Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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A Rant on Branding

The Tropicana and Pepsi rebranding has created lots of buzz around the old blogosphere, mostly with people hating on the new logos and accompanying materials. As I have both read and had conversations about both over the last few days, I thought maybe it was worth getting all my thoughts down here.

To start, I mostly think debating logos is a dumb exercise. I mean, it’s fine, but logos and brands do not exist in a vacuum. No one is seeing the Pepsi logo without any other context (they are in a store, reading about it in a newspaper, seeing it on a billboard, etc.). It’s never ONLY about the logo.1

So why, then, is there so much hubbub around them? Well, I’ve got a few thoughts on that as well (some hypotheses and others from actually working with clients on logos). First off, I think the biggest reason companies rebrand themselves is that they actually want to prove something to themselves. They, as a company, are feeling like they’ve fallen out of touch and a rebranding is seen as just the solution to rally the troops and get them feeling like the company is really committed to the change they’re all hoping for. Honestly, does anyone really think that consumers are walking away from the new Pepsi brand and advertising coming out of it that Pepsi all of a sudden is anything more than sugar water? (Doubtful.)

What’s more, the hubbub is pushed along by the large media buys and PR pushes that happen in parallel (after all, what’s a rebranding that no one knows about?) All of a sudden the new logo is in your face all the time and people start to comment on it. Do I think any of this has any real impact on the sales of the product? Not really. I mean, I think blanketing the world with advertising does, of course, but whether someone likes your logo or not doesn’t.

At the end of the day I think the biggest thing a logo does is help consumers categorize your brand/product. Is it cheap or expensive? Is it trustworthy or not? Of all the examples in Brand New’s worst logos of 2008 the one that sticks out the most is WGN’s redesign. To me at least, that logo looks like something that comes from a half-assed television network. Can you imagine NBC or CBS ever having a logo that looked that amateur? No. The logo informs your opinion of the brand (at least if you have no other information about it). Do I think Xerox’s redesign actually changes much? Not really. Most of the world already has a perception of Xerox and that won’t change a great deal from a little bit of extra round on the edges.

Finally, I leave you with a point I made about the Tropicana redesign. In rebranding themselves they managed to make their packaging look more generic. While the design community freaks their collective shit about this, it may be a great thing for the brand with the economy the way it is. Think about it: If people pick it up, thinking it’s the store brand, and then get to the front of the store, they’re pretty likely to buy it. Who knows if this will work or not, but the point is that you can’t disconnect the business from the design. After all, nobody would ever approve the cost of rebranding (think about all the stuff that needs replacing) if you don’t think there’s going to be some return on your investment.

1 Just to give a quick anecdote, I had a bunch of people ask me to add a logo for their either yet-to-be-formed or relatively obscure company to Brand Tags. My answer was always no for a simple reason: Brand Tags is measuring brand perception, people need to know about you to have a perception. If they are just looking at some logo they’ve never seen before their honest reaction would be to blow it off because they’ve never seen it before (the majority) or be curious to find more (the minority). Of course, in a context like Brand Tags it would actually be a different option, people would comment on some portion of the logo. They’d say something about the color, the shape or even whether they liked it or not. The thing is: This is completely useless information. No consumer will ever be asked to judge a logo. That just doesn’t happen.

Update (2/11/09): In response to a comment (and to clear it up), I wanted to add this: “I was definitely not implying design doesn’t matter (or even that branding doesn’t matter). Just that you can’t look at either in a vacuum.”

February 12, 2009