Branding Roundup

Sorry, this is a long post. So if you haven’t had a coffee / have a short attention span / or are a bit of a 20 watt bulb then maybe you should visit the cbeebies website where you are well catered for with lots of fun games and colouring in pages.

Even though I spend the majority of my time being butler / manservant to my two little rock stars, there is still a part of me that remains – and forever will remain – a creative. I have always had a keen interest in branding (that last bit makes me seem like such a tool) and so I thought I’d do a quick recap of what’s been happenin’ in the world of branding or corporate identity or whatever moronic term the turtleneck clad members of the design fraternity have decided to label it this month.

So as Jamie Oliver – another brand – would say: ‘let’s get our branding hats on…’ (Jamies 30 Minute Meals is an okay cooking show but this small benefit is completely outweighed by his Goliath sized twatishness) and have a quick think about what this actually means.

In the most simplistic sense a brand (which is such a wanky word is makes me involuntarily gag each time I think it…) is a collection of products or services collected under one name which is in turn represented by a logo. The thing with logos is that big companies think that they are a game changer; that if they redesign or refresh their logo their customers are fooled into thinking: oh, they must be a better company now. The thing with branding is it doesn’t mean shit if the company it represents doesn’t back up it’s logo with a new way of interacting with it’s customer base. BP may have a pretty, green (in all senses of the word) flower as their logo but if they don’t start drilling oil wells underwater in a more responsible way then that logo ends up mocking them.

The Refreshers

Anyway, a popular term in branding is: evolution, not revolution. Normally the person who utters this phrase ends up with a sore jaw because it is human instinct to hit anyone who says it. However, lots of companies like to do a branding refresh because it requires almost no creative risk. Sensibly, this coincides with a bit or a reshuffle in the way they do things and should actually mean something. Though a lot of the time it doesn’t.

So, what have the refreshers done?

Well, MTV has shown a remarkable lack of vision, creativity or balls and has basically changed nothing. MTV’s identity and on-air ownship have been steadily diluting from the energetic, risk taking, market leader it once was and I consider this no less than a missed opportunity to take a lost brand someone new.

Apple have changed their typeface (shock!) and that’s pretty much what you’d expect from the leading tech brand currently posting record profits. In contrast, Microsoft have taken an okay l0go (representing the four components of Office, a nod to windows and showing that they all work together) and made a tits of it. Now it looks like the four components are moving away from each other (I guarantee that the design consultants argued that because their all the same colour it doesn’t matter – wankers!) and it is now really bland. Expedia, obviously, used the same agency – how to take the fun out of going on holiday…dot com.

Cartoon Network and Firefox have found a really expensive and time consuming way to play spot-the-difference. I mean, really, what is the bloody point?

The Redesigners

Sometimes tinkering with the logo is not enough. Sometimes a logo needs to be updated because it looks old fashioned or something has changed within the organisation that needs to be reflected or the company is going in a different direction and needs the brand to represent that change. But, a lot of the time CEOs simply get bored and decide to change it because their 8yr old niece said it looks naff or Grandma saw something in her tealeaves.  You may laugh, but never underestimate the idiocy borne of power that makes normally hard headed people think they are creatives.

So, what do we make of this rag-tag collection of marks?

Firstly, Argos. Well, I can see why they’ve done it – the old one has been around as long as some of those betting-shop pens they have in their ‘stores.’ But I feel kind of indifferent about it because I feel indifferent about the shop – there is an element of cheapness about Argos; the Elizabeth Duke jewellers (real 9ct gold! Wow, that’s one up from, like, copper), brand names like Bush (snigger)and Matsui cropping up all too often. There is nothing wrong with selling affordable stuff and their catalogue is still an afternoon’s entertainment for the kids (though too small for my liking), but I don’t know what the rebrand is for. More modern? It just looks generic. I know that the new logo is trying to be more family friendly with a smile – but just because you have a family it doesn’t turn you turn into a bloody simpleton who will only shop with vendors with a smile in their logo. I think that some design consultants need a good kick in the nuts…with a run up.

They probably thought: amazon have a smile and look how successful they are! Well, the smile is a by-product of a to z, innit? That’s a clever logo, Argos’ looks like it was designed by KallKwick.

AT&T is textbook branding fail. They started out with a wonderful logo designed by Saul Bass and then over a period of years messed around with it so it started to look shit. This design is, I think, the culmination of years of messing about and is now the nadir of shiteness. Now they have taken a workable, but pretty ugly, logo and made it considerably and spectacularly uglier. That takes some kind of talent. Hand drawn logo? Really? Is this Hot Tub Time Machine? Words fail me.

