Ribbons, How Brands Take Shape

Mead Westvaco Logo

 

MeadWestvaco, a global supplier of paper products, packaging and chemicals (and subsequently a resource used by many designers… for the paper, not the chemicals) on March 24th unveiled a new brand that shortens the company moniker to “MWV,” introduces a new ribbon element that is animated in a cheesy Flash presentation on the corporate website (more on this later), and incorporates the presumptuous tagline “How brands take shape.”

 

According to chairman and CEO John Luke, Jr., “the new MWV brand identity… clearly states to customers that MWV… is uniquely positioned to help their brands take shape.” Really? On their own, the letterforms of the new mark communicate to me that the company has given up its rich heritage as the combination of the Mead Corporation and West Virginia Paper Company (and its many highly recognizable consumer brands such as At-A-Glance, Day Runner, Cambridge, etc.) for a more generic acronym that when rendered, resembles more of an old-fashioned telephone cord than anything else.

 

The new ribbon element that MeadWestvaco (sorry, MWV) uses is graphically interesting, and is a definite improvement over the much-dated look of the typeface ITC Eras that constituted the old logo. Because it is set in all caps, however, the new logotype sacrifices readability in favor of the clean and modern look of Helvetica… as a result, “Mead” is virtually indistinguishable from “Westvaco.” This is probably an intentional part of the redesign given the press release and CEO comments. The other aspect that bothers me is the extreme horizontalness of the brand; I am curious as to what a stacked version of the logo might resemble, and if it would be as effective.

 

In the promotional video introducing the new brand and explaining the positioning “How brands take shape”, the ribbon flies across the screen to New Age “space sounds” music, twisting and turning at right angles as it moves between foreground and background, and around short blurbs of text shown in perspective. For a moment I had flashbacks of the movie “Tron”, with all of its cheesy, “cutting edge” CGI graphics and animation (which was really cool back in 1982!).

 

The new positioning tagline for MWV is “how brands take shape.” While on the surface this proposition seems harmless enough, as a practicing designer (and a member of their target audience), something about it rubs me the wrong way—perhaps it is my conviction that brands are more than just great logos or clever packaging… or perhaps this blanket statement seems too arrogant for me. In the end, though, it is not necessarily what I think about this new MWV/MeadWestvaco brand, but about how customers perceive it.

 

—Ryan Hembree, principal/creative director (originally posted on Underconsideration.com/BrandNew)

Prescription: Clarity and Focus

Sunglass Hut Logo

 

Sunglass Hut International, a purveyor of fashionable sunglasses and eyewear, is in the midst of rolling out a new brand identity to its 1,500 retail stores located in malls and other high-density retail areas around the globe. The new identity, developed by everyone’s favorite, Wolff Olins and retail specialist FRCH Cincinnati, has already been unveiled in Europe, and is only now just starting to make its public debut here in the United States, replacing an interim identity plaguing some applications, like the web site. The result has been a confusing image for an iconic sunglass retailer — one that is not nearly as distinctive as the one that it replaces.

 

One simply needs to visit the retailer’s European website and then the North American version, to see how confusing the Sunglass Hut identity has become. When Sunglass Hut was acquired by the Italian company Luxottica, which owns and licenses several premium and luxury sunglass brands, the identity underwent an overhaul, perhaps to match the other brands within the company’s portfolio. The result was a poorly executed, confusing logotype that baffled not only customers, but employees of the company as well. Sunglass Hut International became “SGH,” set in some custom Eurostile Extended-like lettering, with “sunglass hut” set in lowercase in a geometric sans underneath — definitely nothing to write home about.

 

The final redesigned identity is composed of a simple, silvery circle mark that resembles a tinted optical lens, with all lowercase letters set in a unique, albeit very trendy typeface — that actually looks an awful lot like Kate Moss’ typeface. While the silver and black color scheme connotes premium quality and is representative of the luxury sunglass brands the store sells, what appears to be missing is reference to sunlight, which is something that the old mark communicated very well.

