‘FCK with your logo if you want to make an impact’

KFC’s FCK ad shows that playing around with your logo in ads benefits both brand-building and sales objectives, argues creative director Ryan Wallman.

If you’re reading this article, you will surely have seen the recent apology ad from KFC, in which the brand admitted to having FCKed up by running out of chicken.

Despite its apparent simplicity, this literally humble ad represented a marketing masterclass on several levels, as Mark Ritson pointed out on this very website.

READ MORE: Mark Ritson – KFC’s marketers turned a chicken crisis into a brand triumph

It’s also the most recent example of a fine – and arguably underrated – advertising genre. One that prompted me to post this on Twitter:

For those of you too young to recognise it, this is a re-ordering of the logo for Friends, which was an insanely popular sitcom in the 1990s and early 2000s. Or insanely to me, at least. As far as I’m concerned, this ad was the best thing that ever came out of Friends.

At the risk of explaining the joke here, the final episode of Friends was shown on a Friday. Which is such a brilliantly happy coincidence that you half-wonder whether the agency itself was responsible for the scheduling.

Given that context, I think you’ll agree that the ad is nothing short of genius. To a creative like me, it’s one of those ‘I wish I’d thought of that and why am I so bloody useless at everything?’ times.

What makes an ad like this so good? I’ll try to explain that shortly.

But for now, here’s another example. This is a recent outdoor campaign for McDonald’s in Canada, by Cossette Toronto.

Isn’t it great? Even those small hints of the golden arches would be instantly recognisable to most people – a testament to the salience of the McDonald’s brand – but they also communicate a specific tactical message. Inspired.

The next example is a little different.

This ad didn’t actually run in the wild – it was speculative work by The Bank of Creativity. It is nevertheless a good example of how a simple logo modification can communicate a powerful message. And on this occasion, it’s a subversion that really does mess with the brand.

So it’s not always a brand’s custodians who are responsible for manipulating a logo. After Margaret Thatcher’s death in 2013, BBH created this Marg-nificent Marmite parody for the Guardian.

My only criticism here is that they could have added ‘Not for turning’ on the lid. But that’s because I’m an envious, petty, small man.

The lady wasn’t for turning, but sometimes a logo can be, which is what the Leon restaurant chain did for this clever Christmas promotion.

And speaking of clever, how about this Adam & Eve/DDB ad from last year?

I mean, it’s almost embarrassingly simple, isn’t it? Per keystroke, it must be just about the most expensive ad ever made. But of course, it’s the very simplicity of the idea (and the executional restraint necessary to keep it simple) that makes it so damn good.

It would be hard to write an article about great ads without including some stuff from Audi. And it turns out this article is no different. These are a couple of examples of Almap BBDO’s famous work for Audi.

Now, I’m no designer, but even I can tell that the art direction here is exceptional. The use of visual metaphor elevates these ads to another level altogether.

So any attempt to follow up those examples is bound to disappoint. And disappoint is exactly what I’m going to do.

You see, I also created a logo-modified Audi ad a couple of years back. Well, kind of – it was a speculative ad for the Chip Shop Awards.

In case you’re wondering, it didn’t win. Can you believe that? I was robbed, right?

Anyway, it’s time we all moved on. So let’s consider some of the reasons why ‘playing with logos’ can be effective for advertisers.

1. It gets noticed

A modified logo has stopping power. At once familiar and unfamiliar, it draws the viewer’s attention because of its incongruous nature.

And getting noticed is, after all, the sine qua non of advertising. As Bill Bernbach said: “If no-one notices your advertising, everything else is academic.”

2. It serves two masters

Broadly speaking, the purpose of an advertisement is either to build a brand or to activate sales. The differences between these two approaches are shown neatly in this table from Les Binet and Peter Field’s report ‘Media in Focus: Marketing Effectiveness in the Digital Era’.

The beauty of many of the ads I’ve included in this article is that they achieve the near-impossible feat of sitting comfortably in both these categories. They use distinctive brand assets that help build long-term brand equity, while also communicating a short-term message.

Modifying a logo, then, can potentially result in a rare moment of simpatico between marketing and sales people. Hell, it might even make the creatives happy. Kumbaya.

