What’s in a logo?

A host of brands have recently been ridiculed for changing their logos or altering familiar designs, but if you believe in the strategy, should you ignore the doubters?

What's in a logo

Everyone enjoys sneering at a logo redesign gone wrong – as American chocolate brand Hershey discovered this month. The company hoped its updated corporate logo would create a simpler, cleaner brand image based on its emblematic Kiss product. But most social media comments had a different interpretation.

According to exclusive research by Brandwatch, commissioned by Marketing Week, 97 per cent of online mentions expressing a sentiment about the new logo were negative (see graphs, below). Brandwatch, which crawls through 70 million websites, including social networks and news sites, found that 3,522 mentions of the new logo compared it to faeces, while 2,456 likened it to the ‘poo emoji’, an icon used in text messages and social media.

Hershey’s woes, as well as those of accommodation booking site Airbnb and the newly merged Dixons Carphone – both of which have recently redesigned – might have marketers asking if it is worth the risk.

So have these brands lost the link between refreshing their outward appearance and the strategic and cultural needs that should be behind such changes? Or is an immediate negative reaction to a new logo a red herring with no bearing on ultimate success, as with the London 2012 Olympic Games?

“We toyed with the idea of ditching Fred for the rebrand but the reaction to the new creative was ‘where’s Fred?’”

Helen Warren-Piper, Homepride

Angus Montgomery, editor of Marketing Week’s sister brand Design Week, points out that the visual aspects of a rebrand are usually a small part of a wider transformation within an organisation (see Viewpoint, below). Companies should not necessarily feel disheartened by the initial response, he argues.

“It takes time for the full effects of a rebrand to be seen, and critics always pick up the logo as the most obvious touchpoint of a new identity,” he says. “But brands should always think about – and talk about – the deeper implications of their new look.”

This will provide some comfort to Airbnb, which launched its new logo in July and achieved the remarkable trick of provoking comparisons to both male and female genitalia. The new Dixons Carphone brand, meanwhile, was derided as underwhelming and outdated.

Tour operator Thomas Cook is a good example of a logo redesign that reflects bigger strategic changes. The company underwent significant restructuring in recent years as a result of long-standing financial problems. Its relaunch with a new logo and strapline last October was therefore a signal that the group is embarking on a fresh start.

Thomas Cook
Thomas Cook’s new ‘Let’s Go’ strapline and sunny heart logo represent more than a visual makeover – internal operations have also changed

It ditched its globe logo in favour of a ‘sunny heart’ (above) and replaced its ‘Don’t just book it, Thomas Cook it’ strapline with ‘Let’s Go’. Head of sales and marketing Martin Dyhouse says the rebrand is designed to convey vibrancy and modernity, particularly as the company seeks to take a lead within the travel industry on digital innovation. The new visual identity also makes a more obvious association between Thomas Cook and holidays.

The branding is further intended to unify Thomas Cook’s European companies under a single identity. The company operates in 17 different countries and the ‘sunny heart’ appears in miniature alongside its subsidiaries’ branding with the line ‘Part of the Thomas Cook Group’.

While ‘Don’t just book it, Thomas Cook it’ was a popular strapline, it was idiomatic and UK-specific, whereas ‘Let’s Go’ translates easily into other languages, says Dyhouse. The new strapline also acts as a “clear call to action” across the business.

Thomas Cook’s accounts show that in the year to 31 March 2014, the company saw a 39 per cent uplift in like-for-like profits to £274m and a strong demand for new products such as concept hotels and UK winter breaks. However, the extent to which this growth is driven by the visual redesign is debatable. Group revenues have continued to fall slightly since it was unveiled and the increase in profits is also the result of ongoing internal efficiency measures and improved margins.

Dyhouse says the rebrand is a long-term project. Indeed, 250 of its UK stores have not yet received the new signage and interior design. Instead, the company has focused on staff engagement in the first year since the rebrand.

This includes using the concept of the ‘sunny heart’ to create an online portal called ‘One million hearts’ where all members of staff can access customer experience data and share solutions for improving the business. The company has also introduced a new online rewards system for staff.


Positive and negative attachment to brand logos

The slow-burn impact of a redesign is also reflected by Brandwatch’s data. Marketing Week asked the agency to measure both the number of mentions and sentiment expressed towards five recent rebrands: Airbnb, Birds Eye, Dixons Carphone, Google for Work (formerly Google Enterprise) and Hershey. Common search terms were used such as ‘rebrand’, ‘new brand’, ‘new logo’ and ‘new design’ in relation to the brands.