 

The original Sunglass Hut International logo was not a complete travesty — after all, it helped catapult the retail chain into an icon within the industry. The yellow and blue mark, with an abstract sun and ultra condensed typeface, simply and effectively communicated the essence of the brand: selling protective eyewear. When the company decided to sell watches within some of its retail stores and at stand-alone kiosks, it adapted its successful identity to the Watch Station brand by simply changing the sun to a watch face, and replacing the name in the same typeface. In this way, the old identity became a victim of its own success.

 

What makes the “new” new identity for Sunglass Hut (a la Wolff Olins) so bad is that it doesn’t retain any of the quirky or personable characteristics that made the original one so successful. In their quest to create a luxury, premium brand, the designers instead created one that appears cold, lifeless, and very trendy. Add in the fact that the new brand is being rolled out at separate times and in different geographic areas, this is one brand update that needs some definite clarity.

 

—Ryan Hembree, principal/creative director (originally appeared on Underconsideration.com/BrandNew)

A Fresh Identity Tue Impress

Ruby Tuesday Logo

 

Ruby Tuesday, the international restaurant chain known for its casual dining menu and impressive salad bar, has been implementing a new, “fresh” (a word emphasized over and over) identity over the past several months to coincide with an update of the brand’s interior. Gone are black- and white- checkered tablecloths and the hodge-podge of sports memorabilia that adorned the walls and were reminiscent of Applebee’s or TGI Friday’s In their place is a more upscale and elegant look and feel.

 

For the most part, I am impressed with the work of DJ Stout and team from Pentagram, Austin. The new identity represents a more sophisticated eating establishment, and features some great brand extensions, such as the “RubyTueGo” take out service. While the green used on the RubyTueGo cups, billboards and bags are a little garish for my taste, they effectively communicate the idea of freshness. The burgundy, though not much different from the old, is warm and inviting.

 

RubyTuesday’s new logotype is set in Clarendon, a nice, slab typeface that feels somewhat contemporary yet friendly and approachable. Unfortunately, I think that the designers missed the opportunity to add some sort of embellishment to make it more unique—some minor tweaks could have also resolved the unusual kerning between the T and u of “Tuesday.” As bad and over-the-top as the old logo was, at least there were decorative touches to the tail of the R and S, as well as the ascender of the D—these resembled steam, suggesting good things to eat and making it more memorable.

 

In reading the Pentagrams’ blog and the description of the project, you would think that they were so proud of themselves for coming up with the idea of merging the restaurant name into one word… according to DJ Stout, “The idea of running the words ‘Ruby’ and ‘Tuesday’ together in the logotype came to me one day when I was sitting in the reception area… waiting for a meeting. I overheard the operators answering the phones and they would routinely refer to the company as “RubyTuesday’ as if it was one word instead of a two word name.”

 

Well, excuse me, but duh! I have always called the restaurant RubyTuesday, not Ruby [pause] Tuesday, or simply “Ruby,” or even “Tuesday” for that matter. What is interesting to point out is that on the restaurant’s signage (mock up shown on the Pentagram blog), the logotype does not run together to form one word, with Ruby being stacked on top of Tuesday — so much for the one-word ingenuity. Obviously the new identity has some limitations due to its horizontal nature.

 

And speaking of signage, you might have noticed in the Fresh Look link from the first paragraph that another logo — not the old foxy one, nor the new one — adorns the façade. Somewhere in between the new and the old, this logo made a brief and confusing appearance online and on TV ads. So, perhaps not the smoothest of transitions for Ruby Tuesday. Overall, there are very few things that I can find fault with in this new Ruby Tuesday identity. Pentagram’s “simple” and “fresh” perspective has elevated the sophistication of the brand and added a little more “snob appeal” to a chain known for its casual, affordable menu.

 

—Ryan Hembree, principal/creative director (originally posted on Underconsideration.com/BrandNew)

A Bogey for the New LPGA

Ladies' Professional Golfing Association Logo

 

These Girls Rock is the “brand platform” launched in 2005 to support the positioning and five-year plan of the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), and mid-way through that plan the LPGA has unveiled a new identity. Well, in addition to being a little chauvinistic by labeling the women of golf Girls (or is that just me?) the new identity developed by SME doesn’t necessarily Rock.