Yellow pages is – I imagine – a company in deep crisis; their directories are straight-to-recycling nuisances and online everyone uses Google so I am struggling to understand what Yellow Pages if for. Nevertheless, they think that redesigning their logo is going to change the way the world works. I think they’re seriously deluded, but it’s their money. This design is, apparently, a pebble. Yeah, I thought it was a crummy blob they found from a clipart site as well. The reasoning behind it is that there is a Buddhist edict that a pebble links everything…or some bullshit like that. That is about as tenuous a link as I have ever heard and if you cannot even tell it’s a pebble in the first place then the reference is just a high fallutin’ way of plumping a design fee. Fail.

Sochi 2014 is kind of cute. It looks like a retro Olympic logo and because of that it works. It manages to look both wintery and Russian. Me likey.

Apple, I guess, decided that iTunes needed a bit of a make-over as we don’t really get our music from CDs anymore. Although that may well be true, what Apple have come up with is pretty nasty – and for the aesthetic demi-gods in California that is saying something. Maybe they gave the job to the post boy or something, but I felt it was a pretty good icon as it was. Fail.

Starbucks is an interesting one. It is a little bit like freshening up the swastika; what it represents still holds true. Also, I thought that the natural progression for Starbucks was to appear less corporate. Minimizing their logo and dispensing with the name seems counter-intuitive. That being said, the new logo is fresh and clean and well executed and will look great on mugs…but I think Starbucks will look like the canteen on a channel ferry. Semi Fail.

The Throw the Baby out With the Bathwater Design Solution

There are brands that however much tinkering, refreshing and re-organising is done, it’s just not enough. Some companies feel that the very idea of their old brand is enough to taint their company with the failure like nicotine tinted fingers of an ex-smoker. So, they mooch around town with a fat wallet and an open brief getting willing design harpies to gyrate against the creative pole in a hope that some form of sweaty bead of brilliance will drip off and propel their company to Google-esque dominance.

Price Waterhouse Coopers must have decided that they got bloody sick of typing their ridiculously long company name so decided they should change it. I quite like the new one…but I really like the old one so I imagine it will be down to application in the end. Another ‘but’: It’s a bit 8-bit and could date massively.

Myspace have decided to rebrand which is a little like changing the wallpaper on the Titanic, but maybe they know something we don’t? I love the new Myspace logo. They can put anything they want in the space (obviously the word ‘space’ is the final resolve!) and use it in whatever way they want…which is what Myspace is all about. Clever logo for the company tombstone.

Some Gap creatives were let loose on Corel Draw and look what happened? I simply don’t understand the purpose of rebranding a company with superb brand equity, excellent retention, awareness and a developing heritage. This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater and then shooting it in the head because this logo is shite. The ethos behind it is that the blue square is a ‘reference’ to the old logo. WELL JUST BLOODY USE THE OLD LOGO THEN. Ffs – branding fail.

Conservation International have definitely done the right thing and ditched their old mark is pretty ugly and gone very minimal with – I guess – a representation of the Earth and green…ness. I like it, but I don’t like the execution. I thought it was a cement company at first. Still way better than the original though.

Nickelodeon have put their metaphorical balls on the block with this one. For a kids company to take a fun, iconic logo and replace it with something, well, a bit boring takes guts. I do like the new one; it’s a funky font and I like the mix of upper and lower case but I prefer the old one a hell of a lot more. Bit of a fail for me.

Air travel used to evoke images of glamourous jetliners and sumptuous departure lounges filled with cosmopolitan emigrés waiting for their next adventure. I think Gatwick’s new logo captures some of that. The problem is is that air travel is a humilating, degrading experience involving semi-stripping in public; having your privates exposed using state-of-the-art x-ray machines and eating sub-par junk food sitting on the floor of an overpriced shopping mall waiting for a plane that has been delayed for any number of reasons before being crammed in a metal tube no better than cattle with a bunch of pissed of cabin staff who would prefer you not to be there at all. Design a logo to capture that. Oh, that was the old one.


22 thoughts on “Branding Roundup

  1. Great post. I’d forgotten how much I love logos. We spent a whole section of my university design class on them and for a while there I wanted to devote my life to logos. Thank god I got over that.

  2. Um, so yes am totally onboard with most everything you wrote.

    And have a bitch of my own… daughter’s pricey international school decided in their infinite wisdom that what we really needed instead of good education was a new Logo……A complete waste of money and now has the appearance if a cheap knock-off print shop that gives NO reference at all to the fact in it an International School! Total fail and waste of funds, ridiculous. In fact I would go so far as to say this is another crap decision made by a dictatorial Head of School who has a god complex. Oops did I go to far??? Look it up on the Internet and see if you agree. The previous logo was in need of a little tweaking, but this has absolutely no relationship to the previous one and is just unappealling.

