Brunel 200 Legacy C&M Associates – Fizzambard Kingdom Brunel.
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Fizzambard Kingdom Brunel: Innovations in Iron and Steel

C&M Associates created a souvenir/commemorative drink bottle for Brunel 200. The visual design brought together images of Brunel and some of his achievements with the accompanying text inviting the reader to ‘find out more’.

This is their report on the development of their original idea and the processes they went through in bringing their project to fruition:

The original submission for Fizzambard was to produce a traditional or good quality sparkling lemonade in a commemorative can.

We liked the idea of creating an apparently ‘branded’ product with the name Fizzambard (playing on the name Isambard), to which we’d added the slogan ‘Refresh the Imagination’ that referred to the importance of ‘imagination’ as an ingredient of Brunel’s genius (and a facility that we all share).

There wouldn’t be very much room on the can surface to say very much about the great man but we thought we could point to some of his achievements pictorially and signpost people to the very informative Brunel 200 website. As C&M associates had written and designed a fair few interpretation boards in the previous 18 months we were used to telling stories in small spaces and interested in how to supplement information via websites. In some ways we thought of the project as an interpretation board wrapped round a can.

We also liked the qualities of the printed can surfaces, which would allow an attractive design, creating a semi-permanent commemorative object. But there were other aspects of a can that we would also be able to draw on. We wanted the can to be made of steel, which would be in the tradition of working with ferrous technologies, so ably exploited and extended by Brunel. We also wanted the consumer to consider that the humble drinks-can also had a place in the progress and tradition of engineering achievement, and by inference that Brunel was not an historically static figure, a designer of Victorian set pieces, but a maker of the modern world.

So we were very pleased that our project was selected as well as just a bit surprised – we wondered whether the idea might be thought just a touch frivolous. But it seemed that the selection group had both enjoyed the joke in the brand-name, but also thought … “What a good idea!”

The next stage of the project was more sobering but also illuminating. There hadn’t been time to research the manufacture or distribution of fizzy drinks in cans before submitting our ideas. Now we were going to find out a number of awkward truths quite quickly.

C&M Associates – Fizzambard Kingdom Brunel.

The technology that puts fizzy drinks in printed cans demands big numbers. The manufacturers of branded canned drinks, such as 7up or R. White’s Lemonade, weren’t interested – their brands were sacrosanct. Manufacturers of canned drinks that might produce an own label product (as supplied to supermarkets under their names such as Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s lemonade), were not interested in runs of less than 250,000, while we were thinking more in terms of 10,000.
Not only does the technology demand big numbers but so does big business. On some company websites the first thing they told you was the value of their shares, which all depended on how many millions units of product they had shifted that day/week/year. Talking to people in these organisations was a bit of an uphill struggle. Were we going to make them any money? Well no. What was our pitch? Local publicity in an important city, the opportunity to help celebrate a national figure, a weak joke … thanks but no thanks.
We’d airily proposed that Corus Packaging (heirs to British Steel) might be interested in being sponsors. Corus Packaging is based in the Netherlands. The person I spoke to hadn’t even heard of Brunel (although she agreed to put our proposal to the ‘board’). And, it transpired, the only soft drinks manufacturer that they supplied in the UK was Britvic (7up and R. White’s), who weren’t interested anyway.
Many soft drink manufacturers didn’t use cans, they put their products in bottles.
We finally found a company who would be able to use a shrink-wrap labelling process and they would be able to apply this technique to blank cans if we could find somebody to fill some blank cans with lemonade. This didn’t seem unrealistic but was beginning to depart from our original model. In the event the only drinks we were able get in blank cans were so called ‘energy’ drinks, similar to Red Bull, which were aimed at a young adult ‘clubbing’ group of consumers … not what we wanted.
We’d envisaged a high-quality lemonade made from spring water and natural or at least traditional ingredients. We’d followed the few positive leads that our investigations had offered and found ourselves in a seedy factory unit in the east end of London. Here we were offered the opportunity to custom-label an off-tasting lemonade in a bottle. We eyed the ingredients warily. Amongst other things it contained aspartame, a sweetener and an ingredient currently enjoying much suspicion among informed parents. We weren’t going there, it was the end of the trail. The time had come to think again.

C&M Associates – Fizzambard Kingdom Brunel.

