Ever heard the phrase guilt by association? Well how about cool by association? Because that’s what branding is all about. It’s about the individual choices, the stylistic touches that when packaged up, forge an identity and shape meaning.
For me, I love a great brand, and I love the story behind that brand too. One brand I’ve been thinking long and hard about is the vegan one. Not so long ago, in the halcyon 1970s, veganism was all socks and sandals, drab tofu, and uninspiring nut cheeses. Not the most inspirational of narratives, right? Those pieces, when packaged up, created a decidedly uncool ‘brand’, but something has changed in the years and decades since the days of bell bottom jeans and disco hits.
Veganism became cool. It’s now trendy to shun meat, cheese, and dairy. Almond milk, hazelnut milk, and soy milk now make regular appearances in flat whites, cappuccinos, and milkshakes. But how did this happen? This emerging hip vegan brand didn’t come about overnight. Something shifted. There was a PR coup and now veganism is the lifestyle choice for hipsters, scenesters, millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers alike.
The Bad Old Days
Firstly, let’s clear some things up. You might have a negative idea of veganism, you might think: ‘Veganism is definitely not a brand I want to associate with.’ And with ambassadors like this, you’d be forgiven for having that opinion:
Veganism certainly had some branding issues in the past. And, I know, it’s cynical to look at a movement and only analyse its brand. But the brand is what people buy into. A brand shapes people’s opinions long before they even encounter a business, a product, or even an idea. So, veganism needed a makeover, and at least in Glasgow, that makeover has happened.
Not on the High Street
I remember in my early vegan days making a long trek to a health food shop and stocking up on some staples: hemp milk, quinoa, and tempeh. Tesco, Asda, and Sainsburys didn’t stock anything too interesting and I had to work from well thumbed vegan cooking books. My lifestyle was an ethical choice, and although I was happy to make some sacrifices, the food I ate didn’t provide a compelling reason for my friends and family to jump on the vegan bandwagon.
So, I started hunting down excellent vegan restaurants, I turned to the wilds and reaped bountiful rewards. I found to my delight that veganism was no longer a fringe movement, shunned and maligned by those who love juicy cheese burgers and fish finger and ketchup sandwiches. There was plenty of vegan food on offer in my (then) Glaswegian home. In fact, I was spoiled for choice.
Killing It, Cruelty Free
Deep in the heart of Glasgow, a rock beat summons vegans and non-vegans alike to Mono, a hipster haunt full of craft beers and excellent vegan foods. This was one of the first restaurants I visited and one of the first bars that showed me how veganism had changed and rebranded. In amongst hipsters with rolled up jeans wearing ironic beanies, next to its in-house record store, leaning on a sticky bar supping a Glaswegian IPA, I read over the menu. Sausage suppers with minted mushy peas, pizzas a plenty, and burgers and french fries – this wasn’t the vegan munch I was used to.
For me, looking around Mono, a gig space/restaurant/bar, I realised that something was changing in the makeup of the vegan movement. Vegans and non-vegans alike were drawn to a great venue because it was part of the Glaswegian music scene. Vegan food was an added extra. The cool label came along because of the things veganism was now associated with: a great venue serving up great food and excellent booze to a rollicking soundtrack.
Mono’s ethos isn’t exclusive either. It can be found in plenty of Glaswegian vegan venues. There’s the 13th Note, another gig space, restaurant, and bar dishing up excellent vegan foods. Stereo rocks a cool, lo-fi, DIY aesthetic, and it too knows how to crank the volume and play some tunes. There’s the Hug and Pint a bar, restaurant, and live music venue, heaping up Asian fusion food with a side serving of kimchi and chopsticks. And The Flying Duck, a ‘cheeky wee bar’, has music in its makeup alongside a truly creative menu (macaroni burrito anyone?).
The Vegan Brand Has Changed, Man
Each one of the vegan bars we’ve mentioned has a strong brand in its own right. The Flying Duck with its Macarrito, a unique fusion of macaroni and burrito; Mono with its in-house record store; Stereo’s lo-fi aesthetic; and The Hug and Pint’s Asian fusion food and chopsticks. Collectively they paint a picture, an image of veganism far from its beige tofu 1970s brand. And that image is one of craft beers, quirky venues, and anarchic food choices served up to a cracking soundtrack.
At its heart, veganism stands for the same things. But it comes in a different package with better advertising. In Glasgow at least, the vegan brand is killing it, cruelty free.
Need branding help? Get in touch. I’ll knock you into shape. Gently, of course.