The power of suggestion

If you can create a subtle identity that can be integrated with slogans for publicity purposes, the effects on your target market may be dramatic, says Oliver Bennett

Any contemporary discussion of brand names will probably come around to such monoliths as Accenture and Consignia. Indeed, these two were so top heavy and ultra-contrived that they even went so far as to agitate the guardians of public taste in the press.

But another breed of name has been gathering pace at the faster end of the market. The fully-integrated, go-faster, super-flexible bolt-on logotype or brandname that can be applied in a sentence, as part of a slogan, on the Web or, if absolutely necessary, standalone on a page of printed letterhead. Juxtaposed against other words it can change its message, appear fun and friendly or part of a witty exhortation, all the while delivering a below-the-belt sucker punch to the minds of clients and consumers.

The French Connection logo, Fcuk, is one such beast. An acronym for French Connection United Kingdom and also a mildly naughty corruption of a popular expletive, it is irritating and slightly puerile. But it has spread like a virus – even the Conservative students tried too add a little trendy appeal to their image a year or so ago by nicking it for a campaign (Federation of Conservatives United Kingdom or some such – you get the picture). In retrospect, the efforts of double-bluff sloganeering such as the Fcuk advertising campaign were great pieces of the “conquest of cool” school of commercial art.

Go airlines, with its Wolff Olins-designed identity, comes replete with what you might call “Damien dots” (cheekily, Hirst tried to bring a suit against the airline for using coloured dots; as if the man who plagiarised a whole toy design could claim intellectual copyright for coloured circles). Go’s informal, sans serif logotype can be pitched to rub up nicely against other words: Go fly exhorts the website, while another campaign element invites us to go mad.

This is a tendency that has been accelerated by the Internet. Whatever its technical and content failings, the insta-brand fits into the logo slogan bracket by slipping it into marketing as colloquial speech: do something “last minute”. The brand is the service, what is being offered.

Part of this is the rising use of brand name juxtaposition as a device by which to extend the reach of a product or a brand family. David Hillman’s redesign for The Guardian in the 1980s was a stroke of communicative genius that has set the tone for media companies ever since, as it enabled the newspaper’s title to be stretched across media, while maintaining the typographic style. For instance, GuardianUnlimited for the website and Guardian Weekend for the Saturday newspaper package. It can even be bolted on to products if need be, to score further sneaky branding goals.

Of course, design consultancies not only practise what they preach. Clearly, they hope to use the wisdom that they sell to clients for their own purposes and several have employed the stretchy logo tendency themselves. Intro is one such company, associating the name with various different messages to gain access to a creative clientele. On its website (intro Intro claims an eclectic approach that doesn’t deal in sameness, and guides you towards its shop where you can purchase Introware and a piece of company literature entitled Introbook.

“To me it’s about anti-rigidity, ” says Intro’s creative director Adrian Shaughnessy. At the end of the market that we mostly work in, which includes music and digital media companies, it’s best to keep things more fluid and flexible. Most of them don’t want a monolithic identity – nor do we.”

Shaughnessy points out the versatility of having a go anywhere name like Intro. “It’s a brand name as well as a branding device,” he says. “It puts a spin on things. There’s a real relish for humour, spirit and style at the moment, and that’s the way we approach our work.”

Indeed, when the consultancy chose the name Intro 12 years ago, it was because it was useful, malleable and blank, and could be bolted on to all sorts of things. Shaughnessy recalls making T-shirts reading Intronaut, sowing the seeds for a playful and enigmatic approach that also happens to implant the brand into the mind.

Another design group that has used the bolt-on logo is Williams Murray Hamm, which uses its initials as a witty mnemonic, whereby the initials WMH stand for anything relevant to the task in hand. Look at its website, essentially a billboard for the company, and you will see messages such as When Metamorphosis Happens, and What Matters Here. And when the consultancy sends out an invoice it uses the slogan What Most Hurts.

“We changed the identity about a year and a half ago,” says Richard Williams, founder of WMH. “It was a reflection of how we felt about brands and corporate identity. Brands exist on many levels and every interaction with the brand should impact upon your perception of the business. We try to use the initials to describe our work in witty ways and to talk differently in different circumstances, to be as specific as possible.”

“While it may be necessary for a stuffed-shirt City corporation and large organisations to maintain a fixed brand with one meaning, that way of working is becoming dated,” says Williams. “The flexible logotype is about thinking big about a brand, and using those manifestations to give it extra charisma. The way you might execute a brand depends upon who you’re talking to – say TV or print and these logotypes are the tip of the communications iceberg. They’re seen before they’re remembered.”

Orange, he says, is a classic example: its central value is as a telecommunications service provider, but by using a non-specific name and logotype, it can stretch over products and media and cast its futuristic, positive glow across various media.

Williams says flexi-brands are also about the demands of digital media. “Today, branding depends upon who you’re talking to and where you are talking to them,” he says. Advertising is increasingly frustrated by the profusion of media. I don’t like the word consumer and it often takes design to really express a brand in the round.”

The Internet has accelerated the tendency for the bolt-on logotype, says Ian Pape, creative director at Fonda, another design consultancy that uses its name as part of its own branding. “It’s part of everything we do,” says Pape. “It’s about flexibility and movement. Previously, you might have had the company name as a logotype in embossed silver on a letterhead. But that wouldn’t work on the Web. You need something applicable to all kinds of media, that is friendly rather than authoritarian. Any design group worth its salt has to see the use of its own logotype as broader than before. This way, clients can think we’re for all sorts of things.”

There is a history to the relationship between the brand name and the wider context of copy, says David Prideaux, a partner at Circus. The way these bolt-on names are being used is somewhat like the old-fashioned logo and endline relationship, he says. If you can write a compelling line and attach the brand name to it, you’re made. It’s a powerful mnemonic. Prideaux cites Tango slogan “You know when you’ve been Tango-ed” as part of this tendency, and reckons the long running campaign for The Independent newspaper, “It is. Are you?” is another example of integrated branding genius, an aide memoire that conjures up the name of the product, even in its absence. There may even be a touch of surreal juxtaposition that makes the brand stand out. It gives people something they’re not expecting, says Prideaux. The point is to make people notice your brand.

But it is really the old story of brand extension that drives the logo-cum-slogan. As brand names continue to lose their association with products, the more they have to excite our interest in other ways and the brand message is becoming ever more stealthy as a result.

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