I’ve always loved the idea of having a monogram and calling cards, and so a few years back, I decided to act on my desire. I created a bold, graphic monogram. It evokes eyes and owls, interaction and dynamism (or so I intended).
I combined the monogram with my contact information on a format slightly narrower than a standard business card. And I waited.
Eventually, the perfect opportunity arose. A generous printer added the card to the side of a job we were working on at the time. The job printed in silver and match orange on Eames Painter cover stock. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful substrate!
Around that time, I was also working on an update to my personal website… and decided to include the monogram as a key component in my new design.
I also created business cards to match the new site (since my calling cards were emphatically not about selling myself as an independent designer), and book plates to adorn my ever-expanding collection. My monogram was starting to feel like a logo, if not a personal brand.
Just a few months ago, my wife (known to everybody except the IRS as Carly) and I were vacationing in Belize, where we met a series of wonderful people—the kind of people we’d like to stay in touch with.
But it’s awkward to collect personal information on the beach or in the jungle. We weren’t carrying our phones or diaries. Fortunately, I usually have a few calling cards in my wallet. Unfortunately, they were my cards, not our cards. It was time for a merger.
Nine years ago, on January 25, 2002, I received an email from one of my colleagues entitled: “Celebrity Series—it’s a go.”
Our strategy team immediately embarked on several months of thoughtful research, followed by an exploration of initial design directions by our design team—including the development of a new identifier that accommodated different title sponsors over time (as well as no title sponsor in recent years). The resulting system has enabled Celebrity Series to build a brand that’s remained strong over the years.
Since the launch of the system in early 2003, the brand has evolved—each year the design team, in collaboration with our friends at Celebrity Series, endeavors to create a fresh look-and-feel for the upcoming season while staying true to the brand.
Fast-forward to March, 2011: We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve kicked off the design phase for the 2011–2012 season brochure. Venus Wan, the lead designer on this project for the past four years, is busy exploring the visual direction, while Director of Production Michael Eads is working on the production schedule and budget for the overall project.
Our team is excited to collaborate once again with Celebrity Series—and we look forward to delivering another great product in April!
If you happened to be on any social networks during the Super Bowl last night (GO PACKERS!), you probably noticed that the ads between plays got as much attention as the game itself.
And for good reason: the huge viewership of the Super Bowl renders these spots the most expensive ad buys of the year, with 30 seconds of prime eyeball time coming in at an estimated $3M. Every season, brands aim to outdo their previous efforts — and up the ante on one another.
Whether that results in the creation of a celebrity spoof with a social twist, an affectionate celebration of famous NFL fans, or a certain stock market-loving baby, advertisers will do whatever it takes to create buzz… and hopefully drive sales after the Lombardi is handed off to the winner.
When it came time to choose my favorite from the contenders, I was a little torn. And oddly enough — for someone who doesn’t own a car — my two top spots came from auto manufacturers.
Volkswagen’s “The Force” hit their demographic right between the eyes with an adorable mini-Darth Vader (who was actually unmasked the next morning on NBC’s Today Show):
All at once, they managed to target parents (the leading buyers of family-friendly sedans), kids, pop culture buffs, and Star Wars geeks. And because they released the ad on YouTube prior to the telecast, they’d already racked up 12 million views and 10,000 comments before the Green Bay won the coin toss.
My second choice comes from the folks at Chrysler, who took a full two minutes of absurdly pricey airtime to tell a story that’s all too familiar to most Americans… but with a 180-degree switch in perspective:
For me, this spot was the standout of the night (even if more viewers chose the Doritos ad with the adorable pug smackdown as their first choice.)
Why? For three reasons:
1. It told a compelling story
Detroit was in rough shape before the auto industry bailouts, and while earnings have been up in recent months, they’re certainly not out of the woods yet. Across the country, the city itself has become a sort of shorthand reference for economic failure.
The ad acknowledges this heartbreaking reality up front — but it doesn’t stop there.
In the vein of Lemonade Detroit, it speaks of the community’s commitment to overcoming their difficulties, and the hope of an economic resurgence — led by the much-maligned auto industry. It celebrates what Detroit is capable of, instead of where they’re at right now.
By supporting this comeback, you become part of the story, too. And just in case you missed the message of economic resurrection, there’s a gospel choir waiting to sing you into the new era.
Even their tagline — “Imported From Detroit” — is a rallying cry for American ingenuity and patriotic purchases (and I can’t deny it gave me a thrill right to the core of my copywriter soul.)
No doubt it’s also a message that my friends (and Chrysler competitors) Scott Monty of Ford and Christopher Barger of GM, could get behind, as passionate voices and dedicated players in Detroit’s ongoing rebirth.
2. It affirmed Chrysler’s commitment to the values and personal brands of their established demographic
Chrysler isn’t known for being a chic or sexy brand. Your baby boomer or “Greatest Generation” dad is more likely to drive a Chrysler than anyone else you know — and to choose the middle-of-the-road comforts of an American mid-size over a foreign model (like a BMW or Audi, both of whom also did ad buys last night.)
