Another day, another new logo. Google and Verizon in the same week. Imagine!
The news provided endless opportunities for marketing industry commentators not just to subtly trash their competitors’ work, but also to talk and write about something that’s not advertising or paid media or ad-tech related. What joy.
The sad fact is that all this discussion is largely meaningless and certainly transient. It exposes advertising and marketing (and the press that covers these industries) as a shambles of jargon, labels and misunderstanding.
Headlines that read “Verizon / Google reveals new brand” are fundamentally wrong. It’s a logo. Nothing more.
It might represent more; it might have a deeper explanation or solid strategic rationale. But the interesting stuff – the enterprise-level decision-making that finally, eventually, one day manifests in a new logo – isn’t covered. It’s not spoken of in corridors or written about in the trade publications.
The reason for this is simple. It’s part of long-term and directional business strategy that sits in or very near the boardroom. And if Verizon publicised it, their competitors would lap it up and use it against them.
This is not like the advertising world, where pitches are news and leaking work is now called “seeding strategy”. A million YouTube hits pre-broadcast would excite most CMOs and likely get the brand manager promoted. But if their agencies told the full story or leaked it in advance, they would be fired.
Brand strategy and design is different. We exist in a murky part of an already murky world. We accept that much of what we do is either misunderstood and misreported, or poorly judged (without strategic context nothing else is objectively possible) and forgotten before it is proven wrong.
Michael Bierut, who designed the new Verizon logo, was asked earlier this week by Fast Company to comment on the new Google identity. He said: “I’ve declared a temporary moratorium on commenting on new logos in the press. I find that my first impressions are too often superseded.”
I love his comment; it’s a plea for sanity.
The New School identity, by Bierut’s fellow Pentagram partner Paula Scher, launched earlier this year and was exposed to the same subjective critique as Google and Verizon this week. As was Wolff Olins’ identity for the London 2012 Olympic Games upon its reveal in 2007.
Paula Scher’s New School identity
In just the same way as the Olympics identity did, the New School work gets stronger and stronger as it comes to life. Like all great brand design work, it lives and breathes in the real world, not on a blog or on a white background in a press release.
The Olympics design was so strong and so powerful that multiple other agencies could take it, execute it and create a completely immersive brand experience across the world’s biggest sporting event. The press and armchair enthusiasts that slated the work in 2007 were praising it (or hiding) in 2012.
There are several challenges here for the industry in general, for all of us working within it, for our clients and for the press that covers it.
But there’s also a fundamental question that same industry and same press has a responsibility to address: is a logo and a brand the same thing? If we were to believe most of the coverage we’ve seen this week, the answer would be yes.
However, the true answer is no, not ever. The two are entirely, fundamentally, perennially different.
Toby Southgate is worldwide chief executive at Brand Union.