The Crapification of the Corporate Logo

The crapification of logo design lately disturbs me deeply. Though my primary business these days is strategic marketing, advertising and public relations, my degree from lo, these many years past, is in graphic design. The four-year, have to actually learn to draw, kind of design degree. The trend toward “friendlier” logos has been running on for about four years now, pushed by changes in 2009 to Walmart’s corporate logo. Some corporations who joined this crazy train toward homogenized design, such as Kraft foods, have revamped more than once. In Kraft’s case, they’re on their 4th logo in 4 years. Yes, really. One reason for the many changes in Kraft’s logo may be the similarity of the two “smiling” logos to Yoplait’s (also recently redesigned) logo.

The “smiling” logo has replaced the “swooshy” logo as the default graphic element. Those of you who’ve been designing logos (or working with logos) for more than the past five years know what I mean. The movement toward these friendlier, more playful logos might be, as the NY Times article on the trend referenced above says, a response toward the recession. No one wanted to appear big, corporate, and distant. I think it’s also a response to social media influences… a perhaps mis-implemented effort of brands to be more approachable for consumers (another way to engage an advertising audience). Somehow, brands translated “be more conversational” to “we need to lowercase our logo to show that we are a friendly company and that we’d be awesome to chat with on Facebook or Twitter.”

But the logo change that finally prompted me to write this rant post was the Arby’s logo “update.” Or, should I say “arby’s” since they are now a lower case logo, too. I am not against all lower case, everywhere, really. I am against a deliberate attempt to take a brand known for its western shtick and meat sandwiches and try to make it “modern” in a way that just makes it generic. And now, we have a kinder, friendlier arby’s logo (except for a weirdly attached apostrophe that is supposed to represent a slicer blade, the one nod to what arby’s is supposedly all about… slicing meat fresh in house) attached to commercials about finding the real food truth in fishing:

Gravelly male “manly” voice: Our fish comes from a place we call… the SEA. From men who wear things called… BEARDS. Because it’s cold in Alaska where we catch our fish.

With this logo.

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Leaving out the fact that the type is 2-D and the hat is an extrusion effect and tilted (so the text and the hat don’t occupy the same plane anymore), and that we have “friendly” type coupled with a western hat and a slicing blade, the basic question comes down to this:

Do you believe the message (real fish, from the Alaskan sea, caught by guys with beards on ships in dangerous waters) from this “face?” Would you believe ANY “real food” message from this corporate face?

I don’t hate every logo redesign, I promise. I’m in the middle of a couple myself for clients. What I hate is such an obvious disconnect between who the brand is (which is not what the people in the offices think, but what the people eating, or not eating, at the restaurants think) and how its represented. And if the goal here is to move Arby’s (I can’t help it, it needs to be capitalized) in a different direction, then why run the “real food by real men” commercials on TV and radio?

I want brands to be themselves. If you aren’t a childlike, friendly, fun kind of brand, don’t put that out there graphically. Be who you are, or put out there who you’d like to be… I’m OK with that, aspirational branding. Just don’t try to be different by being like everyone else. The genericization of brand logos is alarming as a trend and one I hope has run its course.

Rant Post over. What do you guys think… ?


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