  3. PS. Liked the Gap comment, liked their old Logo. They just needed better clothes, they lost their fashion cool. Must not be paying their designers enough.

  4. I have so many thoughts on this subject and the logos in question but won’t bore you all with them here, as I’ll probably be simply echoing your own thoughts. Suffice to say, I agree wholeheartedly with everything in this fantastic post.

    One thing I’d like noted is that the new Gap logo has gone from a classic design that seems to say “Good quality, well fitting jeans with old-school heritage” to “Look at me, I think I’m new and hip.” This logo actually makes me angry. I like to think I’m a pretty emotionally relaxed and tolerant guy but this logo genuinely makes me want to yell and punch things. People things. The soft parts of people. I can feel this primordial rage boiling in me as I type. I’m actually going to have to go outside and get some air as I’m starting to fantasize about ranting at the Gap board of directors and the shysters that came up with that logo. A small part of me thinks this was a ‘New Coke’ – any publicity is good publicity – marketing ploy. After the furor that broke out about it I believe they beginning to backpedal by not using the new logo online. A quick google will yield many articles on the matter and some hilariously awful post-justification from the President (of Gap, not comrade Obama).

    I’m not sure I’m even making sense now. I’m off to walk around outside and calm down.


    1. I feel the same anger, not at the designers or agency who had to design this crock, but (as you) the directors of Gap who seem to have the same foresight and intelligence as a bucket of snails. I simply don’t understand the reasons behind the re-brand – it makes no commercial sense at all. Why mess with a company in profit and on message? Also, the execution is awful but must – I suppose – be an inspiration to all design under-grads who think: I could do better than that. It’s true: you can.

      1. It turns out they’ve sacked the Director and gone back to their old logo. What a colossal waste of money! And you were kind to say you thought the new logo was ‘designed’ using CorelDraw. I thought it looked more like someone had used the ‘drawing’ toolbar on Word. One of the worst logos I have ever seen.

  5. Oh and the A to Z of Amazon had passed me by too. Which leads me to the superbly inspired FedEx logo.
    Fedex I think this must be one of my favourite logos of all time. Along with the, then student, designer Carolyn Davidson’s Nike swoosh and Apples, err, apple. Which is possibly an homage to Isaac Newton & Alan Turing.

    1. Also, the Northwest Airlines logo – which is my all time favourite, not the current one – but this:Northwest Airlines Logo
      Genius. The little nick makes the N into a W but the little nick is also the northwest compass point. Sheer…fucking…genius.

      Apple is derived from Newton but also the tree of knowledge and that the temptation was too great and so you (the consumer) took a bite. Again, clever!

  6. Never realised so much formation was to be discovered in the plainest of logos. Now will walk around trying to figure them all out…

  7. The Gap logo is so shite that it smells of a hoax made up by brainy (?) Gap marketeers to steer some buzz around the love of the classic Gap logo. Which is what happened, with all the obligatory “fessebook” anti-newgaplogo groups.
    Beautiful and clever post in any case.

    1. I am sure you are totally right – I never fail to be shocked at the lengths social marketeers will go to to create a buzz about something. However, the caveat is: boards of directors are run by people who only care about money. They don’t give a shit about human rights, the environment or whether the hue and cry like their logo or not unless it effects their bottom line – I reckon the CEO of Gap decided to fuck about in Photoshop after he/she got bored of playing carpet golf or trying to get Angry Birds for his/her Blackberry and ‘designed’ this travesty of a logo. The creative director would be no fool (though I have worked under a few who have helped to dispel this theory) and would nod encouragement at their ‘ego with share options’ hoping that he/she would fall flat on their face, ruin the company enough to get severanced and then design a new, better logo and be the saviour of Gap and eventually become CEO.

      Or something.

  8. I’ve read this post three times to make sure I haven’t missed anything. And just like a good logo, I discover more on each reading. I had to look twice at some of them to make sure you hadn’t muddled up the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pics. Expedia, what were you thinking? You’re not going places (ha, ha) with the new, dull, stay-at-home logo. One of my favourite logos is Faber & Faber’s. Simple, classic, stylish, and makes you feel that reading a book is an activity to be treasured. Most spine logos are awful, though.

    MrShev, move on in!

    1. I’m going to do another post about great logos. Some are absolutely awesome and it’s always a great subject.

      Anyway, I don’t really notice that many spine logos, but book cover design is something that is really important, I think. It can change your whole perception of a book and how you visualise things and events in it.

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