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Brandcenter Twintail

By James Shea

With a project that suited them to a T – or in this case, tea – a team of Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter students has collaborated with undergraduates from the University of Richmond to launch a beverage product now available at Ellwood Thompson’s market and other local retailers.

“We stepped in and were able to give life to the product,” said Peyton Spangler, an experience design student at the Brandcenter. “We stepped in and were able to ask, ‘What is the story you are telling?’”

This past fall semester, the University of Richmond offered a yearlong interdisciplinary course in which four teams of four students competed for the opportunity to bring a product to market. A representative from UR had contacted the Brandcenter and was connected to KT Schaeffer, a professor who teaches design and branding. UR was seeking design help for the competition and wanted to partner with the Brandcenter. Schaeffer embraced the chance to give her students real-world experience in the challenge of taking a product from concept to reality.

A group of Brandcenter students helped the four UR groups through the competition, which was won by the TwinTail team. Spangler was a member of that group, and she was then joined by Brandcenter students from other teams — experience designers Nica Mendoza, Meaghan McFarland and Jamie Ikley, plus copywriter Martin Rees — to build the marketing and branding material for the winning beverage. TwinTail is a tea with caffeine and L-theanine, an amino acid known for its relaxation qualities. 

The Brandcenter students relished the unique opportunity, helping the UR team develop a name and brand identity in a matter of months – and teaching them about printing and the finer points of developing marketing material.

“I have not been involved in something quite like this,” Rees said. “I have been involved in helping name products before and all kinds of branded campaigns at more of a conceptual level at Brandcenter. This was the first real-world project from the ground up.”

In developing a marketing plan, the Brandcenter specialists and their UR colleagues homed in on L-theanine, as it was a unique supplement in a tea drink.

“I remember a conversation early on where they were spitballing different things that they were trying out and different directions they were going,” Spangler said of the UR team. “They presented us with an idea for the tea and they thought it was interesting, but they didn’t really know where to go with it.”

The Brandcenter group created a color scheme and brand language for TwinTail. They also designed the beverage can and collateral material.

“This was a very cool opportunity,” Ikley said. “I think it is a really cool concept.”

Schaeffer said the project fits into VCU’s experiential learning initiative. The students had to overcome multiple hurdles, including changes to the can size. They had to manage the relationships with the UR team and bring a project across the finish line.

“We want to get the students to do real work, and the more real work we can do, the better,” Schaeffer said. “It helps them navigate all the pitfalls, and we had a lot of pitfalls with TwinTail.”

She said the final product demonstrates the quality work that Brandcenter students can produce, bringing a real-world product to market.

“I’m so very proud of the work our students put out,” Schaeffer said.

McFarland hopes her UR colleagues can continue to build the brand after the class ends. She said the reception to the product has been amazing.

“I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if some of the students wanted to stay on and keep it going,” McFarland said. “I think we are all on the cheering squad for wanting it to do really well.”

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