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News Analysis: Morrisons rebranding

By The Drum, Administrator

March 20, 2008 | 4 min read

It’s in the bag

However, it was pointed out that some famous Leeds-brands do not understand the design process. Morrisons Supermarkets came under fire, particularly when Ahmed suggested its recent dramatic profit improvement was down to its new corporate identity.

The rebranding, by design firm 20/20, saw a departure from the original black and yellow look and the development of a new ‘M’. Sands, who sits on the Walmart branding board, was scathing. “I think Morrisons have become more successful despite their new design, not because of it. There change in fortunes have been down to other things including improved economies of scale and some great marketing promotions.

“But a new corporate identity is only appropriate if it stands for fundamental change to a product or service or reflects the fact that the consumer has moved on. That is not the case as far as Morrisons is concerned.

“The only rationale here seems to be that the old logo was old fashioned. However the new look fails to add new personality. All it adds is cost. Morrisons are doing well. But they would have done better if they had not taken on extra cost to make this change.”

However if Morrisons was criticised for investing too much in design, other clients where criticised for not spending enough. Here the blame was levelled at the accountancy profession – as the panel took things into unexpected territory; balance sheet protocols.

The fact that sums invested in design are rarely reflected in the balance sheet is an additional hurdle for designers, particularly when so many companies are run by finance people. Instead design fees are usually seen as a cost dealt with through the P&L account – which also means most marketers then demand short term returns on any money invested, another factor that can impede the design process.

Ian Morrison of PwC, said: “I can’t believe we are talking about this, but brand assets go on the balance sheet when a company is acquired. But even then, most accountants take these intangible assets with a pinch of salt. It is not like a building which has an established value.”

It is a debate which is unlikely to go away as the UK positions itself more and more as a knowledge-based economy. Sands summed up the sentiment: “If Coca Cola’s entire estate and stock were lost in a fire tomorrow, they would still have a business. But if the entire population suddenly had memory loss they would not.”

But in order to preach design integrity, the design industry also has to practice it, the group agreed. However, that can lead to some uncomfortable decisions; particularly when a client demands a strategy the design team believes is wrong.

Sands shared a painful memory – that had a happy ending. “We had to resign a major piece of business because we knew the strategy the client wanted to pursue was wrong. It meant we had to make people redundant. It was one of the few times in my professional career I actually cried, such was the disappointment of letting people go and having to resign this business. But it was still the best thing I have ever done.”

“But why,” interjected Ahmed, “wouldn’t you have been better simply doing what the client wanted?”

“Absolutely not,” replied Sands, “Because we ultimately would have got the blame for things going wrong. Basically we would have lost the business anyway.

“So it was the right thing to resign the account. We even helped them find a new agency. However, within six months we got the business back, and I think our relationship is stronger than ever.”

“One last question,” said Ahmed. “Is good design too expensive?”

“No, bad design is too expensive!” the group replied as one.

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