 

While conceptually a new image that projects “power, strength and athleticism” and “highlights [LPGA’s] international membership and global business” seems like a good idea, the resulting “swinging lady” identity reminds me more of an Olympic Games logo than that of a professional golf association. And it is difficult to get over how amazingly similar (and ironic) it is to Greg Norman’s “Shark” logo (the highly successful businessman and professional golfer from Australia). The new brush strokes are much more feminine than the old, but something is not quite right.

 

The brush strokes look a bit forced in some areas, or as if they were drawn by different people. For example, the hair, arm and highly accentuated backside have all been rendered with very elegant curves and careful attention to the thickness of the strokes. The golf “swing” and legs, in addition to being a little disproportionate and stubby-looking, are very mechanical and perfectly computer-generated. And what exactly is that supposed to be for the head? The unkempt hair (that resembles more of a mop top or even a duck’s head) seems to contradict the association’s professional and polished image.

 

Typographically, the LPGA’s new brand represents a huge improvement over the old. The serif LPGA within the green box has given way to a more contemporary sans serif typeface that is unique and forward-thinking, but not too cheesy or “futuristic.” My only complaint is that the strokes appear to be too thin—making them bolder would aide in reproducing the brand at small sizes.

 

Speaking of reproduction issues, one of the goals of the new brand, according to Bill Susetka, the LPGA’s chief marketing officer, was to create “a logo that we could easily reproduce on merchandise, billboards and signage” — and judging from the amount of stuff in the newly minted LPGA Pro Shop (do note the These Girls Rock badge there) — then I think they picked a very difficult one (anyone who has ever sent a multicolor job like this to an embroiderer can tell you that this is no picnic to stitch onto hats, polos, etc. and if anyone is into hats, polos, etc. it’s golfers).

 

All print collateral, even their business cards and letterhead, will have to be printed in full color as opposed to just one or two, meaning more expense (granted, in the quantities that they produce them, this probably is not an issue). And then there are consistency issues when dealing with different vendors and different versions of the logo: when printing on a white or light background, the logo uses blue strokes and type; when on dark colors (see the new LPGA site), the blue is reversed to white. The resulting logo loses its effectiveness as the white overpowers and competes with the other colors.

 

These Girls Rock might be an appropriate description for the ladies of professional golf, but unfortunately it is not necessarily the case for their new brand: Too Olympic-like, too similar to another male golf icon’s brand, the LPGA’s mark could have been a little more refined in its execution. Granted, it is a dramatic change and long overdue (the previous iteration had been in use since 1992). I will even go so far as to say that it is an improvement over the old, but definitely not a hole-in-one.

 

—Ryan Hembree, principal/creative director (originally posted on Underconsideration.com/BrandNew)

The Softer Side of… Shopko?

shopko

 

Shopko, a department store chain with approximately 135 stores throughout the Midwest, Mountain and Pacific Northwest regions of the United States, recently shed its very masculine image in favor of one that softens perceptions about the retailer and appeals to its primary customer base — women (much like the Sears campaign of yesteryear). Shopko provides “quality name-brand merchandise, great values, pharmacy and optical services” — which at quick glance is not what the old identity communicated.

 

The old Shopko brand, if anything, evoked Wal-Mart’s “Buy American” promotional campaign of the 1980s and 1990s (back when Wal-Mart actually bought and sold products that were made in America) through its patriotic use of red, white and blue color scheme. Although dissected into two halves by a white rule, the logotype was bold, distinct, and had some personality to it through the curved serifs. But, while graphically effective, the old logo just sent the wrong message about the type of goods sold at Shopko.

 

Because Shopko is more than just a discount superstore, featuring an in-store pharmacy and optical shop for busy families, the new identity needed to be more sophisticated and reflect more of its customers’ lifestyles. Under the supervision of Jack Mullen, Shopko’s new Senior Vice President of Marketing, the new brand has been radically overhauled from head to toe, with the help of Columbus, Ohio-based Chute Gerdeman Retail to design the logo as well as the stores — or, at least, a prototype store.