3. It’s all about the brand

One of the besetting sins of much modern advertising is the way it neglects to make a clear link to the brand being advertised. And the harsh reality is that even outstanding creative work is nigh-on useless if nobody remembers who it was for (*cough* ‘Fearless Girl’).

But when you modify a logo, you naturally make your brand the hero. You put it at the very centre of the advertisement, rather than shunting it to the corner like an uninhibited racist uncle at a family reunion.

4. It’s simple

Simplicity has been another casualty of the modern advertising milieu.

Personally, I quite often look at ads, even award-winning ones, and wonder what in the name of Friar Tuck is going on. Complicated imagery, confusing messages, impenetrable jargon, you name it. And I’m looking at them as an interested party, too, so I can only imagine what an indifferent consumer would make of them.

In contrast, the examples above are strikingly simple, visually and otherwise – and they’re all the better for it. In most cases, they get their message across quickly and clearly.

5. It has charm

One of the noticeable aspects of the ads I’ve chosen is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. They use understated wit, are self-deprecating, and in some cases, such as the KFC ad, they openly admit to imperfection (which has been the basis for some of the greatest ad campaigns of all time).

And that’s why these ads have charm, something which author and ad man Drayton Bird will tell you is hugely underrated and underused by marketers.

6. It invites you to join the club

There is a ‘nod and wink’ aspect to ads that modify logos. Through their little plays on words (or letters, or symbols), they give the viewer a sense of being party to an in-joke.

In other words, they create a sense of belonging to a group that ‘gets it’, which perhaps explains why certain subcultures have used modified brand logos to represent themselves. A 1996 paper entitled ‘Reframing Ikea: Commodity-Signs, Consumer Creativity and the Social/Self Dialectic’ (no, me neither) describes how a lesbian group in the UK modified the Ikea logo to create the ‘Dikea’ identity for themselves.

The authors of the paper, Mark Ritson included, note that the group “utilised commodity-based meanings to construct a concept of self and social world”. Which I think means they used their self-assembled logo to define themselves.

So while a modified logo might seem like little more than a bit of throwaway fun, it may have the potential to evoke much more than just a wry smile.

7. It’s memorable

In his book How Brands Grow, Byron Sharp contends that memory is everything in advertising. And I’m not paraphrasing there – “Memory is everything” is literally one of the book’s subtitles. Sharp makes the point that since there can be many months between exposure to an ad and a relevant buying situation, advertising must be memorable to be effective.

While I don’t have data to support this, I suspect that ads featuring modified logos are more memorable than most, for the reasons I’ve listed above. And to give you a totally unrepresentative anecdotal example, that Friends ad immediately came to mind when I started thinking about this subject. Pretty impressive, given that I’m a sworn Friends enemy.

Time to FCK with your logo?

Brand law has it that you should never mess with your logo. I hope I’ve shown you that brand law is not always on your side.

Modifying a logo is a cheeky rebellion – a knowing nod to the rules while breaking them.

And rather than damaging your brand, it could well enhance it. Hell, Google toys with its logo almost daily, and at last count it was worth several humungazillion dollars. I’m not sure what that converts to in pounds, but let’s just say its brand equity doesn’t seem to have suffered.

So the next time you’re pulled over by the logo cops, plead your case. Brand assets are vitally important, and the rules governing them are there for a reason. But just occasionally, given the right situation: FCK the rules.

Ryan Wallman is associate creative director at Wellmark Health.

Hide Comments3 Show Comments
  • Andrew Thornber 13 Mar 2018 at 5:43 pm

    This is my favourite kind of creative, simple, whitty, clever and timeless. Classic, love it! We ran a similar campaign last Christmass across ehots, cards and social media. Follow us @massnorthwest


  • Fred Burt 18 Mar 2018 at 3:23 pm

    Messing with your logo only works if your logo is already a ‘distinctive asset’ to use Byron Sharp’s term. Make sure that’s in place first…

  • Robert Strohfeldt 18 Mar 2018 at 11:27 pm

    Great article. You mentioned “in the digital era”, yet the points you made are not just relevant today, they are basics that seem to have been lost in all the hype and rubbish the “digital era” has given us. What you have done is reinforce the point that the basics don’t change – great retail advertising, for example, has always been that which addresses long and short term objectives – simultaneously sell today and build the brand for tomorrow. “Brandtail” was the term used .

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