Voters chose brand-first approach for the win in the 2017 Makeover Challenge

Using its BrandAlignment process that focuses on brand discovery, determination and definition, as essential foundation steps to external deliverables such as package design, BrandDirections wins the 2017 Makeover Challenge, sponsored by Sun Chemical and co-sponsored by Caps57.

BrandDirections was one of three teams competing in this year’s blue-sky contest that re-imagined Huber’s sub-brand Starlight Distillery. The competitors worked directly with longtime reader Ellie Thomas of Huber’s Orchard, Winery & Vineyards. Through Thomas, the teams also worked indirectly with the brand’s vice president of marketing and public relations Dana Huber, who owns marketing responsibility for everything from the distillery to the winery to the farms and from the orchards to the retail stores. Concepts from BrandDirections, Bear Rabbit Design Studios and COHO Creative were revealed in the August 2017 issue of Brand Experience magazine, and the winner was determined by popular vote.

bd groupThomas and the Hubers originally participated in the contest as an academic exercise and to continue to bring attention to the Starlight Distillery spirits brand. Going through this conceptualization process has them reconsidering the potential branding benefits possible through an investment in design.


One of the insights brought to the table by BrandDirections was the need for a unified brand identity. As a brand with a history dating back to 1843, Huber’s Orchard, Winery & Vineyards has multiple approaches to how the company presents its products to consumers.

Before creating even one of the design elements, BrandDirections embarked an overall brand discovery process with Thomas that led them to establishing Huber’s brand archetype as royalty, which not surprisingly focuses on lineage, tradition, family and history. Several design elements and corresponding copy were then created to reference the brand’s regal history, including a hang tag, which spotlights the company’s seven generation tradition and its local pride, and the brand signature, which connects each product to members of the Huber’s family, especially their ancestors.


The results are concepts deemed “classy” by more than one voter. Alexis Culotta, a voter from Chicago, notes, “It speaks to the product: timeless yet modern and classic yet contemporary. This is branding that could last the company for years.” Amy Bellcourt Essity of Philadelphia says, the BrandDirections’ concept “looks more traditional but with a cool retro feel. It’s artisan, which feels current.” Theresa Schuler, a U.S.-based marketing director and “fan of Huber’s and a long standing member of the wine club,” remarks, “The first concept from Bear Rabbit was unique and intriguing, but did not fit the Huber brand in my opinion. The second design from COHO felt less sophisticated, but I did like how they pulled the history into the label. The third concept from BrandDirections fit the Huber brand the best.” Schuler also, like some of our other voters, such as David Lukenbill, expressed a preference for Starlight’s current labeling over any of the concepts.


Thomas notes that participating in the Makeover Challenge paid off in ways she anticipated and delivered some happy surprises. It highlighted some of Thomas’ creative and branding expertise to her peers and superiors at Huber’s, and the opportunity also revealed how she could maximize her expertise by working with an outside design firm.

She encourages next year’s brand to take full advantage of the contest by remembering that this is an academic exercise and to allow the firms to reimagine brand assets even as precious as company logos. That said, she encourages brands to be vocal on the guidelines that keep the concepts realistic such as bottle shapes that will run on your filling machinery and any legally required copy.

Thomas also advises the firms to visit the brand, if possible, and was not surprised that the top two teams in this year’s challenge were the firms that visited Huber’s corporate headquarters as part of their discovery. Expressing his gratitude for the ability to visit, Chip Ryan, creative director and brand strategist at BrandDirections, says, “We know the timing was very difficult for Ellie because they were moving their offices, but they were more than accommodating to allow us to come for a couple of days to tour the place and talk to the people of Huber’s.” Echoing both Thomas’ and Ryan’s sentiments, Lori Daun, creative director and designer at BrandDirections, says, “My recommendation to next year’s agencies is to go meet the brand in person, even if they initially push back. It was crucial for us to go down to Indiana and meet the brand to understand what they’re up against, to see their facilities and to talk with their people.”

Sue Geniesse, project manager at BrandDirections, adds, competitors shouldn’t be tempted to take shortcuts. “We handled this project just as we do all other projects,” she recalls. “We brought it into our systems; we planned it the way we would do a normal project with all of our milestones. Following our process really helped us meet the deadlines.” Deborah Rice, art director and designer at BrandDirections, advises teams to work collaboratively with the brand and “do something that’s producible—even if this is a blue-sky exercise.”


The BrandDirections team plans to receive its Makeover Challenge award in southwestern coastal Florida in February at the very first BXPLive! conference. The team also expressed that it hopes to meet some of the voters at the event to share their experiences with the contest. To register and learn more about the conference, visit