When 'Brand Identity' Fails to Reflect the Brand
Every time I drive by an Arby's—which have been around since 1964—and see the whimsical sign with the giant cowboy hat, I chuckle. I imagine a hot roast beef sandwich, and it makes me hungry.
Same thing with Wendy's, which opened in 1969. The sign says to me, "Stop here for a great breakfast or juicy, old-fashioned burger!"
Though only a sometimes customer, over the years both of these organizations have created positive brand awareness in my head.
So when I received the e-mail from KCSA Strategic Communications announcing a "new brand identity" for Wendy's/Arby's, I was curious. After all, the old brands were real good.
Here's how the "new brand identity" is described:
"The Wendy's/Arby's Group brand identity is designed not only as an acronym, but as a spiral continuum, maintaining the idea of continuous, flexible movement forward," said Margaret Wiatrowski, creative director, KCSA Strategic Communications. "The overall visual direction remains neutral by introducing entirely new elements to the combined entity, both formalistically and typographically. The two entities are symbolically combined through a mutual sense of innovation, authenticity and tradition."
NOTE: At the end of this story are illustrations of the logos discussed.
Creating a Logo
One day in 1984, I came home from a very liquid lunch with the late, great freelance copywriter Harry Walsh and muttered to my wife, Peggy, that I wanted to start a newsletter based on our massive archive of junk mail.
"Cash flow for a newsletter can't be any worse than cash flow for a freelancer," Peggy said. "Let's do it."
WHO'S MAILING WHAT! was born.
One thing we needed was a distinctive title design/logo for the cover page and elsewhere. I called my trusty, wonderfully talented freelance art director, Heide Follin, and gave her the assignment. "Don't sweat over this," I told her. "Just bang out a few designs, and we'll pick one."
I had a reason for being casual about this.
NBC Announces a New Logo—Ta-Dah!
In 1976, with great fanfare, NBC announced a spiffy new logo—a stylized "N" for which a high-powered design firm was reportedly paid between $600,000 and $1 million. NBC was promptly sued by Nebraska Educational Television for pirating the logo it had been using for two years. Many red faces later, plus a six-figure settlement, NBC got its logo. Total cost to NBC wound up being roughly $2 million. Meanwhile, the Nebraska folks had paid somewhere between $75 and $100 for the original logo two years before.
Heide Follin came to the house a few days later with a single sheet of paper containing five or six design sketches for WHO'S MAILING WHAT!, and we picked one. I may have paid her $100, but more likely, being Heide, she did it as a favor for a good client.
When a Logo Bears No Relationship to the Brand
I found the KSCA press release odd, because it talked about creating "new brand identity"—an airy-fairy, intellectualized, red-and-yellow ribbon design where the W and A "are symbolically combined through a mutual sense of innovation, authenticity and tradition."
The new corporate slogan/motto for the Wendy's/Arby's Group is equally bizarre: "SERVING FRESH IDEAS DAILY."
Wendy's and Arby's emphatically do not serve fresh ideas daily!
They serve fresh and succulent slabs of roast beef on fresh buns; old-fashioned, juicy hamburgers piled high with cheese, bacon, onion and tomato; or a breakfast plate loaded with sausage, fresh eggs, hash browns, waffles 'n' syrup with a mug of steaming fresh coffee.
Serving fresh ideas daily? C'mon.
What Is a Brand?
A brand cannot be launched. A product or service is brought to market and tested. A slogan can help—e.g., "Good to the last drop," "The pause that refreshes," "99 and 44/100s percent pure," "We bring good things to light," "Breakfast of champions."
When Peggy and I started WHO'S MAILING WHAT!, we didn't have a brand. Nine years later—after proving ourselves in the marketplace—we had a well-respected and unique brand we were able to sell to Target Marketing.
Only after months and years in the world of commerce does a product or service achieve brand status.
"What's your brand?" asked Al Ries in an AdAge.com column. "If you can't answer that question about your own brand in two or three words, your brand's in trouble. That's what differentiates a Hilton from a Hyatt, a Marriott, an Omni."
Eventually, with acceptance, the product or service becomes differentiated in the minds of consumers and/or businesspeople. It acquires brand. The brand is the USP—unique selling proposition—the thing that makes it different (and beloved) from all others in the field.
Once established, a brand is hugely valuable and should be protected at all costs—not scrapped and given a "new brand identity."
The idea of giving good ol' Wendy's and Arby's "new brand identities" is preposterous. How could the rubes that run Wendy's/Arby's fall for such Madison Ave.-MBA BS?