 

Set in all caps, the name is harder to read at first glance than its predecessor, particularly since the K is no longer set to the same height as the S. The letterforms themselves are too thin, while the cutesy terminals on the P and leg of the K are a little too much. Kerning between the ko is not consistent with the rest of the word, and the O’s appear to be tilted the wrong way. Simply put, the logo reminds me more of a trendy Asian restaurant than that of a department store. Despite the logo, the other elements of the Shopko re-brand appear to be a revolutionary improvement (based solely on the web site, as there aren’t any stores in my neck of the woods), and the manly, “Buy American”, big-box, discount superstore image has been softened to reflect a more feminine aesthetic… based on the previous, this is quite a makeover.

 

—Ryan Hembree, principal/creative director (originally posted on Underconsideration.com/BrandNew)

Short, Sweet and to the Point

Biography Channel Logo

 

Three-letter cable channel identifications seem to be all the rage lately. One merely has to channel surf to find plenty of three letter abbreviations for different networks: CNN, TNT, TBS, TLC, TNN, A&E; and the list goes on. Apparently network execs think that their viewers don’t have the mental capacity or intelligence to recall their favorite channels — or perhaps this trend is the result of an instant gratification society in which the proliferation of instant messaging has diminished our ability to read, write and think in complete thoughts and sentences.

 

The latest example of this “dumbing down” of channel identifications can be seen through The Biography Channel’s new brand. Reduced to “bio” and set in all lowercase letters in a slab serif face, this new identity is a far departure from its former incarnation; one that is crisp, clean, and simply executed. Whereas the old typeface was an elegant serif set within a pill-shaped field, the new characters are more pronounced and easy to read, as well as friendly and personable.

 

One of my biggest complaints, typographically speaking, is that the square dot of the “i” is clunky and seems out of place—a more appropriate solution would have been to mimic the shape of the circular period after “bio.” And speaking of periods, I will never be able to look at a red dot at the end of a word or sentence the same way again thanks to the Kotex® feminine hygiene commercials that aired a few years back—and, unfortunately, it is the red dot that is supposed to link the old and new identities.

 

The black and white lozenge shape has disappeared from the identity, which is a major improvement. What exactly was that supposed to be, anyway: a pill? A paper clip? It didn’t help that, until August of last year, Biography was also a documentary series that aired weekly on A&E network (“Biography” started in 1962 on CBS to chronicle the lives of historical figures, was picked up by A&E Network in 1987 with new episodes, and then was finally spun off into the cable channel in 1999). The old Biography Channel logo had to be different from the television series of the same name, because other types of programming, including mysteries such as “Murder, She Wrote” were aired (and who doesn’t love Angela Landsbury?).

 

Instead of differentiating between the two, the channel and the television program shared the exact same logotype and color scheme. The only difference was that the TV series logo had a red field behind “Bio” and then the rest of the type was reversed out of the background or a black field. The new mark, on the other hand, utilizes gray instead of using all black and white, which subconsciously makes that suggestion that when it comes to history, things are often open to interpretation through the lens of the culture in which we live.

 

Though not perfect in execution, the new Biography Channel identity is a vast improvement over the old. It pays homage to the original television series brand by once again calling attention to the “bio” in biography (after all, these are not full blown, Benjamin Franklin length documentaries, rather short “bios” on current individuals). It appeals to a target audience who may not be as intellectual as past viewers (those who see things in only black and white, fact or fiction). And even though I hate to see more damage done to the English language by catering to the IM’ing crowd, this is one identity that is short, sweet, and to the point.

 

By: Ryan Hembree (originally posted on Underconsideration.com/BrandNew)

A Tale of Two Campaigns

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This opening line from Charles Dicken’s immortal classic, A Tale of Two Cities, could very easily be adapted to describe “A Tale of Two Companies,” and their current national marketing campaigns that are being broadcast on television, billboards and in print. One is the highly effective XM Satellite Radio campaign; the other is Sprint’s new “Sprint Ahead” marketing campaign.

 

XM Animated Commercial“It was the best of campaigns…”

For a brand awareness campaign, they don’t get much better than the current “Are You On?” campaign that was developed by Lowe New York for XM Satellite Radio. While some may say that there are sexual undertones to this campaigns (“170 channels to find what turns you on”), I think that they are missing the whole point of this campaign—it is not about sex, rather, it is about finding music or programming that anyone can enjoy, from punk rock to classical music to sports.

