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From the Geico gecko to Coke red, what’s the secret to an enduring brand asset?

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By Sam Anderson, Network Editor

February 12, 2024 | 13 min read

Leading ad execs pick their favorite longstanding brand assets from the Heinz label to the red dot on Leica cameras. But why are they so powerful?

A pile of beer mats and logos

In the soup of brand logos and images, what makes some stand out for a lifetime? / Mike Cassidy via Unsplash

The Drum recently caught up with Specsavers’ creative chief to unpick the secrets of one of the most enduring lines in modern ad history, ‘Should’ve gone to Specsavers’.

But what about all the other all-timers? What makes Coca-Cola red, or Wendy from Wendy’s, or the iconic Stüssy logo, stand the test of time? We asked a bumper crop of ad execs from The Drum Network for their favorite logos, lines, noises, and other brand elements.

Martyn Smith, creative director, RocketMill: KitKat’s ‘Have a break…’

“When it comes to longevity, ‘Have a break, have a KitKat’ surely takes the biscuit. Written in 1957 by Donald Gilles of J Walter Thompson London, it’s still going strong today. That level of creative commitment is a rare thing, but it pays off. According to Nestlé, a billion KitKats are sold each year in the UK alone. Creative standards remain impressive too. From a multitude of award-winning ads, my personal favorite is ‘Limbo’, in which an angel and a demon take their tea break together. ‘Have a break…’ is ultimately a call to inaction. We all enjoy a break from the daily grind, whether you work at a screen, on a factory line, or in the bowels of hell itself.”

Dan Srokosz, creative director, AgencyUK: The Chewits dinosaur

“Depending on your age, you might remember Chewie, the Chewits dinosaur, devouring the Barrow-In-Furness bus station or skating on buses to the soundtrack of ‘I Like to Chewit Chewit’. Chewie was the perfect balance of chaos and cheekiness (I guess it helped that the sweets were tasty). As an adult, I see that the success of the Chewie character was not only because he was a massive green dinosaur, but because of the lateral way he brought the product truth (chewiness) to life. No one else was taking chunks out of the Taj Mahal or chewing on Wellington boots – it was distinctive, and distinctive makes for memorable. Like Elvis, he did it first, he did it best, and he did it differently. That’s why people remember him.

Brett Brown, US creative director, The Fifth: The Nintendo soundscape

“Nintendo’s iconic sounds tap into generations of nostalgia and invite new audiences into a universe of play. Those simple beeps and chimes, featured over decades, have become integral to Nintendo’s brand identity: digital melodies evoking the very ethos of play and joyful interactivity. More than mere sound effects, they facilitate recall of treasured gaming memories. An underappreciated component of Nintendo’s successful brand playbook, the evocative sounds add depth to the Nintendo ecosystem. In an environment where brands are competing for ever-fleeting attention, this kind of sonic branding can cut through the noise and reinforce visual assets in a synergistic sensory experience. Nintendo sets the gold standard, leveraging creative integrity from product to packaging as an enduring competitive advantage.”

Mark Wiggins, senior creative manager, Search Laboratory: Ronseal’s tagline

There are hundreds of taglines that are immediately uttered upon the mention of a brand, but there are very few that build such legendary status they become a part of our everyday vernacular. Enter Ronseal. Since 1994, its strapline ‘It does exactly what it says on the tin’ has not just been synonymous with its product, but has been used to describe any product, service, or person. It’s even entered the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms. It’s become a go-to for describing anything that’s straightforward and delivers against a promise. The real secret is in its simplicity, and it’s survived because of its timelessness and relatability. As marketers, we can often be guilty of being too clever and attempting to reinvent the wheel when really, we just need a line that does exactly what it says on the tin.”

Alistair Robertson, creative partner, Nucco: The Geico gecko

“From Allstate’s ‘You’re in good hands’ to State Farm’s ‘Like a good neighbor’ audio device, there’s an incredible body of marketing brand assets that litter the US insurance sector and have, over time, pervaded US culture. Arguably the most noteworthy is Martin, the Geico gecko: a talking cockney lizard who reinforces the instantly recognizable brand CTA of “15 minutes can save you 15% on your car insurance”. Explained like that, it sounds epically dumb, but I can think of few other brands that are so recognizable and concise. It takes time to build these assets, but adopting them can humanize offerings, enhance recall, and distinctly convey value propositions. If the ultra-competitive US insurance market sees value, it’s a great shame that more brands in similar markets or sectors haven’t followed suit.”

