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New Work: Advanced Nutrients

Big Bud, Wet Betty, Bud Candy, Kushie Kush, Jungle Juice, Piranha, B-52, Overdrive and Connoisseur are just a few of the alluring names of the more than fifty products that Advanced Nutrients manufactures for the hydroponic grower. Hydroponics is the process of growing plants in liquid, sand, or gravel with added nutrients but without soil. It is an activity that occurs indoors away from natural sunlight, and at times, away from the inquisitive eyes of the authorities. Pentagram Austin has been on a mission to make the company more visible, however, with its recent rebranding of the Advanced Nutrients line of super-fertilizers and growth enhancement products.

In 2009 Austin Partner DJ Stout and Associate Julie Savasky developed Rosebud magazine for the Vancouver-based hydroponics company, quite likely the first “Hydroponic Growers Lifestyle” publication ever. The design of Rosebud, with the tagline “Cultivate Your Life,” is purposely spare and upscale to appeal to luxury advertisers who want to reach a large untapped audience of hydroponic growers with a lot of expendable income. The cover of the launch issue featured actor Justin Kirk, who co-stars with Mary Louise Parker in the hit television series “Weeds.” Advanced Nutrients is a paid consultant for the series and its products regularly show up in the grow rooms and other sets of the show. The company’s colorful co-founder “Big Mike” Straumietis also appears frequently in the show as an extra, and shortly after the Rosebud project he asked Pentagram Austin to redesign his company’s packaging.

You might say that the original line of Advanced Nutrients products grew organically, one product after another, over time and without an overarching visual brand strategy. Many of the labels on the products, which come in multiple container sizes, were quaint and naïve at best, and just generic and forgettable in most instances. Many of the labels featured clip art or uninspired, often lifeless, depictions of flowers or animals and the typography was all over the place.

“They have a very loyal audience already, who probably don’t give a hoot what the products look like as long as they do the trick,” says Stout. “And of course, there’s a whole underground, anti-establishment, dare I say—’hippie’ mentality—with a large segment of the consumer base who don’t trust a line of products that looks too slick or commercial. At the end of the day, however, we felt like the inconsistent packaging, although at times charming in its naïvety, was a huge missed branding opportunity for the international company.”

Advanced Nutrients is the leader in their market and their top seller by far is Big Bud, a bloom enhancer that “Puts the Big in Your Buds.” Big Bud was the first product Stout and Savasky tackled. The unique names of the products lead them to the idea of developing a personality for each package and developing a visual language that harkens back to vintage product marketing with a modern, almost campy, attitude. “I’ve always admired old-school grocery store packaging featuring fictitious characters on their labels, like Tony the Tiger, The Pillsbury Doughboy, Mr. Clean, Planter’s Mr. Peanut and Elsie the Cow.” Says Stout, “Those imaginary personalities have become household names, almost more memorable than the actual products they represent.”

Stout and Savasky commissioned Austin illustrator Marc Burckhardt to develop a set of characters for the line of Advanced Nutrients products. For Big Bud, Burckhardt created a sassy green bud, sporting purple aviator sunglasses and a mohawk. “I imagined the character to be a cross between the Jolly Green Giant and Big Mike,” says Stout. “We named him Buddy.” The company’s bigger-than-life co-founder loved it, of course, so from that point on Stout and his team worked with Burckhardt to develop a unique personality for each product. (They have finished about half of the product line at this point.)

For a set of three products called Micro, Bloom, and Grow, Burckhardt created a ferocious, gardening gorilla named Tilla Gorilla; for Jungle Juice, “King of Your Jungle,” a monkey named J.J. holding a watering can and wearing a crown; for Bud Candy, a freckle-faced boy named Sweet Tooth eating a giant pink cotton candy; for B-52, a busty bomber named Babe; for Rhino Skin, a rhino named “Rhonnie” wearing a hardhat and busting through the paper label; for Kushie Kush, “A Push for Your Kush,” a sultry redheaded cannabis plant named Kushie; and for Connoisseur, a sophisticated, cigar-chomping bulldog named Thirstin Howl III. You get the picture.

May all your buds be bigger!

Project Team: DJ Stout, partner-in-charge and designer; Julie Savasky, designer. Illustrations by Marc Burckhardt.