The bear essentials of design

When I was nine my parents took me for a daytrip to Calais, France. Note: this was Calais, France. Not simply Calais, at the time this was a major trip for us. The truth is, I now know, it was a booze cruise. At nine I was unaware of this underlying fact. For me it was my first time abroad. Hence it was “Calais, France”. Part of the excitement was the promise that I would have chocolate from the duty free shop onboard the ferry and the promise was, indeed, fulfilled. And it changed my life.

I remember vividly the pile of Toblerone stacked like gold bullion in the centre of the room away from all its boring confectionery competitors. I had never seen Toblerone before so the pile of triangular packs looked out-of-this-world. Lesson 1:  Brands need to be unique to obtain stand-out in crowded market places. And that uniqueness has to be born from product truths. Honesty is always the best policy.

I asked why is this chocolate shaped like so – the answer came quickly from a confident youth stood alongside me “It’s mountain shaped because it comes from Switzerland and the mountains” … I was blown away by this worldly notion … I was holding a bar of chocolate from Switerzland! And the shape of it relayed that information! Second lesson: This time, in product packaging. Find something special about the product and amplify that specialness … to avoid producing bland, boring shelf clutter that nobody really wants.

Toblerone was created by Emil Baumann & Theodor Tobler in Bern, Switzerland, in 1908. The triangular shape of the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps is commonly believed to have given Theodor Tobler his inspiration for the shape.

My story continues … I carried my bar to the payment kiosk and Dad paid. The lady behind the counter could see my joy. She lent over and whispered in my ear “You’ve got the best chocolate in the world there … but beware of the bear”. I was startled and my joy turned to fear immediately. I held the bar less tightly now.

What did she mean? I looked around the room but could see no real danger. The pile of Toblerone across the way still sung out its golden happiness though. I was confused.

Some time later, when my initial excitement for the four hours on a ferry was waining, the lady that served me was now off duty. She walked over to me and asked “have you seen the bear yet?” I replied I hadn’t and asked her to please explain. She smiled the biggest smile. “Hand me your Toblerone.” I did as she wished. “Look, there’s the Bear!” … At first I couldn’t see a bear anywhere. She was clearly bonkers. But then it happened – like the iconic scene in the movie Jaws when Chief Brody thinks he sees the shark and the camera lens Dolly Zooms to emphasised the moment – then it happened. I saw the bear! …And the third lesson of the day: If you look closely at the Toblerone logo within the mountain graphic hides a bear. This is a master class in graphic design and branding. It was so rewarding to find the hidden bear. It’s still a joy today to reveal him to others that don’t know about him. It’s like becoming a member of a club. A bear club. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

Toblerone logo

If you’re a client about to commission a new brand identity start by buying yourself a bar of Toblerone. This bar delivers on every level: The shape, the packaging, the in-store presence and the logo … all born from product truths. All those aspects were so cleverly designed back in 1908. Those truths facilitate the contemporary need for story telling today too. Toblerone sales continue globally today – proving that clever branding ensures ROI.

Don’t accept poor design solutions designed by weak creatives that plagorise the fashion-of-the-day and sell you short on the opportunity to really stand-out. Do allow your designers time to find the ‘Toblerone solution’ for you. With an intelligently designed logo the brand will grow and live forever. And will produce positive effect far more than just to the bottomline.

That little bear ignited my imagination; it delighted me and inspired me to become a designer. And as a designer I have a blessed life. That’s why, for me, Toblerone is the greatest chocolate brand in the world.

Les Welch
Creative Director