Tuning Out Static

Branding experts discuss the role played by a brand’s initial, visual impression on today’s consumer, said to value substance over style

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NEW YORK — Too much similarity breeds disconnect.

That’s the first law of visual branding, said a half-dozen marketing experts, asked by WWD to discuss the role played by a brand’s initial visual impression on consumers today, who are said to value substance over style.

“There’s a basic psychological rule: People faced with too much similarity, too much ubiquity in visual imagery, will subconsciously disconnect with those images,” said brand image guru Marc Gobe. “People need change.”

By comparison, said Gobe, president and chief executive officer of desgrippes gobe, which creates brand images, “Brand identities that evolve and surprise us do communicate with us. A brand is like a personality. It needs to be multifaceted. That’s what makes it approachable and charismatic.”

For this reason, marketing observers said, the visual identities of fashion brands such as Coach, Talbots and Gap, among others, could benefit from a makeover. While crediting Coach’s brand reinvention several years ago, Cheryl Swanson, principal at brand creation firm Toniq, noted, “They haven’t taken the brand to the next level. I’m worried about Coach getting Gap-ped — doing the same thing for too long.”

As for Gap, said Gobe, the brand’s logo imagery begins and ends with three white letters on a blue square. “That’s where it stays,” he offered. “It’s very static.”

And although Talbots enjoyed a long run with a marketing proposition and imagery based on the “rational benefits” of buying its apparel, consumers now are craving an emotional appeal, said Jonah Disend, partner in strategic marketing consultant Red Scout. “It helped them for a time, but then times changed and it hurt them,” he added.

In contrast, said observers, Target uses its bull’s-eye logo imaginatively in print ads and TV commercials, as does MTV, whose on-screen logo morphs into different patterns and colors suited to the programs in which it appears. Memorable uses of Target’s bull’s-eye logo, Gobe recalled, include print ads portraying people dressed in logo-adorned apparel against a bull’s-eye background, and those showing tabletop items falling off a table and onto a page with a Target bull’s-eye logo placed in one corner. There was no mention of Target in the latter ad.

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