 

What makes this campaign stand out is the simplicity of its execution. Because of the style in which it is rendered (white line drawings on flat black backgrounds) it stands out from most of the advertising clutter that bombards viewers daily (on average we are exposed to thousands of visual messages every day, all vying for our attention). The only color that appears on each billboard, print ad or television commercial is the yellow XM “signal” used in a very dynamic way—it becomes Beethoven’s flowing hair, forms a mustache for a Nascar lover, and a flame that lifts a hot air balloon.

 

Each use of the logo mark is so expressive and memorable (particularly the animated television spots, which feature a corresponding soundtrack), that it demands the viewer to pause and take notice of the ad. Once that initial hook has been made, the message of “something for everybody” is creatively conveyed using simple illustration and minimal use of words. Furthermore, this concept has infinite possibilities for execution, meaning it can be expanded on for years to come. The last great campaign, in the opinion of this critic of course, which offered the same possibility was the Absolut Vodka ads of the late 1980’s and 90’s (Absolut “noun, name, place, etc.”).

 

SprintAhead_img1SprintAhead_img2

“…it was the worst of campaigns.”

Since completing its merger with Nextel nearly two years ago, Sprint has struggled to find its voice through marketing and advertising campaigns, losing millions of customers because of it. First, there were the big yellow billboards that introduced us to “Sprint: Together with Nextel”, then there was the Ron Livingston character in the “Power Up” campaign. Now, there is the “Sprint Ahead” campaign, featuring neon-like streaks of light that form juvenile looking drawings of rocket ships, flowers, and pie charts.

 

While a clever use of time-lapse photography, these new ads contain too many different messages that may confuse potential customers. “Experience Life at Sprint Speed,” “Taking Care of Business at the Speed of Light,” and of course, “Sprint Ahead.” And then, according to Tim Kelly, Sprint’s Chief Marketing Officer, the whole idea of the ads is “to portray Sprint’s mobile phones as ‘magic screens’ providing an on-the-go consumer with pictures, music and communications tools.” The whole speed of light concept I get, but “magic screens”? That seems to be a bit of a stretch. After all, in each of the ads I can barely make out the phones that are used to create the light drawings (if in fact, that is how they were made).

 

At one time Sprint had one of the most recognizable marketing campaigns, featuring the memorable “Sprint Guy.” Women loved him and business people could relate to him. Ever since the merger with Nextel, however, the company has had one identity crisis after another—first changing its color scheme from red and gray to yellow and black (and we mean a lot of yellow), then with large billboards of yellow that had taglines such as “Power Up” and “Together with Nextel.” Not only do these new ads eliminate the obnoxiously loud yellow backgrounds (the rationale here was solid: black on yellow is the most visible color combination, however, if it is used too much, it is very fatiguing), they also remove any ties to Nextel. Perhaps this campaign, like Nextel, will fade into oblivion over time.

 

From Marauder to Squeaky Clean

ArmorAll Logo

 

“Go ahead. Stare.” That is the challenge posed by the new tagline for Armor All, a product used by millions of car enthusiasts to clean, shine, and protect their dashboards, steering wheels, and tires. And by spending some time staring at this newly revised brand we can see definite improvement in its execution, as well as some potential pitfalls.

 

If the intent of the new look is to project the strength of the Armor All brand, then this quality has definitely been achieved through the completely redrawn Viking character. Upright and stoic in his pose (complete with a new, shiny and polished shield), he has certainly grown up over the past thirty years. Originally the brand featured a more cartoon-looking Viking, drawn by “Big Deal”, shielding himself from the force of a lightning bolt — besides looking like clip art, the original character looked surprisingly weak for a “protector”; he is on his knees from the force of the blow, as if cowering and unable to fight back.

 

The most recent version of the brand was much more masculine and aggressive-looking, with bulging muscles and weapon at the ready. Perhaps some felt that this rendition of the character was too aggressive, or his portrayal was insensitive to the Vikings — because as the politically correct might say, “not ALL Vikings were the village-burning, women-raping kind.” Whatever the reason, the new execution of the Armor All Viking has been sanitized of anything that might be considered a dangerous weapon; the spike on the shield, the spiked arm band, the axe — even the horns on his helmet have been turned inward so as not to hurt anyone.

