Introducing the 2018 Makeover Challenge

The first two teams are announced ahead of the 2018 Makeover Challenge

Makeover Challenge. For last year’s contest, the teams worked with Ellie Thomas of Huber Winery on blue-sky, package design concepts for Huber’s spirits line and sub-brand Starlight Distillery.

This isn’t the first time that Thomas has applied to be part of the competition. The Ahead of the 2018 Makeover Challenge, sponsored by Sun Chemical with prototyping sponsored by Caps57 and Cog, Brand Experience magazine is proud to begin competitor announcements for this year’s contest. On the following pages, we profile the first two competitors—MBN Design and Designtology—for this, the 15th year, of the competition.

They will be joining the ranks of agency competitors such as Bear Rabbit Design Studios, COHO Creative and BrandDirections, which participated in the 14th year of the premise of a blue-sky contest that celebrates the power of design attracted her because “design is really important.”

She adds, “As a graphic designer, I look at everything every day of my life. I pick apart every product that I buy. If I go out and have a beer, I look at the bottle.”

Thomas took advantage of the opportunity to show others in the company, what’s possible with more resources, both time and people, when developing new brands and creating new designs. Thomas reports to Dana Huber, vice president of marketing and public relations at Huber’s, who ultimately owns marketing responsibility for everything from the distillery to the winery to the farms and from the orchards to the retail stores. “In my role working with our off-site distribution efforts, I am always challenged to keep our packaging innovative, relevant, but at the same time balancing the wants and needs of our growing family business,” Dana Huber remarks. “Participating in the Makeover Challenge couldn’t have been offered at a better time for our Starlight Distillery brand.”

Thomas agrees, noting that the spirits part of the business is growing rapidly but is also fairly new, unlike the fruit wine business. That’s not to say that the business is nascent. Starlight Distillery was founded more than a decade and a half ago, but that’s young compared to the rest of the business. Huber Winery is a seventh-generation family-owned, farmer-first business that traces its roots back to Simon Huber who started growing fruit in Southern Indiana in 1843.

The Starlight brand is also receiving a lot of attention, right now, through awards won and earned media. For example, its Apple Brandy won a best in class award from The American Craft Spirits Association in the Brandy category.

Thomas and the Hubers originally participated in the contest as an academic exercise, and continue to bring attention to the growing spirits brand. Growing through this conceptualization process with the three teams has them reconsidering the potential branding benefits possible through an investment in design.

Thomas shares, “Participating in the Makeover Challenge opened up the minds of everyone here that maybe we do need help and maybe we may have found a place that knows us and I think understands us and would be willing to kind of help.” Ted Huber, master distiller of the Starlight Distillery and president of Huber Winery, adds, “I have to admit, my first thought was, ‘do we really need a brand re-do?’ but I was super impressed by the manner in which these designers took us out of our element with their packaging recommendations. Now I am seriously considering these other possibilities. “

All the designs gave Huber Winery insight into the importance of the design process and how each design firm offers a distinctive perspective and creativity to their brands—despite all working from the same creative brief. But only one team’s concept and process won the hearts of our readers—BrandDirections—which leveraged its BrandAlignment process that focuses on brand discovery, determination and definition, as essential foundation steps to external deliverables such as package design.

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

Brand Experience magazine is grateful to Thomas and all of our readers for their continued, active participation in our editorial projects. We are currently working on a very special edition of the Makeover Challenge, which will stand apart from previous iterations of the competition, and are eager to finalize the details to share with you. This will be an especially exciting, challenging and rewarding competition.




onionsDesigntology applies a mix of conceptual creativity, innovating thinking and expert design execution while thinking outside the box. Bringing more than 20 years of solid design experience with exposure to brand strategy, logo development, packaging, print + digital advertising and website design in the marketing, B2B and consumer retail industries, the firm offers innovative creativity along with design development and the execution of projects from initial concept through final art completion.

The firm was chosen for its wide range of branding design capabilities, including naming, logos and line looks, consumer and retail packaging, consumer and trade marketing, print and digital advertising, in addition to skills in Web design and development.


A 4-step process with distinctive research, design, creation and innovation stages: Dive (In), Design, Create and Innovate.disney

Dive (In) involves listening to client’s desires, expectations and brand initiative ; researching products, brand needs and competitors; and learning the current trends and consumer demographics. Design includes a commitment to iterative design with revise, review and tweak cycles. Create aims to create a brand that is strong and stands out from the rest, display how a client’s brand will look as a whole campaign—from on the shelf, in ads, Point of Sale to online and mobile, and more. Innovate leverages the strengths of the creative process for product development and utilizing the firms unconventional creativity.


Designtology created the package and brand look for Absolutely You, a new, innovative game for Cadaco Toys, but also be involved in the product development for their interactive DVD game for tween girls. Players get to learn about their friend’s goals, aspirations and styles in this cool guessing game. The firm collaborated with the video production company on the fun on-screen graphics, provided its opinion on the character art and colors plus thought of the brand name, created the packaging design and much more.




MBN Creative

Fresh, innovative, and out-of-the-box thinking are what clients seek from a design firm. Since 1990 MBN Creative, located in beautiful Southern California, has met those needs by specializing in forward-thinking and creative solutions. Owning a distinct brand sets a company apart, and with more than 30 years of agency and client side experience Hector Garcia (founder and brand guardian) leads the MBN Creative team and guides its clients in discovering their unique voices within this cluttered marketplace.

When walking store aisles, whether C-store, grocery or big box, shoppers engage with brands or packages designed by MBN Creative—from the No. 1 products in their categories to those from more conservative Fortune 100 brands as well as new-to-market brands.


MBN Creative believes in delivering only the highest quality artwork and most effective package designs. The firm says it thrives in taking clients’ big ideas and mixing them with its collaborative “think tank” to produce amazingly effective results.

CONSULTATION At tableside or via virtual meeting, the firm gets to know its clients and discovers the brilliance of their projects. During this consultation, a collaborative discussion starts with the client’s unique voice and explores vision, project objectives, timing and budget.

DESIGN PROCESS Next, MBN Creative listens carefully because the firm believes a well-designed package is more than a pretty picture. It’s about clear, concise communication and engagement with a brand’s audience. After its initial research, the firm provides concepts to not only embrace a brand direction, but to provoke thought that the brand may not have considered.liquor

THE ARTWORK After full rounds of discussion, the MBN Creative design team then refines the artwork and provides an updated design. Once final approvals are given, the firm moves forward into production.

DELIVERY From concept to creation to delivery, the brand’s final product is conveyed in any file format desired—via e-mail, online, or printed.


For this project, MBN Creative was tasked with a rebrand of a third-generation distiller’s luxury artisanal tequila blend, The Bad Stuff Tequila, called The Holy Grail of Tequilas.

Working closely with owner and master distiller Felipe Soto-Mares, MBN Creative stayed true to his company values of working with the environment through green and sustainable methods. This product required great care and attention to detail to accurately represent the one-of-a-kind tequila inside. Hot stamping, printing on handmade paper from recycled agave plant residue make this project one of the most distinctive and rewarding in recent times. Produced and printed in Mexico, managing this project required collaboration between two countries.

The project took one year’s time from initial engagement to actualization. MBN Creative redesigned the bottle label, created a new hang tag, box, website and marketing materials, ensuring consistency amongst all touchpoints.

The work resonated, and the design by MBN Creative for The Bad Stuff Extra Añejo Tequila was featured in swag bags for the 2018 Golden Globes.