Joe Madden, head of content, Don’t be Shy: The Stüssy logo

“In 1980s California, Shawn Stussy branded his handmade surfboards by scrawling his surname on them with a marker pen. The signature was his uncle’s, with an extra umlaut added: ‘Stüssy’. The angular-yet-laidback logo immediately struck a chord. Shawn began selling Stüssy-branded apparel out the back of his car. By the late 80s, the surfer brand was coveted by punks, skaters, ravers, and hip-hop fans. By the 90s, Stüssy was a multimillion-dollar global empire, collabing with big-hitters: Nike, Clarks, Levi’s. In 2024, the Stüssy brand is stronger than ever, seemingly immune to the vagaries of trends, maintaining bleeding-edge, street-level fashionability for over 40 years. Painstakingly careful stewardship has played its part, but much of Stüssy’s generational success can be attributed to the deathless desirability of Shawn’s uncle’s signature. It’ll never not look cool.”

Carli Pring, marketing manager, Redpill: The Coca-Cola red

“The Coca-Cola Company has nailed it with unforgettable brand elements: the unmistakable Coke Red; the iconic woosh that weaves throughout the branding; those famous bottles. It's all become a symbol of brand strength. Even the sound of a Coke bottle being opened in an ad is a distinctive nuance. Despite changing tastes over time, Coca-Cola has stayed true to itself. Its secret? Strong brand recognition, marketing synergy worldwide, and an understanding of staying connected with its audience, no matter how times change.”

James Croft, director brand strategy, Jellyfish: The Heinz ‘keystone’ label

“Heinz is the long-standing OG of brand iconography. Its keystone label has endured since the late-1800s – a unique, iconic, instantly recognizable silhouette. Its strength comes from being such a consistent and simple brand device. The brand’s 2020 ‘global masterbrand’ refresh celebrated this ‘simple greatness’. The work by creative agency JKR put the keystone icon front and center, reinforcing the power and belief of the brand icon. Even generative AI apparently knows this fact: when prompted with ketchup-related terms, the

generated images of bottles all seemingly had keystone labels – or so Heinz’s AI ketchup campaign led us to believe. The real test now will be whether the keystone unlocks success for Heinz’s venture into a broader tomato-based range.”

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Dionysis Livanis, creative director, Definition: The Vodafone red

“While most contemporary brands are multicolored, those that defy this trend often stand out. Vodafone is a great example of a brand that went against the norm. For decades, it has consistently and persistently used red in a simple but bold way, making every store and piece of communication more… Vodafone. Emotionally, red brings passion, energy, and a sense of urgency, which is key in the highly competitive telecommunications sector. But it’s also practical, helping you spot a Vodafone shop in high streets and busy malls, and it makes their communications ownable and unique without too much effort.”

Jeff Bowerman, executive creative director, Dept: Guinness’ ‘Good things that come to those that wait’

“There aren’t many brand lines that have stood the test of time (or that have stood the test of decreasing CMO tenures, annual new AOR relationships, or brands’ short-term growth KPIs). But here’s one that has lasted longer in people’s minds than it officially was in the wild; Guinness’ ‘Good things come to those that wait’. Having worked on the brand and seen several new platforms come and go, nothing ever came close to its brilliance. It’s a sentiment as true now as it was back then; it’s a negative product attribute turned positive; it can be applied to more than just the product; it spawned a load of great ads (and still could); and even people not in advertising still remember it, even if they were too young to see it on the telly the first time. Including myself.”

Marcus Foley, chief marketing officer, Tommy: Nike’s ‘Just do it’

"Wanna talk about endurance? Then ‘Just do it’. The words that accompany the iconic swoosh not only symbolize determination and passion, but speak to the hearts, minds, and spirts in us all. There to elevate our everyday, they remind us to keep going no matter what race we are running. As a self-confessed content obsessive, it's the smallest expressions and context of its articulation over the years that get my pulse racing the most. For example, disrupting your feed when you’re doing a marathon scroll on social media: ‘You’re scrolling, when you could be running... Just do it’, or ‘You’re all caught up. Put your phone down and go for a run... Just do it’. These perfectly timed messages disrupt known behaviors and put your cognitive processes into overdrive to recognize what you’re seeing.”

Darren Bowles, partner & executive creative director, Re (part of M&C Saatchi Group): Leica’s red dot

“As a photographer, Leica holds a special allure for me. Despite never having the financial means to own one of their iconic cameras, the brand’s craftsmanship and artistry fascinate me. I dream of owning one. From elegant design to precision engineering, Leica embodies photographic excellence. The mere mention of the Leica name evokes images of timeless beauty, unparalleled quality and (beyond cameras) preserving the art of photography. Leica’s timeless red dot is a masterclass in how an identifiable badge is a reminder of quality. It represents a bygone age of engineering and precision matched with style and craftsmanship. Whether it’s on a microscope, a surveyor’s camera, or a point-and-click, seeing that red dot assures the best quality.”

Tom Murphy, chief creative officer, VML North America: Wendy’s Wendy

“I'm now officially part of VML, so how do I not say Wendy from Wendy’s? Even if I didn't work here, she’d be a great pick. In the beginning she was simply an illustration on signs and Frosty cups. Today she runs through Fortnite axing fridges. I love a brand icon that can flex to fit the times, while staying true to its essence.”

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