In response to an environmental crisis impacting freshwater ecosystems in North America, Illinois-based studio Span has rebranded Asian carp as Copi.
Formerly known as Asian carp, Copi includes four different species of fish: grass carp, black carp, silver carp, and big head. The species were introduced into the Mississippi River in the 1970s to fix an algae problem but managed to migrate from the ponds into other bodies of water following a flood.
In the 70s, Copi had a bio-density of 0% in North American fresh waters, meaning they were non-existent there. Today, that figure has risen to 70%, according to Span design principal and project leader Nick Adam. This has decimated the fishing industry as the fish was unpopular among consumers, which is why the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) commissioned Span to rebrand the fish.
This is the first time that brand consultancy Span has worked on rebranding an animal species. The initial brief from IDNR – which was agreed by multiple other state and federal departments, like the US Environmental Protection Agency – detailed that it only wanted a logo for the fish which would encourage people to eat it.
After conversations with the design team at Span, the project became much more complex. Adam says, “We had to convince the client that what was needed was not a logo but a name, and then an entire story to help people understand why they should eat this fish.”
Span brought in Daylight Design Research, which led the resident research around people’s “food-buying habits” and perceptions around fish. This helped the design team to pick out qualities of the fish that the studio could “emphasise through the branding” to reframe the narrative, according to Adam.
In the US a lot of people think of carp as a “dirty fish” as the majority of them are bottom feeding fish which in turn makes them unhealthy to eat, according to Span and Daylight’s research. However, the Copi sub-species “feed exclusively on algae” which sits at the top of the water, making them healthy.
Adam adds, “We renamed it based on the qualities of the fish and centred the branding around the story that no one knew.” Not only are Copi “the biggest consumers of algae”, but they also reproduce about one million fish every year and “grow to be about five feet long”. It has the second largest amount of protein and levels of Omegas 3 and 6 for fish, with wild caught salmon taking the top spot, according to Adam.
“Throughout our research the word copious kept coming up, so we shortened that to Copi”, he says. This is meant to relate to the grand scale of benefits related to the fish.
The letter forms of the logo were custom drawn by Adam to be “very stencil-like”. This allows the letterform to be “its ultimate, thickest self”, he says, which aims to mirror the size of the fish.
The forward-facing fish in the logo was created by making use of the negative space within the c and letter-space reserved for the o. This is designed to demonstrate how this fish has been “hiding in plain sight”, says Adam.
A new tagline – “Eat well, do good” – attempts to appeal to an audience that is aware of “eating for health and flavour” and is also conscious of the environment. According to Adam, it addresses how it can positively affect the consumer and the wider cause – tackling an ecological crisis.
Span also created a “toolkit of identities” which can be used across different levels in the industry – from distributors to restaurants. Adam says, “The system that we created is open source to the distributors and processors and also the markets, so there’s a lot of flexibility with the identity guidelines and packaging samples that we created.”
One way that the branding allows markets and distributors to adapt the assets is through three open-source typefaces that do not require licensing.
The first is the Gelasio serif typeface used in the identity system to tell the fish’s story. Then DM Sans, a geometric sans-serif, is used for more direct and advocacy related messages. Finally, the DM Mono typeface, which is used to convey facts, data, and source information about Copi.
The branding has rolled out across the Copi website and social platforms, food packaging, ads, restaurant-menu guidelines, and shopping bags.