The results show that some generated little online chatter (see above). The rebranding aspect of the Dixons Carphone merger was mentioned only 252 times, for example, and Birds Eye’s new logo and packaging design was mentioned merely 108 times across the 70 million sites monitored.

Birds Eye’s rebrand is also part of a longer-term strategic shift from which it does not expect to see an immediate sales impact. In March, the company unveiled a £60m brand relaunch aimed at making Birds Eye more relevant to a wider demographic and to more meal occasions with its ‘The Food of Life’ campaign.

The new look, launched last month, is the latest step in that strategy. The pared down branding, created by agency JKR, aims to create a simpler and warmer design by ditching the multi-coloured border around the Birds Eye name in favour of a red background with white specks. This logo has also shifted from the side of packaging to the centre to put it front of mind for consumers.

“We want shoppers to be more brand-centric in the frozen foods category,” explains Birds Eye’s UK marketing director Steve Chantry. “We want to be a clear choice when we’re on the supermarket shelf in terms of quality and innovation.”

Given that the new visual identity was announced with little fanfare, the small number of social media discussions is unsurprising. Chantry says it is part of a “long-term play” that will help to increase the overall “shoppability” of the brand. For example, the simpler, cleaner branding is also intended to help establish Birds Eye’s identity on digital platforms so it can broaden its engagement with consumers.

Brand characters

Despite the refreshed image, the brand has retained its well-known Captain Birds Eye character on packaging, albeit with an updated design. Chantry explains that the high recognition scores and consumer affection for the character compelled the company to keep him. This was also the experience of cooking sauce brand Homepride, which relaunched its 50-year-old brand character Fred in a new TV campaign on 21 September (main image, top).

Helen Warren-Piper, savoury director at Premier Foods, Homepride’s parent company, says her team initially toyed with the idea of ditching Fred as part of its relaunch but it was met with strong opposition in focus groups. “The reaction from women when we showed them the new creative was ‘where’s Fred?’” she says.

The popularity of brand characters such as the Churchill insurance dog or the meerkats that promote Comparethemarket.com show the value of easily identifiable brand icons. Insurance brand Columbus Direct elected to retain its own dog character when it redesigned earlier this year.

“Like the meerkats, Columbus is a memory icon,” says managing director Greg Lawson. “The growth of content marketing as a discipline demands the creation of brand personality, and that’s what we have tried to bring together.”

The company is expanding its offer from travel insurance to other areas such as home and breakdown cover. To reflect this, the company has refreshed its image by turning its 2D Columbus the dog into a CGI creation that will feature in TV advertising due to launch in November.

The brand refresh, developed by creative agency Designate, represents a significant investment for Columbus Direct, which is part of loyalty and financial services group Collinson. The company spent over £500,000 on the rebrand, and has a further £200,000 earmarked for TV production costs.

While the company believes it will take time to affect sales, it is working with a brand awareness agency to gauge whether consumers are becoming familiar with the new visuals. “We are looking at unprompted awareness and the extent to which people trust the brand,” he says.

Return on investment

Old logos new logos
Changing logos is one of the first things brands do in their rebrands and is often the most criticised

The value of some redesigns is easier to quantify. Gym chain Fitness First, for example, reports that its refit of 19 UK clubs since the beginning of the year has helped attract over 16,000 new members, representing the first growth in UK membership since 2009. As a result, the company has announced plans to bring forward £8m of investment in order to double the pace of its UK and Australia club upgrade programme, which involves new equipment and services.

Working with The Clearing, the company also changed its typeface. The new branding, unveiled in January, includes an additional logo: a single capital F that creates a simple icon more applicable to digital platforms such as apps.

By investing heavily in top-of-the-line equipment and new gym services, Fitness First has seen immediate results from its brand refresh. The investment has moved the company further towards the premium end of the market, helping to differentiate it from competitors.

“We felt that the leisure and fitness industry had become commoditised, particularly with budget operators entering the market,” explains UK marketing director David Jones. “With the rebrand we wanted to get back to our core brand values and offer the best fitness experience.”

Fitness First announced the redesign through outdoor and online advertising, but also relied on word of mouth among users to encourage people to try its new gyms. The company has sought to facilitate this trend by improving the brand’s overall membership experience via its digital communications and forums.

In other instances, businesses need to shout loudly about their rebrands in order to generate awareness. Comparison website Confused.com introduced its new logo and brand character Brian the robot to the world last year by running a controversial TV ad that appeared to show Brian disturbing a couple engaged in a sex act.

