that your company’s current identity just does not and cannot capture. Don’t do it unless your current identity is withholding the truth’6. That was exactly what Woolworths did, they took the ‘Bondi Icebergs approach’ – just plunged in and went for it7. And in doing so, a lasting legacy was created.
Woolworths’ brand awareness is at an all-time high and the logo now identifies over a thousand stores in Australia and New Zealand. All in all, the entire rebranding project took five years to complete. Woolworths invested heavily into the overall exercise, and amortised over a number of years the identity has now embodied their brand. Ultimately, branding is a strategic long-term business investment and it handsomely rewarded Woolworths9.
The Woolworths rebrand is widely recognised as being one of the most successful in Australian history. As a result of the rebrand the Woolworths business jumped 50 spots as measured by Brand Finance in their 2009 Global 500 Survey10. Immediately after the launch, sales jumped 6.5% to more than $12 billion in the quarter ended 31 March 200911. According to Tim Heberden, Managing Director Brand Finance: ‘Woolworths has increased its market share and strengthened its position as Australia’s leading grocer by refreshing its branding and refurbishing stores’ 12.
The company did not only get an effective rebrand, it got an enduring icon. Back in 2008 Hans intended the ‘Wapple’, as the logo is known in certain circles, to become shorthand for the Woolworths brand name. Fast-forward to 2017 and that is exactly what happened. Says Woolworths Group Chief Executive Brad Banducci: ‘Brand is everything for a consumer facing business like Woolworths Supermarkets. Thanks to Hulsbosch we have been blessed with a logo that powerfully captures the very essence of our brand. When it was launched the logo was a symbol of positive change, modernity and fresh beginnings for our customers and team. Thankfully, it has stood the test of time and more than that, has become an icon in the Australian landscape’ 13
The identity was voted one of the top five rebrands in the world by global consultancy Brand Channel 2008/0914. In 2009 Hulsbosch was presented with a Mobius Award of Outstanding Creativity in Corporate Identity Design. Brand Finance consistently voted Woolworths, ‘Australia’s most valuable brand’ between 2009 and 201215. And to top it off, in 2012 Marketing Magazine placed the Woolworths logo fifth in the top ten best Australian logos of all time16.
1. Dunkerley, L. (2017). [Rebranding Woolworths]. 2. Onikul, N. (2008). [Woolworths Rebranding Project]. 3. Hans Hulsbosch quoted in Desktop. (2012). Top Ten Australian Logos. Retrieved from https://desktopmag.com.au/features/top-ten-australian-logos-5th/ 4. Dunkerley, L. (2017). [Rebranding Woolworths]. 5. AdNews. (2009). Dunkerley explains Woolworths’ logo leap. Retrieved from http://www.adnews.com.au/CC0CA5BC-F758-44B2-AA90CEE829AF307B 6. Dunkerley, L. (2009). Woolworths, the rebrand. Paper presented at the 8th Advertising and Marketing Summit Sydney. 7. AdNews. (2009). Dunkerley explains Woolworths’ logo leap. Retrieved from http://www.adnews.com.au/CC0CA5BC-F758-44B2-AA90CEE829AF307B 8. Hans Hulsbosch quoted in AGDA. (2011). Rebranding Woolworths. Retrieved from http://www.agda.com.au 9. Hulsbosch, J. (2017). [Rebranding Woolworths]. 10. Hulsbosch, J. (2017). [Rebranding Woolworths]. 11. Haigh, D. (2009). BrandFinance Global 500: The annual report on the world’s most valuable brands. Retrieved from http://www.brandfinance.com 12. Tim Heberden quoted in Hutton, J. (2009). Woolowrths’ brand soars. Financial Review. 13. Banducci, B. (2017) [The power of the Woolworths Rebrand]. 14. Hulsbosch, J. (2017). [Rebranding Woolworths]. 15. Desktop. (2012). Top Ten Australian Logos. Retrieved from https://desktopmag.com.au/features/top-ten-australian-logos-5th/ 16. Marketing Magazine. (2012). Top 10 Australian logos of all time. Retrieved from https://www.marketingmag.com.au/news-c/top10-australian-logos-of-all-time/
"Brand is everything for a consumer-facing business like Woolworths Supermarkets. Thanks to Hulsbosch we have been blessed with a logo that powerfully captures the very essence of our brand. It has stood the test of time and more than that, has become an icon in the Australian landscape.”
Brad Banducci, CEO