 

Overall, the visual metaphor of a warrior using a shield is highly effective at conveying the protective nature of the Armor All product. The message that might get lost, however, and subsequently be the rationale for the re-brand, is that the product also restores automobiles to their original “shine.” While the new brand embodies the essence of both cleanliness and shine, perhaps there is too much emphasis on “clean”-and the result is that it might be mistaken for a different product altogether. It bares a striking resemblance to both Tide Laundry Detergent and packaging for Bounce fabric softener. The outer glow and rays of sunshine emanating from behind the Viking make him look more like Mr. Clean instead of the staunch defender of your car’s interior.

 

—Ryan Hembree, principal/creative director (originally posted on Underconsideration.com/BrandNew)

A Revolutionary New Brand for Payless

Payless logos compared

 

A little more than a year ago, Payless Shoe Source unveiled a new identity for use at its 4,600 stores nationwide. While this identity has had some time to be absorbed by the mainstream, and is not necessarily “new” anymore, it has been on this critic’s “to do” list for quite some time (a bi-monthly newsletter has its disadvantages in that it only allows for so many critiques per year!). The simple fact of the matter is that this new identity is so different from the old that it immediately demands attention…which brings us to my main criticism: is the new identity too “revolutionary,” and too far of a departure from the old? When dealing with a nationally know and recognized brand, sometimes it is best to implement a new identity in stages, as more of an “evolution,” so that customers are not confused.

 

Payless_pattern

Unum Goes Human, Sort of

Unum

 

In April, Unum, a leading employee benefits provider in the United States and the United Kingdom, unveiled a new identity in an attempt to better communicate the company’s core competencies and focus. Formerly UnumProvident, the company’s new logo, designed by The Gate Worldwide, is visually superior to the old — while at one time the highly patriotic logo probably appealed to companies based largely in the United States who desired to “buy all things American” (and who doesn’t love the logo’s ode to “Ole’ Glory’s” stars and stripes?), the company’s products and services have expanded well beyond the borders of this country and into Europe. And in today’s geo-political climate, looking “American” might be considered a liability and unpopular with an international audience.

 

By adopting an identity that incorporates more of a European design aesthetic, Unum has distanced itself from its more American heritage. While the refreshed logo uses a contemporary, stylized typeface and simple shapes to communicate the company’s image, is it really effective at telling their story? To someone not in the insurance or benefits industry, this critic included, there are no visual clues as to what the company does. What is slightly more puzzling is the fact that a new tagline, “Better Benefits at Work,” was also adopted the same day as the new identity, yet is noticeably absence from the logo and company web site. This vital piece of information would have been incredibly helpful in communicating the company’s message.

 

According to the press release and Joseph Foley, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, “The new Unum brand represents a shift… from being an insurance company to being a true employee benefits partner.” Oh, well — why didn’t you just say so, perhaps by using a tagline in conjunction with the logo?

 

Once you realize what the company does, and the fact that they are supposedly “focused on people,” the logo begins to make much more sense. The rounded, lowercase letterforms are fun and whimsical (maybe too “fun”, resembling something more suitable for a toy company), and offer a refreshing change from the Palatino-like typeface used before. There are three business units within the company, represented by three circles; closer scrutiny reveals that these shapes also visually complete the bodies of three highly stylized figures, perhaps distant cousins of the ubiquitous Helvetica Man. However, these gender-neutral people look more politically correct than those adorning bathroom door signs, and therefore more appropriate for a professional office environment.

 

While a vast improvement over the old UnumProvident logo, one that is unique and memorable (perhaps for all the wrong reasons), the new identity fails in communicating the company’s core competencies. Perhaps the designers of this new brand assumed that everyone knew what Unum was, and the products and services it provides. Or perhaps the thought of “ruining” the European-inspired simplicity of the mark with something as mundane as a tagline was unbearable. Regardless of the reason, it leaves one to wonder how much more effective this identity could have been.

 

—Ryan Hembree, principal/creative director (originally posted on Underconsideration.com/BrandNew)