The visuals that comprise a company’s branding carry a weight beyond words. Good branding can convey trustworthiness, goodwill, nostalgia – any number of positive concepts and emotional responses. Bad branding, on the other hand, can make a good company look incompetent, dated, or out-of-touch. Typography, color, form, texture and space all work together, for good or bad, to establish this key component of brand messaging.
Though there is no proven scientific formula that defines what “good” or “bad” are in branding, we do have the collective benefit of documentation outlining certain spectacular wins and fails in branding. From these cases, we can glean a greater understanding of what works – and what doesn’t. Without further ado:
Never underestimate the power of nostalgia. In the 1980s and 1990s, Pizza Hut was the epitome of cool. They had the personal pan pizzas. They had the Book-It. They had the freaking Ninja Turtles. And they had stellar branding and a super-cool logo that was originally designed in the 1960s. That logo went by the wayside during a rebrand in 1999, and the company’s subsequent string of replacement logos, along with the restaurant’s popularity, were met with declining interest.
Recently, and perhaps primarily due to Stranger Things, Pizza Hut resurrected its classic logo (with minor alterations), and literally, no one is complaining. The red roof is not a replacement, per se, but is being used in tandem with the 2014 circle logo as of late 2019.
The snippy-snappy photo app was initially popular among those who longed for the past (and a way to get away from their parents on Facebook), capitalizing on creative filters that emulated fuzzy analog film. Being launched solely on iOS at the height of the skeuomorphism app icon phase, Instagram’s logo featured an old school camera (because what else would you take pictures with on your fancy $800 alarm clock?).
In 2016, as they began to introduce new features to the app, they swapped over to a much more minimal icon that felt futuristic and hip at the same time. Initially, a lot of people hated the big adjustment, but we feel it has stood the test of time. The brand is now flexible and able to expand with the company as opposed to being locked into 2010.
Jordan and Pippen. Peanut Butter and Jelly. The font Papyrus and any beachfront business. Some pairings are timeless and aren’t ever going away. Similarly, a stark, sans-serif font with some wonky lettering paying homage to the Parthenon’s inscriptions almost ALWAYS go with anything “Greek”. Greek restaurants, Greek parties, and especially, Greek yogurt.
Chobani switched this up in 2017 as Greek yogurt started to move into vogue. But this wasn’t just “GREEK” yogurt. It was Greek “YOGURT.” Yogurt is healthy and promotes gut health, right? By adding a warm and cozy green, plucky illustrations, and a chunky serif, Chobani successfully refreshed a brand that would go on to cover a variety of products.
Sure to top every Worst Rebrand List is the Gap’s branding fail. Only a week later, the Gap reverted to their original design, the iconic logo of 24 years. Seldom has the internet reacted with so severe a maelstrom of fury than they did in 2010 when the chunky sans-serif blue mystery-square appeared for the first time. Julie Weiner of Vanity Fair described the new logo as the “despised symbol of corporate banality,” in a 2010 article. Shortly after the furor, Gap changed back to its original logo, leaving everyone to wonder if it was a legit rebrand or a PR stunt.
INT. CROWDED BOARDROOM, 2019
CEO: “Here’s the deal. Our holdings flatlined in 2006 and began on a 10-year-cataclysmic nosedive in 2010. Does anyone have any ideas how to fix this?”
VP OF BRANDING: “…We could add a rocket ship icon next to our logo?”
The late 2000s were a great time for rebranding. Social media was taking off, which meant there were new ways, both organic and paid, to get your new brand out there. However, the same was true back then as it is today — don’t change just to change.
Don’t pivot just because you see others pivoting.
While being “twitterpated” by the possibilities a new brand could bring, Tropicana dropped a lot of the character and personality that people had come to appreciate and enjoy. This was something that millions of people saw sitting on their kitchen table every morning. So many people tried to jam a straw into an orange, allured by the promises on that carton – and now all of it was just… gone. In Tropicana’s case, they learned VERY quickly that they shouldn’t change.
As it turns out, there is something that rhymes with orange. It’s “20% drop in sales.” A mere two months after the rebrand, PepsiCo switched back to the old packaging and ads.
Some brands who didn’t quite make the list, but deserve the lack-luster title of—
Animal Planet (2012)
New Coke (1985)
New Amsterdam -> New York
As you can see, there’s more to a good visual identity than meets the eye! We hope you enjoyed this fun look through some spectacular branding cases, which illuminate not only the effectiveness of aesthetics, but also the power of public perception!
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