Confused.com's Brian
Brand characters, such as Homepride’s Fred (video above) and Confused.com’s Brian the robot, help to make brands easily identifiable

The spot attracted 137 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority but following an investigation, the regulatory body decided not to take action. Confused.com marketing director Joby Russell says that while the company never intended to offend, it was also conscious of the need to create an edgy ad that would draw attention to the rebrand.

“It’s obviously important that people remember your advertising and with the rebranding we really wanted people to sit up and take notice,” he says. “It was about making people look twice and say ‘did I really just see that?’.”

The brand has stayed clear of controversy since the initial TV advert and has focused on using Brian to convey its scientific and precise approach to price comparison. Previously, it tried to drive awareness with its colourful branding and musical adverts populated by singing and dancing cartoon characters. Its rebrand last year, which was developed by Publicis, was intended to give Confused.com more of an identity and purpose, says Russell.

“The previous positioning was about getting people to think about us and remember us,” he notes. “We’re now focused on our values and driving brand preference.”

Russell says the company’s market share has held steady since the relaunch but that its brand awareness research shows a growth in preference towards Confused.com as a reliable and effective service. The company regards its new positioning as a vital platform for driving growth in the coming years, he says, and for rallying the business internally.

Rebranding is clearly much more than a cosmetic exercise. The likes of Airbnb and Hershey, confronted with criticism and mockery of their new visual identities, should look towards the example of the London 2012 Olympic Games. On its release in 2007, the official logo of the Games was panned, yet it became the core visual signifier of one of the most successful Olympics ever.

It serves as an apt reminder that it is not the branding alone that will win the day, it is how you back it up.

3 things  you need to know

1. A negative initial response to a rebrand or new identity does not mean it has failed. But businesses should track the impact on sales and changing consumer perceptions.

2. Rebranding does not simply mean creating a new logo or brand image – it is about bigger strategic changes within organisations and how brands communicate these to the world.

3. Staff engagement is vital. Businesses must ensure employees are invested in the new strategic direction and understand the deeper meaning of the new brand identity.

Case study: Homepride cooking sauce

Following a 10-year advertising hiatus, Homepride returned to TV on 21 September with a new brand identity. The brand has retained Fred, the bowler hat-wearing character originally devised in 1964, but the £2.3m campaign gives him an updated look in a relaunch intended to appeal to the needs of modern families.

Helen Warren-Piper, savoury director at Homepride owner Premier Foods, explains that while Fred maintains his role as “a helper” in the kitchen, the family scene is updated to put less emphasis on the domestic role of the mother. Fred is imbued with more personality as he interacts with different members of the family.

“Fred is now about more than helping mum prepare food,” she says. “The ad shows that he wants to keep mum happy more broadly. It’s an appreciation that mums’ lives have changed.”

The TV ad was developed by McCann London.

The packaging is also transformed for the relaunch, with Fred larger and more central on the label. The campaign is supported by radio, outdoor and in-store activations.

Warren-Piper says the brand’s return to advertising is driven by the popularity of gastro-pubs and English cooking sauces, as well as the 50th anniversary of the Fred icon. The brand is targeting double-digit sales growth as a result of the rebrand and hopes to see improved consumer perceptions too.

Viewpoint: Angus Montgomery

Editor, Design Week

When a high-profile company launches a new identity, three comments from the public are almost guaranteed: “my five-year-old could have done that”, “£200k for a squiggle? What a rip-off” and “it looks like a bum”.

While most designers have become thick-skinned, it hides a deeper problem for brands launching new identities.

With all the attention on the logo, the full effect of the rebrand – what it means for consumers, stakeholders and staff – can easily be overlooked.

Critiquing a new logo is easy to do. Understanding the story of how a company is changing internal and external perceptions of itself is more difficult.

The British Heart Foundation rebrand is a good example. It doesn’t have a new logo, instead the BHF, with design agency The Partners, developed a new proposition – Fight for Every Heartbeat, which is expressed through tone of voice, visual communication and, crucially internal organisation.

The rebrand work focused on highlighting the stories of people in the organisation and bringing them together to share learning and successes.

Wolff Olins’s 2012 rebrand of USA Today provides a similar example. The logo is a basic roundel, but the real work came with how the new identity unified the media brand’s activities and rolled out into a stronger, simpler editorial design across both print and digital.

Following the rebrand, USA Today’s digital revenues increased by more than 69 per cent and first quarter profits were up 53 per cent.

METHODOLOGY for charts

Brandwatch tracks 70 million websites to find data on brands. The graph entitled ’Most Discussed Rebrand’ shows the number of online mentions for each brand in relation to key words such as ‘new logo’.

The graph entitled ‘Sentiment’ shows the proportion of mentions that were negative or positive when a sentiment was expressed.


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