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Champions of Design: Ricard

The French aperitif may not be ground-breaking, but its POS work is an exemplar of effectiveness.

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The quintessentially French drink Ricard was created as recently as 1932, but has become thought of as a traditional part of French culture.

Home-made pastis drinks were already popular at the time, but in the south of France one man decided to create a ready-made pastis with the 'perfect taste'. Paul Ricard named the drink after himself, calling it 'the real pastis from Marseille'.

Based on the key ingredient, star anise, the rest of Ricard's recipe has remained a secret. However, he found that a 45% alcohol content was the ideal level for dissolving the anise essence, producing an intense flavour. He also found the ideal mix for drinking the new pastis was five parts water to one part Ricard.

The 23-year-old wine-merchant's son had created the first commercial anise-flavoured aperitif. However, there was a slight barrier to the new product: a ban on aniseed-based spirits, introduced in France in 1915.

Ricard tested the new drink illegally, reportedly incurring several fines as a result. In 1932, the law was relaxed and Ricard could begin selling the product. During World War II, he would again be hit by prohibition, when the Vichy government banned consumption of alcohol over 16% volume.

Despite its inauspicious start, Ricard proved popular, with annual sales of 2.4m litres by 1938. Ricard was also ahead of its main competitor, Pernod. A maker of absinthe until the ban in 1915, Pernod's rival to Ricard was not launched until 1951.

As a budding painter and student of fine art, Ricard put his design skills to good use, creating the now-famous blue and yellow imagery of Ricard, taking inspiration from the sky and the sun as he saw it from Marseille.

Although laws regarding the consumption of aniseed-based spirits had been relaxed, advertising of the drink was made illegal in 1951. The only exception to this legislation was material sent to distributors, pub displays and decals on delivery vans.

Ricard himself said in his autobiography: 'The advertising ban, which could appear as a formidable handicap, was actually a secret advantage which obliged us to exercise our imagination and let us know at any cost.'

Having already designed the Ricard jug used to hold ice and water for mixing with the spirit in 1935, Ricard found it the ideal object for placing his brand in front of French drinkers. This line grew to include decanters, glasses, ashtrays, clocks and playing cards, many of which are still familiar sights in the bars of France; several have also become collectables.

Over the years, branded pieces have also been created by top designers such as Garouste & Bonetti, Marc Newson, and the Bouroullec brothers.

Ricard left the business in 1968, later being succeeded by his son Patrick; he led the drink and the company's international expansion, becoming managing director in 1972. Following a merger with its rival Pernod in 1975, Patrick oversaw Pernod-Ricard as chairman and chief executive from 1978 until his death last month.


BRAND LESSON

Andy Knowles, chairman, JKR

By Andy Knowles, chairman, JKR

Ricard is an unusual Champion, because its packaging is neither particularly original, nor memorable.

Launched as a rival to Pernod, the leading pastis of its day, the Ricard bottle bears more than passing similarity to it. Yet the brand deserves a medal for making humble barware an advertising medium all its own.

Churned out by a dedicated 'propaganda factory', ashtrays, water jugs, carafes, tumblers and a multitude of other drinkers' trinkets made the Ricard brand ubiquitous in post-war French cafe society.

Maybe success was down to Paul Ricard's optimism in deploying a bright combination of sunshine yellow and azure blue at an austere time - a confidence mirrored by his bold slogan 'Garcon! Un Ricard!'

Whether by luck or judgement, his cheery sentiment struck a chord, searing the brand into the national consciousness and propelling Ricard to market leadership.

Brushing aside concerns over the partnership of alcohol brands with motorsport, Ricard stayed top of mind by its bright yellow racing cars, going on to construct a textbook example of a branded venue - Circuit Paul Ricard on the outskirts of Paris.

Above all, perhaps Ricard serves to remind us that in design, the best ideas are often simple. Universal availability and eye-catching point of sale might be Marketing 101, but they are first principles for commercial success.


TIMELINE

1909: Paul Ricard was born in Sainte-Marthe, a suburb of Marseille.

1948: Ricard sponsored the Tour de France.

1962: The Ricard business was floated on the Paris stock exchange.

1969: Paul Ricard built Le Castellet, a Grand Prix track. It has since been renamed the Paul Ricard Circuit.

1984: The billionth bottle of Ricard was sold. The ad slogan 'Un Ricard, sinon rien' ('A Ricard, or nothing') was coined.

1993: The first limited-edition design was introduced. They have since become a regular feature of Ricard.

1997: Paul Ricard, one of France's most respected businessmen, died.

2011: Ricard underwent a redesign to appeal to a younger market.

View more Champions of Design


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