If 25% of brands disappeared overnight, nobody would give a FCK

By Chris Moody, creative director

July 18, 2018 | 5 min read

Do you know how the dinosaurs were doing the day before they got wiped out?


They were flourishing. Mooching around eating ferns and each other, happy as Larry. To all intents and purposes everything was good. Then boom, it suddenly wasn't.

That's the thing about seismic change. It happens at pace, you often don't see it coming and the impact can be immense. It happened to the big beasts of the music industry, it happened to the film distributors via the double asteroid of Netflix and Amazon. And right now, the ad industry is looking up at the sky trying to work out whether it’s better to huddle together as one or split into smaller tribes.

At a time when the economy is swirling and the high street is feeling sick, extinction level events are a very real threat for brands. In these unpredictable times, the instinct from agencies and marketers can be to do more. Perversely, one of the best ways to respond could be to do a little less, more intelligently.

Better, smarter, braver

There are already too many brands in the world and many of them, if we’re honest, just occupy space. I’m pretty sure a quarter could disappear overnight, and people wouldn’t really care. Rather than more of the same, drifting along safely without offering any real value, we need better, smarter, braver, more thoughtful work. That’s the only way to create meaningful brands that have lasting impact in the world.

And people want this. Our own research found that 41% of people believe businesses ought to be a force for positive social change. This is obviously all the more important for the biggest corporations, whose influence on people’s lives is growing - in many directions and at many levels.

It's not easy being smart and brave. KFC got the tone right recently in their apology campaign, and Lush is another interesting example. It’s growing up to become a brand that has courage in its conviction. It’s always been activist; it pays its taxes and uses its platform to raise awareness on a range of issues. Its controversial #SpyCop campaign may have divided opinion, but by working directly with victims of undercover police, it showed it takes things seriously.

Thinking specifically about brand identity systems, smart and brave means a healthy dose of ruthlessness. The best design teams have the confidence to let things expire. From tech pioneers like Apple and Amazon, to product brands like Bang & Olufsen and Dyson, these finely-honed palettes continuously evolve to maintain relevance and clarity.

They’re like intelligent software, shedding skin to keep an organization fresh. Complex, more traditional industries like energy, telecoms and finance have struggled to master this. Explore BT or Barclay’s websites and in a few of clicks you can easily get lost in a sea of sub brands and propositions.

From rebrand to rethink

As a result of all this, our design teams at Wolff Olins aren’t asked to ‘rebrand’ all that often any more. We’re asked to ‘rethink’. We look at what’s out in the world and decide what’s critical versus what’s solving questions nobody’s asking any more.

Over the last two and a half years we’ve partnered with a leading retailer to help them rethink how the brand presents itself from screen, to store, to shelf. It’s been a root and branch re-imagination of how a mass brand could look, feel, sound and behave in a distinctive way.

These types of long form project are far more than a superficial ‘clean up’. They’re fundamental, creating space for brands to do new things that really matter for people. They take time and commitment, happen at pace and require a client with real belief. They aren’t about simplification or reduction. If you go too far on those fronts, you end up straining for purpose and personality – just look at the recent Silicon Valley examples doing the rounds as memes.

Overall, smart, brave brands focus on getting the most from the fewest communicative assets. They clear their throats and hold a note so the world can hear what they’re saying, rather than just adding to the noise.

Chris Moody, chief design officer, at Wolf Ollins. He tweets at @MoodyThinking


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