• Transform magazine
  • June 27, 2017

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Opinion: Can older brands fight the flab?

SteveOwenCropped.jpg

For those brands pushing middle age, bloated visual identities are getting in the way of success. How can older brands learn from new upstarts in terms of brand simplicity? Steve Owen writes

Like most of us over the age of forty at this time of year, my thoughts have turned to personal regeneration. You know the stuff – lose a bit of weight here, tone a bit there, clear out the cluttered, slightly dated wardrobe and aim to make myself at least slightly more attractive with a clean, new summer-ready look.

But as I walk around trying to avoid mirrors and reflective surfaces, I’ve began to see certain parallels with myself and certain, older, more established brands. Maybe they should embark on similar regenerative journeys?

Whether it’s Airbnb, Spotify, Google, Facebook or any of the other modern power brands, in branding, like life, it’s the younger generation that is shaping the future. They are confident and clear – if not slightly idealistic – in their points of view on the world. Unburdened by the past they are honest and optimistic in attitude and personality. But perhaps most importantly they look so much leaner, cleaner,  sexier. Damn it.

Established brands on the other hand often carry the burden of their pasts around their waists. Slightly bloated by their 160-page guidelines, primary, secondary and tertiary colour palettes, super-graphic devices, complex imagery criteria, shiny 3D logos and the like. None are wrong in isolation, it’s just that the new kids on the block prefer a simpler, more direct route to cut through the clutter. It’s an almost back-to-basics approach first seen in the 1950s from the likes of Paul Rand and Milton Glaser.

It’s all based around a condensed set of primary elements working hard together: A strong, iconic logo, a focused, ownable colour (or narrow colour palette) and a clear, unique typeface with a good range of weights. And that’s broadly it.

This is because, again like life, their youthful approach is born from a fresh perspective; that a visual identity’s primary role is to maximise ownership, navigation and memorability in the smallest amount of real-estate or most cluttered environment. We live in a world where the majority of a brand’s communications are now on third-party platforms so this approach is all about simplicity, clarity and punch.

But this isn’t a blunt instrument approach. Where these brands really earn their keep is by amplifying other brand assets to create a consistency of experience. They have a clear and compelling point of view and a rich, unique and captivating brand voice to deliver it. They employ uncluttered yet immersive user interfaces and real world environments. They have more interesting conversations.

Simplified visual identities are not simple to create. Mark Twain once wrote, “I apologise for the long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one,” and it illustrates the true challenge of simplicity: to analyse, synthesize, edit and focus, to find clarity in the fewest elements, to reduce the flab.

Amid these cold mornings and long nights I would like to bring some hope to the older brands as they stand forlornly in front of the mirror. There really is no time like the present. And with the right amount of focus, energy and belief, removing the extra baggage, sharpening the look and gaining a newfound confidence is always possible. 

Just remember it’s almost always about being true to yourself – regeneration not total reinvention. After all, anyone can regain their beach body with a bit of time and focus, but few look good in lime green Speedos.

Steve Owen is the executive creative director for EMEA at Siegel+Gale