Have branding consultancies devalued traditional graphic design?

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Gemma Sutton

Andrew Blauvelt’s, Brand New Worlds: Corporate Makeovers and Dead Logo’s, looks into the changes in design practice, specifically that of branding. It also looks at the history behind it including forms of heraldry and the evolutions of various corporate rebrands. Branding, in the traditional sense is a process of stages that combine to create an overall experience, with various parties contributing, each strand weaving into the next. This “increasingly formatic” approach that Blauvelt describes is the evolution of the branding process, in which the emphasis on design is lost and “research, analysis, strategy and positioning” take over. This ‘one-stop shop’ approach, adopted by the new phenomenon of branding consultancies, has resulted several brands failing to make the grade in the consumer world. Throughout, Blauvelt is reminiscent of the past, comparing it to the present making reference to the “golden age of logos” and how the evolution of graphic design has caused the branding and corporate market to become saturated. This has created intense competition which has resulted in a “constant churn” of rebrands with no “kind of longevity” unlike that of the past where a brand was able to triumph because of the little competition posed to it.

In 2009, Tropicana employed Peter Arnell of The Arnell Group, a branding consultancy, to rebrand the product. His strategy of creating a “new energy” generated a huge consumer backlash. Arnell disregarded the history and relationship the product had with the consumer, opting to focus on the product itself. This caused a 20% dip in sales for Tropicana and an unprecedented social media reaction. This resulted in Pepsi&Co reverting to the previous branding within a matter of months. The backlash was relentless, with consumers asking if “package-design people actually shop for orange juice?” . This lack of real world application rocked Tropicana’s “most loyal consumers” and the retraction of the “The straw and orange” which had “been there for a long time” the final straw. With stiff competition from its rivals, differentiation became even more imperative. By changing the previously iconic and successful image, the “armchair quarterback…” began to call time on the rebrand. After the consumer backlash and the company’s ‘change in heart’, Arnell, unlike most designers who would typically defend and explain their ideas stated that “I got paid a lot of money, and I have 30 other projects. You move on”. This indifference is a reflection of the fact that branding consultancies are experiencing an influx of business, as a result of new brands and already established brands having to keep up to compete.

Bottlegreen; a cordial company is one of the newer brands. Its appearance was similar to the Waitrose own, where it was exclusively sold, meaning the brand lacked any differentiation from its competitors. After significant investment, the company sought a rebrand with Ziggurat, a London branding consultancy. The primary focus was the product, its history and “the products distinct and challenging taste profile” . Seeking inspiration from the stages of production, the firm fixated on the pressing process that the elderflower had to undergo before becoming the final product, this formed the concept for their sleek visual design. The product rebrand was very successful in achieving a sophisticated, “premium” adult orientated look. The outcome also received critical acclaim in the 2004 Marketing Design Awards. (Marketing Magazine, 2004)

Although Tropicana has established its place and Bottlegreen is finding its niche, there is a universal mission in design to be “different but still understandable” allowing a designer to assert an “aesthetic judgment, but not a superficial one.” The passion required to create the graphic mark comes from a considered response to the product. In order to brand something effectively one has to know and understand the product, concept and brand in a way that is “sensitive to the nature of the product.” Graphic designers are sensitive to the product by understanding the companies and the people who represent them. With emphasis on substance and not on statistics, the designer can take full creative license and create a well-rounded brand with harmonising qualities that embody the brand and the consumer. Branding is about understanding of the fundamental design influences making sure the brand “lives on” ,”has quality craftsmanship” and “It truthfully conveys who the client is” because in this day of the “armchair quarterback” the consumer’s opinion is the only one that matters.

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