The deft way the spot transcends traditional notions of luxury by aligning it with hard work is a perfect nod to that customer — and his values. A good car is something you earn, not just something you buy.
My grandfather put down cash for his automobiles. This ad would have spoken to him.
3. It made a play for a new demographic by aligning Chrysler’s brand with a youth-centric brand — without abandoning the values of their existing customer
As I wrote this post, an unnamed person over the age of 40 came into my office and watched the ad with me. He loved it, but had to confirm somewhat sheepishly who the “guy driving the car” was: Detroit’s own hip-hop hero, Eminem, who starred in a gritty portrait of the city eight years ago.
I’m not saying that no one over the age of 40 knows who Eminem is, but viewers in their teens, twenties, and thirties are undoubtedly those most likely to identify him on sight — and perhaps know he grew up in Warren (a economically depressed suburb of Detroit.) He’s a multi-millionaire now, but his hardscrabble roots are a consistent theme in his work.
By putting Eminem in the driver’s seat, Chrysler is doing two things: making a subtle, yet distinct play for the hip hop generation, and proposing a redefinition of what wealth and achievement might look like for kids growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in Detroit — and anywhere else.
Still, there’s no obvious hip hop sound (though the insistent soundtrack is a take on Eminem’s own “Lose Yourself”) to startle anyone’s grandpa, and no bling tossed or bottles popped to turn the scene into a stereotypical picture of “making it rain.” Again, the focus is on earned luxury, not cash-flashing excess.
And they nailed it.
From the gritty narration to the noble urban imagery to the only words Eminem speaks — “This is the Motor City, and this is what we do” — this spot is a love letter to folks who aren’t getting a lot of love in this economy… which is exactly why it gets my pick for the top Super Bowl ad of the night.
What was your favorite spot? And why?
That’s exactly what Jay Ehret of The Marketing Spot and Power to the Small Business recently asked our own Director of Strategic Initiatives, Tamsen McMahon, along with two other marketing professionals, Kyle Lacy and Ken Briscoe.
This is the eighth roundtable-style discussion Jay has hosted at his small business blog, and as always, the participants offered some keen insights on the strategies and tools that would define marketing and set trends in the coming year.
Among other subjects, Tamsen addressed two major trends that will be on marketers’ minds in the months ahead:
You can check out the podcast (available on page, via iTunes or for download) at Jay’s blog here, including some highlighted quotes and ideas from each of the participants.
As a longtime reader of The New Yorker, I knew my subscription was running out last fall when I started receiving renewal offers via email and snail mail. But the offers themselves were all over the map: from about $47 a year to $59.95, and then even a jaw-dropping $69.95—and one of the higher offers actually dared to call itself a “preferred subscriber rate.”
I was more than a little flummoxed (read: peeved), and when I called to ask for an explanation, the operator would only say that she could match any offer I had received or seen. I quickly pounced, and ponied up for another three years at the lowest rate a new subscriber could be offered (brand / reader loyalty won out over extreme annoyance).
But the whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth. It was as if they were playing a game of chicken, hoping for subscribers who wouldn’t question, or who weren’t really paying attention.
Then along came my friends at Comcast / Xfinity. After my two-year agreement for a services bundle (cable, internet and phone) ended, the price shot up more than 35%. I knew it would go up somewhat, and inertia briefly set in. But after a month or so, my blood started to boil—and I dialed to initiate the first of about six long, frustrating phone calls.
Experience has taught me that when calling customer service, one should always take notes with names, dates, etc. Especially when what followed amounted to a series of false promises, misinformation, and long hold times!
Finally (acting on good advice) I threatened to cancel and asked to be transferred to the “account termination” department—whereupon, after rattling off details of all my previous calls that had gone nowhere, I was given a rate even less than what I had originally been paying… with one extra premium channel thrown in!
All of which leads me to the question: Is there any integrity in pricing today? Or is everyone out to scalp the suckers? More importantly, doesn’t this kind of shell game erode loyalty to a brand—no matter how dependent or loyal you are?
Have you had similar experiences? How did you feel the morning after?
Logolution: evolution, revolution, devolution.
There are often good reasons to update your logo:
you’ve changed and your mark no longer reflects who you are;
your market and your customers’ needs and expectations have changed, and you need to evolve with those changes;
sales are down, so you’re making some strategic changes to increase your connection and value to customers, and you need a spiffed up mark to both increase attention and signal those changes.
Both Starbucks and Gap embarked on logo refurbishment as part of larger plans to gain back some lost sales and luster… but there the similarity ends.
Gap, for reasons that perhaps made sense in a boardroom—but certainly not on the street—took their highly-recognizable logo (its consistent, huge implementation on shopping bags turned every customer into a walking billboard and an unpaid member of a global sales force), and canned it.
The new mark—generic corporate-speak that could just as easily have been attached to a drug or office park—we presume was meant to signal that big changes were afoot. But what kind of changes?
Yes, the team of strategists and designers tried to bring along the original mark’s considerable equity by incorporating a pale blue square in the redesign, but the new affect-free configuration generated a crowd-unpleasing firestorm from customers and, after another mis-step (withdrawing the mark and starting up a crowd-sourcing contest for a “better” mark), the original mark is back in place.
