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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While those fundamentals have stayed the same, it hasn’t gotten any easier to reinvent a brand’s visual identity, observers agreed. “The truth is, a large number of brands haven’t done it well,” declared Robert Passikoff, president of customer loyalty consultant Brand Keys. “When brand marketing efforts are ineffective and a brand decides to make changes, reinvention of the visual identity is usually the court of last appeal.” A case in point, Passikoff said, is McDonald’s new smile logo: The brand imagery was changed, when what the chain most needs, fast-food analysts have pointed out — and McDonald’s recently acknowledged — is to offer better food and a better experience.

Surprisingly, fashion brands are not necessarily most adept at creating new visual imagery, consultants said. For his part, Passikoff stated some of the most effective reinventions have been those of iconic images: the Morton Salt Girl, who was given a fresh set of clothes to replace her decades-old raincoat, and Betty Crocker was given a fresh hairstyle after decades without an update. Exceptions in the realm of fashion include Dior Addict, whose ads featuring bright colors juxtaposed with dark tones updated what Swanson termed a “tired” Dior brand image, and Nike, whose well-known swoosh logo remains prominent amid marketing messages and images tailored to fit various audiences.

Of course, changing a logo for its own sake fails to move consumers — there has to be a story behind it, stated Mike Cucka, partner in Group 1066, a product and marketing consultancy. For example, Lacoste changed its alligator from green to silver on a limited edition, slim-cut polo shirt offered last year at Barneys New York, and British Petroleum used its BP symbol to represent its efforts Beyond Petroleum in ads explaining its clean air initiatives.

Trickiest of all, Disend said, is knowing when it makes sense to focus more on brand building than on product changes. “A lot of brands have lost their way and have needed to resurrect their image. Some make rash moves and then pull back,” he continued. “There’s a bit of desperation out there now among brand marketers.”

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