At the same time we’d been investigating our potential market and we’d found that lemonade was problematic in itself. As a rule pubs and bars won’t sell lemonade in cans or bottles, they prefer to sell it by the glass filled from a tap at the bar. This mixes carbonated water with syrup, which delivers a glass of lemonade (or Coke or Pepsi) at a cost of a few pence. This is sold to the customer at many times that amount; the profit margin is enormous. Fizzambard, as lemonade canned or bottled, didn’t fit. Other potential outlets such as museum shops were uncomfortable with sweet sugary drinks, which could find their way onto floors and, worse, displays or artefacts.

What we could do was find suppliers of custom labelled spring water, sparkling or still, in bottles. Pubs and bars would sell bottled water and people like to know the provenance of water they are buying (in the customer’s mind, a tap behind the bar does not add value to water).

We finally found a supplier who was not only very flexible, delivering what we wanted when we wanted it at a reasonable price, but also supported a charity – Just a Drop, delivering water projects in the developing world. How refreshing.

So Fizzambard became water in a bottle – and as we rolled out the idea nobody seemed to mind that it wasn’t lemonade in a can. And as we found out, many people prefer still water to sparkling – so there also had to be a still Fizzambard, but once again nobody minded or thought that strange.

The original name was the hook for attention, providing the opportunity for weak smiles, polite laughter and genuine amusement. It was a weak joke but one that led to a genuine absurdity. Exploring the label also leads back to a more serious engagement with Brunel and his achievements – through illustration, text and signposting to the website.

I’d like to think we made a good job of the label, making a cohesive design from disparate elements; there is actually a huge amount of information packed into a small space. I had very much wanted to work with metallic colours and created a very glittery design, as would have been possible on a can but I think what we got was sufficiently elegant and suited the idea.

It was also interesting to create a multiple that wasn’t a leaflet or a book but something which had another function. It handled differently. Being a bottle of spring water we were able to play with the parallels between ideas and imagination/springs and spring water. We were able to exploit the metaphor and say: “Refresh the Imagination” or “Spring to mind”.

C&M Associates – Fizzambard Kingdom Brunel.

We are enormously grateful to the two outlets who we approached in the first case – Colin at the Brunel Buttery and Tom Trevor at the Arnolfini who both said yes almost immediately and gave us the confidence to go on to offer, persuade and cajole others to follow suit. With the help of a substantial order from Brunel 200 we quite quickly had orders for several thousand bottles; these included orders from Saltash and Swindon who were also having Brunel celebrations.

But as we continued our sales drive it was clear we were approaching a ceiling. Along with the generous enthusiasm we had one or two surprise ‘no’s’ as well as reluctance in unexpected quarters. As far as some outlets were concerned they weren’t going to sell any more bottled water simply because it was labelled Fizzambard, they made more profit buying from their usual supplier at prices we clearly couldn’t match. We were swimming against the commercial current. The second limitation was our own stamina. How long did we feel we could keep it up? We’d come to the end of our list of likely outlets and thought our sales were respectable.

This is and has been an interesting project to work on. It has allowed us to think about other possibilities – about how to distribute information, and, keeping a weather eye on new technologies, how to link sources of information together. I feel sure we will be doing other projects whose structures and ideas will owe a great deal to Fizzambard. But perhaps the best lesson of all is that jokes are potent things, so if you can, ‘… make ‘em laugh’, it is definitely the best hook with which to catch people’s attention.

By curious coincidence while we were researching the manufacture of fizzy drinks in cans and becoming aware of the scale of consumption i.e. millions opened and drunk everyday, C&M Associates were also working on another project to recommend environmental improvements and interpretation in a public open space in South Bristol.

This site has a stream flowing through it, which has been dammed to create two small lakes. Behind each of the weirs and mixed up with other rubbish were hundreds of floating cans and bottles – a proper eyesore. Wherever else all the millions of empty cans and bottles go, some of them end up here and places like it. This is something we really don’t want to contribute to.

If Fizzambard becomes a local brand it is likely that it will be served in glass bottles and be sold to be drunk on the premises in pubs and bars, both factors giving the bottles a better chance of being recycled.

But at a recent event a young person, who had been presented with a bottle of Fizzambard, said she wasn’t going to open it but sell it on ebay – perhaps they are already collectors’ items.

Either way the message is – careful what you throw away.

Peter Milner & Ruth Coleman
C&M associates


Guardian newspaper clipping mentioning Fizzambard.