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Brand Identity: Wacky or Stuffy?

First Google logo 1998OK I admit it. When Google first came on the scene, I really hated their logo. Decidedly ugly, it looked like it had been unwillingly designed by an engineer with no time and even less taste. (Sorry Larry Page, but I guess, today, even you would agree.) Hideous font, bad kerning, childish color palette … and that drop shadow! Yikes! So many bad design decisions. That logo, shown here, was already Google’s third in two years but it is the first one most of us saw. Then, over the next seventeen years, Google changed its logo six more times. In 1998, they introduced the first Google Doodle, which to my “expert” eyes, was another no-no. And then, with their last change, in 2015, they finally adopted a professionally designed, full-scale, visual identity system complete with wonderful animations. (Below) Now Google shines as a perfect example of a fluid identity system. I wrote about those on June 17. But it’s also an example of a serious technology company adopting both a playfully wacky name and a playfully wacky design aesthetic. That’s a trend we’re seeing more and more these days. Question is: Should everybody hop on this bandwagon? No. Right? Well, maybe.

In the modern world of marketing and brand identity, is there even a place for conservative brands anymore? After all, everybody is clamoring for attention. What’s to be gained by being timid? Even banks are getting creative with names like Simple and Moven. In the UK, there’s a bank named Loot! Whatever happened to First National Bank of Wherever? I guess, in an age where banks routinely fleece their own customers, that cigar-chomping, old white guy in the three-piece suit, with the pocket watch isn’t the image of security it used to be. So Goodbye Mr. Potter.

Google DoodleOne reality that’s driving the trend toward zaniness in banks, and in every other business sector, is trademark law. All the good names are taken and their trademarks registered. The easiest way to get a name that stands out now is to coin a word that never existed before, like Zappos. Made-up names like that sound unfamiliar to our ears. So they seem kind of wacky. But that’s good because they stand out and are memorable.

Then there are brands that try to have it both ways. My favorite example of this is the language-learning site, Babbel. They coined a word that sounds like “babble” and “Babel”. Pretty clever on the face of it. Except, they have to constantly remind us how to spell their name because everybody defaults to the two standard spellings. That puts them at a constant disadvantage. It’s like naming your kid Mychal instead of Michael. It doesn’t make your kid any more special. It just confuses his teachers and anybody else around him who’s trying to help him.

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What about B2B brands? Well, in 1994, Federal Express officially changed its name to the more casual FedEx. That’s what all their customers were calling them anyway so why not go with the flow? It’s not exactly a leap into the wild side but it is an example of a B2B business relaxing its image. If FedEx can loosen its tie, then I’m pretty sure any B2B business can.

Google logo animationAfter all, B2B is being taken over by the same force that’s invading every other space – millennials. One refreshing quality of that generation is its total impatience for any sort of meaningless codes. Why wear a suit? Why wear a tie? How does that help anybody? Why stick to the old ways of doing business? If you can show them a reason, fine. But if not … they’ll move on.

Of course, one should never say never. But I’m finding fewer and fewer reasons for businesses of any kind to establish a conservative brand identity. Why be American Ball Bearing Manufacturers when you can go by BB’s? The shorter name is much easier to say, to display and to remember. And, in today’s world, no one will take that name as a think you’re unserious and can’t be relied on to make a decent ball bearing.

Best Branding Reads – Week of July 22, 2019

How Guinness World Records is trying to help brands make history
This is the world’s longest article on how GWR is assisting brands in setting records of dubious value.

Color Psychology In Branding
Global brands should remember that colors have different meanings in different cultures. And the world is getting smaller every day.

30+ employees tattoo Bozeman cafe’s eggs and bacon logo on their bodies
Talk about getting all your employees to row in the same direction!

The Top Three Reasons Brands Fail to Stay Relevant – and in Business
Very interesting article with great examples.

New Logo and Identity for Arpe
Great identity system with an excellent logo.

New Logo, Identity, and Packaging for Chomptown Cookies
Fun, playful identity. Just right for a cookie.

How To Think About Marketing To Consumers In Their Cars
These are the new rules of the road. (Remember when you would take a drive just to have some quiet time to think?)

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