Branding Clients Copy

Rationale Thinking


By Larner Caleb | Creative Director

January 12, 2011 | 7 min read

There are two schools of thought on providing rationale for creative:

1. Don’t bother; the creative, the combination of words and pictures, or often in the case of a logo, the image and what it says to you, should be good enough to stand up for itself.

2. Do bother; a rationale can help drive the idea home; can prevent a pitch from becoming a parade of pure beauty or can legitimately justify those long hours, a waste bin brimming with also-rans and the extra pounds you’ve collected via late-night pepperoni pizzas.

Yes, it can even show the client you haven’t just pulled a rabbit from your back passage (you know, that alley at the rear of your office).

And yes, it can even provide the opportunity to explain where you got your inspiration or creative references from (shock, horror, you mean not every concept or idea is a brand-spanker, fresh out the cellophane? You really looked at the world and the culture around you and drew from that? Shame on you!)

Where do you stand on rationale?

My opinion is in the camp of the latter. With a few caveats.

For me, the creative work is aligned with a rationale from its very conception in the designer’s or the writer’s mind.

After all, you do your stuff for a reason, right?

And then, if you’re in an agency or a freelancer working for an agency, you present the work in progress. Assuming you don’t waltz in the meeting room clutching a handful of scrunched up scribbles, toss your indoor scarf aside and your work on the table before announcing you can be found making yourself a choca mocha latte in the kitchen if needed, you will be rationalising your creative just by talking the account handler through it.

And why should it stop just before it gets to the client? Probably the most crucial stage of the creative process?

“But the original presentation of work to the account handler is the most crucial stage… that’s where the idea is nurtured,” I hear some scream. I disagree – only because the agency’s reputation isn’t on the line in the internal meeting.

The most crucial stage is getting the client to buy into the idea – whilst presenting yourself and your team in the best possible light; whilst keeping all involved on the same path; whilst giving the client a more tangible handle on what the end result will be or will hope to achieve.

A detailed rationale will help to achieve all that. And I take great pride in producing them; for account handlers hoping to successfully explain pdfs over the phone; for MDs pitching to win new business; for clients who really believe designers do have an key.

But what about those caveats? Here’s a quick list of do’s and don’ts.

Don’t waffle. Stick to the knitting.

Don’t use flowery language.

Don’t say something you think you wouldn’t get away with in the company of your mates down the pub.

Don’t make a statement or claim without backing it up with facts.

Don’t lie.

Don’t be vague.


Do try to use anglo-saxon language wherever possible.

Do always keep the aims of the brief in mind. You are not creating a piece of art. Someone is investing time and money in your skills and they expect a decent ROI.

Do remember your reasons for following your chosen routes in the first place – always a good preventative tool against going into airy-fairy creative speak.

Do keep your rationale, short, sweet and very much to the point.

Having said all that, a rationale I wrote recently on the back of creating some concepts, branding and copy for an agency’s property development pitch stretched to nearly two sides of A3 in 12pt Helvetica. But there was a lot to cover in the rationale – suggested names for 3 buildings; why that tied into the social and historical context of the area; strapline for the brand; advertising routes across print, online and social media; website and microsite functionality and of course overall brand look and feel. The agency won the pitch and the rationale reassured the client and can now be used as a roadmap for the subsequent work.


Do, by all means necessary, remember to cover everything off.

Oh, and

Do remember to remove your indoor scarf before writing your rationale.

The thing about logos

When a new logo gets launched, it automatically meets resistance. No less an example can be found than when a new logo is launched here on The Drum.


Is it that there was no reason to change the old much-loved emblem?

Is it that human beings are intrinsically programmed to criticise – and a standalone logo doesn’t have the benefit of qualifying copy or a brilliant campaign to support it?

Is it just that the instantaneous hit of the split-second visual whips the gut instinct up into a frenzy?

Are logos just more subjective?

I loved the Wolff Olins’ 2012 logo when it launched, hated the new Gap logo.

Many would disagree with me.

But what about a rationale for a logo? Well it’s a piece of creative like any other, so it’s easy to justify creating a rationale for it. But for some reason, logos seem irretrievably locked in to rationales that always start to smell like something a bull has left in a field.

Is it because logos, in the grand scheme of creativity are, though no less thought through, small in comparison to say a whole campaign, a complete brand overhaul or a new product launch?

And so people justifying the logo tend to overcompensate with a large bouquet of fancy verbiage?

A little like this fine example, the official Starbucks line explaining their brand new icon:

‘Our new evolution liberates the Siren from the outer ring, making her the true, welcoming face of Starbucks… She stands unbound, sharing our stories, inviting all of us in to explore, to find something new and to connect with each other. And as always, she is urging all of us forward to the next thing. After all, who can resist her?’

Wouldn’t it have been better to say, “We’re going global. Doing away with the need for language, in line with such giants as Apple and Nike.”

Even the odd, “Cleaner, simpler” wouldn’t have been objectionable in this case.

So the golden rule when offering the world a rationale:

Keep it real.

Because when you’re selling real stuff to real people, it’s always best to think and act in a rational manner.

Branding Clients Copy

More from Branding

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +