British Gas identity set to fuel branding debate

Landor Associates is off the hook at last over its ill-conceived identity for petrol giant BP. Though criticisms are still dribbling in for a marque that is seen by many, both within and outside design, as an attempt to gloss over the inevitable impact of petrol on the environment, and not a very stylish attempt at that, petrol shortages are now set to become a greater preoccupation for the British public than the dwindling debate over an identity.

But another fuel source is about to take its place in the media – the newly named Lattice, formerly BG Group. The identity created by CDT Design has yet to be revealed and so cannot be judged, but you can bet that its launch next Monday will not go unmarked. The name has already caused some bewilderment among people who might subscribe to the service.

CDT creative director Iain Crockart makes a case for Lattice in an interview with Design Week, arguing that its simplicity makes for a strong visual image and will make it easy to develop subsidiaries by adding a single descriptive word (see News Analysis, page 10). But while this might suit CDT’s client, keen to make a bold corporate statement, and its own design team, it isn’t necessarily the best approach for customers, already confused by the proliferation of names in the demerged utilities sector that bear no relation to the service offered.

Lattice throws up the whole question of naming – a new skill for many design groups, which we hope will do better than marketing services agencies. The Fourth Room pathfinder Martin Lee is right in saying that brands these days can’t “enjoy the luxury of a long-established name such as Cadbury’s”. There are so many new ones. But the tendency to make up meaningless names such as the Latin/ Greek compilation Diageo, which sounds more like a car model than an fmcg company, or British Steel’s new moniker Corus, doesn’t help.

Surely design has a role to communicate not just the muscle a client would like to believe it shows in its marketplace, but the services it offers in a way that clarifies its position for ordinary folk. This demands sensitivity and, above all, honesty, both of which are often in short supply in corporate identity programmes. The Fourth Room’s Lee describes “crafting” an identity as “an art”. But to what end?

The identities for BP and Lattice will soon slip into common acceptance, as have the contentious BT and British Gas Goldfish marques, or the companies will have changed names again. What a pity that neither is likely to make it to the identity Hall of Fame for sheer quality, rather than just provoke a bit of fuss at their launch.

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