Yasou is a young skin care brand with a visual identity that immediately conveys its natural origins in addition to the luxe experience of using its skin care products. Its powerful yet simple design provides a moment of telling calm in the din of the ever more crowded health and beauty markets. The woman behind the brand and its visual identity is Theodora Ntovas.
Although Ntovas now calls Chicago home, her story begins in Greece. “I was so blessed as a young child to actually live in Greece and experience old-world culture,” she says. “My parents ate what would be certified organic extra-virgin olive oil before anyone knew what extra-virgin olive oil was, and my grandparents were mountain farmers.”
Her family taught her that the best things could be found in nature and these natural gifts were to be cherished. “We had the best meat, the best vegetables,” Ntovas says, explaining how her family’s traditional practices mirror so many of modern consumer behaviors. “Not that they ate meat very often but when they did they had high respect for and treated the animals really well. As we’re progressing [as a society] and it seems like almost going back to basics that maybe our great grandparents were already on the right path.”
Ntovas’ parents eventually moved the family to Chicago. “I was an inner-city kid, who went to school through the Chicago public school systems,” she explains. When she hit 15, her mother determined to instill a strong work ethic told Ntovas to find a job. “My uncle was over at the time, and he was dating this woman who happened to be a graphic designer. She thought I was a cool little kid and said, ‘Come on. You could come work with us’ at Good News weekly, which was a little neighborhood community newspaper up by Lawrence and Western. So I started in the business at a really young age as an apprentice. I was able to train my eye and that led to really great opportunities. I lived in New York. I went to Pratt Institute for grad school. I worked for some fantastic companies that were my dream places as a production artist, and then a designer and moving up to art director and then so forth.”
She was able to pull on her design training and experience in addition to her childhood in Greece to create Yasou.
Celebrate your individuality to find your unique selling proposition
“Because of my background, I have this knack for noticing niche markets,” Ntovas explains. “I take mental notes about opportunities and file them in the mental cabinet. About five years ago, I saw high-end cosmetics did contain some good ingredients but not very many. And then we had a lot of organics and natural products, and they contained great ingredients but the application experience wasn’t like the high-end experience, and I just kept thinking well why not? Why can’t we get a product that not only is filled with this much good stuff as possible but also feels really great when you apply it like the high-end products.
“So I was collecting all this information at a time in my life when I wanted to reconnect with my heritage,” she continues. “And I saw signs that there would be a huge market in recreating the Greek experience, and I felt compelled because of what’s happened in Greece, which is tragic with the economy and politically speaking but it’s also a great opportunity because they will come up like a phoenix.”
Remembering how her grandma would create health and beauty remedies using what nature provided, Ntovas began developing her body cream. She started with the extra virgin olive oil that played such a huge part in her family meals, and then incorporated many of the scents from their homemade health and beauty aids. “I remembered how these essential oils had a lot of benefits, and they smelled good to everyone in the family—not only my grandmother but my grandfather too,” she says. “And while I knew my primary target market would be women, I want Yasou to be a unisex brand.
“I think we’re seeing a big change in our skin care,” Ntovas says of the increasing interest in skin care for men, which is driven by the prevalence of photography—including selfies—in everyday life. “Hopefully, mothers will be teaching daughters, and daughters will be teaching mothers, and now maybe the girls will be teaching their husbands and their brothers.”
Yasou package design is also gender neutral but that wasn’t Ntovas’ intention when designing it. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Santorini, but it is an amazing beautiful island that actually came up from volcanic explosions,” Ntovas explains. “This one island has red sand, black sand and white sand all because of the chemical reactions from those volcanic explosions. When I was creating my packaging, I wanted it to be matte black like the black sand that reminded me of Santorini.
“And then I just wanted to incorporate some sort of symbol that indicated Greek and I thought about the Greek key but I wanted it to feel more modern,” she adds. “So that’s how the Yasou icon came about. The whole start of my branding and the package design all really started from the concept of what the product is and where it and I come from.”
Don’t try to tell your whole brand story on your package’s front panel
As the products evolved, Yasou’s cartons’ front panel has remained sleek and minimal.
Speaking about the brand’s Leaping Bunny certification, Ntovas remarks, “We forget sometimes as marketers or designers to keep our message really clean and simple because sometimes people pick up on that learning certain ways. It could be visually confusing if you have the Leaping Bunny certification really huge on your package because of the way we process things in today’s time and age when we are bombarded with so much imagery and so much information. Marketers and designers have to be really careful on how we message.
“So I am proud to be Bunny certified,” she adds, “but I put the Leaping Bunny certification on the back of my boxes with all my information about what I am. My front panel message should always be the most powerful statement I feel on my packaging.”
Ntovas also makes sure to use content marketing in her blog and storytelling on her website and during appearances, including the multimedia interview recorded in her living room with Package Design magazine, to tell her brand’s story.
“I have my own blog,” she explains, “and I work with a great team of people and we try to come up with content that helps educate people in regards to ingredients and how to read labels. We are trying to educate people as well as being invited to do interviews or whenever I have a chance to do events and talk about the product.” If marketers smartly use all the tools of content marketing available to them, the need to tell the complete brand story on pack is minimized and designers can be empowered to create distinctive visual identities that are becoming ever more important.
The distinctive packaging enabled the brand to make a guest appearance in a movie” and while the brand name was turned away from the camera, the product could be easily identified.
“I had sent some product samples to some makeup artists out in Hollywood, and then one of the makeup artist loved it so much that they said to me, ‘We’re going to go ahead and pass this onto the head makeup artist,’” Ntovas recalls. “So I heard from this person and she said, ‘Oh, we just so loved your body cream that we passed it onto the production crew and they were using it and really liked the body cream. And we can’t promise anything but we liked it so much that we’re working on this movie called ‘Bad Moms’ and we can’t promise you, but we all liked it so much so the product might make it in somewhere, so keep an eye out.”
She adds, “I went to see ‘Bad Moms’ and I was eagerly looking at every corner and there was the body cream on a night stand! Lucky for me that I actually did something right, that this label is distinguished enough with the big Greek key that you can notice it right away without even seeing the brand name.”
Ntovas is too modest to say that the brand’s clear visual hierarchy and distinctive appearance were part of a plan, but I couldn’t help but think back to when I first heard Malcolm Gladwell speak of the 10,000 hour rule and Ntovas’ many years as a designer.
This is something brands big and small can leverage by looking at their team members as individuals. Tapping into the entirety of marketing, branding and design teams’ experience can serve brands in ways unimagined.