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Are you feeling the love? No, I haven’t gone all schmaltzy on the back of Valentine’s Day. But, following on from my last article about protecting your brand identity, I did just want to look at the pros and pitfalls of creatively developing our most loved and trusted brands – the icons.
Well, Pepsi sure isn’t feeling the love this week following the backlash against its Diet Pepsi Zero ‘skinny can’ which launched at NY Fashion Week. It’s a problem facing all brand leaders. They need to change. They need to use design to stay fresh. They need to respond to shifts in culture and marketplace. They need, in the case of some, to define those changes. But – and it’s a big but – they are faced with representing these changes effectually, enticingly and independently to show the necessary contemporary relevance whilst also attempting to retain a sense of self. And this is where Pepsi has come horribly unstuck.
Radically changing your equitable elements is a dangerous game. Despite the fact that meaning more by saying less has never been so significant, if you are a category leader you cannot simply abandon all that makes you recognizable – and, yes, credible – in an effort to simply be on trend. Sweeping, trend-led generalization is the territory of the ‘me-too’ brand; with these brands freer to be responsive to revolutionary change but condemned to occupying space created by others. It’s not what we expect from our brand leaders.
However, in a bold move Starbucks recently celebrated its 40th Birthday by removing its brand name and focusing instead on a pared down version of its trademark mermaid equity.
Brands of stature need to be certain of what constitutes their visual essence and, therefore, what appeals to – and creates an emotional bond with – their consumers. Although it is key for a brand to keep up the pace and reflect its time and place, and talk the language of the category, they must be aware and keep sight of what visually makes them, them. The rebranding of Starbucks to a new level of simplicity comes down to having confidence in the strength of its key visual equities. Rather than relying on trends, Starbucks has flexed the pure strength and ownability of its branding to once again demonstrate the reason for its dominance and category leadership.
But that is not to say that Starbucks is not fixed on the needs and wants of the zeitgeist. It is bolstering its position by understanding and tapping into the cultural shift where authenticity and simplicity play a big role. By de-cluttering and focusing on the logo, the logo has become the ‘hero’ of the packaging, reinforcing its authenticity and making it more modern, ownable and distinctive
Whilst we need to be aware of what is happening around us and look at ways to tap into this and refresh our packaging design accordingly, the focus should be more about understanding just what cultural shifts are relevant to your brand to ensure that valuable equities are cherished and the impact of them not lost or lessened in our desire for modernity.
And, above all, whilst iconic brands can – and should – evolve by taking bold creative steps, the fact is, their future depends on where the connection is with its past. Hate to mention the competition Pepsi, but Coca-Cola has consistently reinvented and evolved its iconic design – shape, structure, marque – but it has never overcomplicated the offer and still managed to capture the true spirit and authenticity of the original whilst also making a more relevant and modern statement.
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese has just had its first major re-design since 1999. The 73 year-old brand has retained key design elements but after researching several key brand equities – such as happiness, smiles and joy – that consumers associate with the brand added a new visual identity in the form of a ‘noodle smile’. (Source: Landor press release/The DIeline)
The reason people love Mac & Cheese – and will continue to do so – is because of what it stands for. It doesn’t attach itself to fashionable ‘issues’, it doesn’t challenge to look edgy – it challenges because it believes something very strongly and strongly represents this through its brand identity.
True icons will be loved forever and live on if their ideas remain relevant and connected. It’s about preserving and cherishing the right part of the visual brand equity. The part of the visual brand equity that taps into and expresses our deepest feelings and inspires the essential love and connection in the consumer that icons need to survive and grow.
You see, love does make the (brand) world go round…well, it can certainly make your icon grow.
Creative Partner, Pearlfisher
Jonathan is a designer and co-founder of Pearlfisher, the leading American and UK design agency, with one of the best track records for design and commercial effectiveness for brands.