(Maybe the brouhaha made the folks at Tropicana feel better.)
Starbucks took a different route. Their new (or renovated, more accurately) mark, the fourth in the company’s history, brings forward and simplifies their signature siren—and loses the type that encircled her. The new mark clearly signals evolution (beyond coffee, beyond markets who can read our alphabet), not the zig or zag that the Gap mark seemingly was trying to herald.
And it says to loyal customers, “you know us so well you no longer need the words ‘Starbucks Coffee’ to understand our logo; you’re part of the club.”
Starbucks could make these moves precisely because their mark had become a symbol (like the Nike swoosh or Apple’s apple) and was no longer something that people “read.” Like a stop sign (understood around the world by color and shape and four characters that now mean “stop” even if a driver has no familiarity with the English word), the earlier Starbucks logo was already perceived as a single stimulus: one’s brain didn’t read the words, take in the siren, and assemble. It was all of a piece, which then allowed Starbucks make the mark simpler and bolder—without losing any meaning.
As I write this, Matt and Meredith on the Today show are going on about the new Starbucks mark: “What’s the lady doing with her hands?” Of course, they, and others, could have asked that about the earlier versions of the siren. They miss the point.
The Starbucks mark succeeds, as did the earlier ones, because it is invested with what the Starbucks brand means; because it’s a platform for the company’s messages; because it’s differentiated, recognizable, and memorable; and because it helps to build connections and relationships.
All those people carrying Starbucks cups “believe” in the company (in ways Dunkin’ Donuts cup-carriers probably don’t); they want to be part of the culture Starbucks has spawned—and, to some extent, define their own personal brands through their association with the Starbucks brand.
The new mark should strengthen those connections and allow the company to invest the mark with additional meaning as it expands its offerings and geographic scope. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know what the lady is up to, really.
Postscript: Just to be clear, logos can, should, and do change in ways as significant as those Gap attempted.
Of course, it’s better if the new mark is a good platform for meaning and story-telling, and a badge people want to own. But even so, if Gap had stood firm, people would have gotten over it—if the company continued to make products that people wanted.
And let’s not forget the huge change at Gap’s sister company, Banana Republic: some readers will remember when that organization was all about mufti, bits of military hardware, and sawdust on the floor. They certainly needed a new logo when they radically changed direction and swapped out the camouflage for gray merino wool.
While there, we decided to ask some of our fellow attendees for their thoughts on content and brandbuilding. Some highlights:
Congratulations to Ann and C.C.! Now go buy their book.
I had the pleasure last Thursday of attending Jeff Pulver’s BrandsConf at the 92nd Street Y in New York City: a virtually non-stop firehose of short-format sessions focused on brands, branding, and more specifically, “exploring humanization of brands” [emphasis mine].
While the conference was a little short on “how to,” topics ran the gamut from philosophical arguments about the importance of “human brands”, to the difficulties inherent in balancing personal and professional brands, to case studies about brands in social media (though in Sesame Street’s case, that was more about the “monsterization” of brands…), to examples of organizations that had effectively “humanized” their brand through the judicious, and clever, use of human-like characters or mascots.
As you might imagine, though, when you’ve got 50-something speakers in 40-something slots, it takes a little while to process all the information you’ve taken in… and then figure out what it actually means to the current state of branding.
And so: as much as BrandsConf — and even we here at Sametz Blackstone — have been talking about creating “human brands,” my biggest takeaway from BrandsConf is that “human branding” isn’t possible.
It’s simply not possible to make a non-human thing, human.
In fact, what you get when you aren’t honest with yourself about that reality are weird mash-ups of plainly corporate and almost-human behaviors (“Frankenbrands,” as my colleague Meg calls them) or, perhaps even worse, brands that appear human in most ways, but lack the soul, the quirks, and the randomness of actual humans — mostly because all the real humans that work for them have been forced into a narrowly defined mold of what a “human” is (in other words, “Brandroids” — also Meg’s term!).
More often than not, it seems, attempts to “humanize” a brand just lead to character-izing it instead.
The problem is, I think, that there are so many different ways to be human. Unless a company hires a veritable army of identical people (which is obviously not possible), or hires a bunch of different kinds of people, and then legislates their human behavior into a Borg-like cybernetic unit (the being otherwise known as Brandroid), it’s impossible for a company to act, react or respond the same way a human would in every situation.
Yes, companies are made up of people, and people are human, but that doesn’t make the behavior of companies human — nor, I daresay, should it.
Essentially, companies are ideas, at their core: ideas thought of by humans, maintained by humans, and supported and sustained by humans.
But, again, they’re not human. Why?
Because humans don’t scale. They can’t. The growth of your company, while undoubtedly positive, will put an unavoidable dent in your “humanness.” Which, in turn, means “human branding” can’t scale, either.
But — and here’s the real challenge — branding at a human scale does.
So the question changes: instead of wondering how to create a “human brand” (though we could stand for brands being a bit more “humane“…), we have to explore how we might create a human-scale brand.
What does that look like? What could it look like? What should it look like?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Image credit: Swami Stream