…Not Just For Christmas.

» by Jamie White, November 22nd, 2011 | Brand Marketing


The holidays are, indeed, coming. Or so I’m told, whenever I’m hit with an ad-break, a mail-shot or an MPU. The endless feeding frenzy of notably-premature festive marketing has been unleashed for all to behold. Tell me this: When is it acceptable to let me know Santa’s poised, breathless and ruddy, atop my chimney, laden down with sumptuous treasures and itching for a nip of Croft Original and a mince pie?

The Winter sales in the UK seem to start in August nowadays preceded by the Oxford Street lights getting fired up mid-July and bouts of snow in late May. What started as a religious holiday has now become a three-month long eulogy to a retail industry in need of a significant shot in the arm.

Still, whilst some things are clearly in need of a significant change, this time of year offers us all the chance to revel in some marketing permanence. And I’m not just talking about Hellmans’ ‘12 Days of Christmas’ spot that has run (seemingly) unchanged since I was a tender age.

Coca-Cola has recently hit us with its stalwart festive advertising blitz, airing the first classic ‘Holidays are Coming’ ad of 2011 during Saturday night’s X Factor. It’s truly remarkable how the brand has become so synonymous with the season. And, despite a gentle update, what’s most impressive is how the visual and verbal language of this campaign puts consistency at the heart of the idea.

Coke’s claim on ‘the unofficial countdown to Christmas’ isn’t far off the mark. Believe me, no-one knows Santa like Coca-Cola; its role in shaping the iconography of Mr Claus dates back to the campaigns of Thomas Nast in the late 1800’s.

Of course, those stalwart identities are never given the credit they deserve. Consistency has become a bit of a dirty word in branding. Consistency doesn’t connect. Consistency lacks humanity. We prefer thrilling affairs with ‘new’ and the ‘next’.

Recently, I sat through an enlightening presentation about how the brand book was breathing its last and that the industry needed new tools to tackle the alarming array of visual and verbal platforms that brands have to perform upon. They were probably right. “I love you because you’re sooooo consistent” is an unlikely sweet nothing. ‘Coherent inconsistency’ seems to be the conversation starter, nowadays.

But there’s something fascinating about brands that stay true to an idea for generations.

I’m convinced that some things are worth hanging onto in our increasingly disposable world. Refreshing an identity, rather than radical overhaul, often makes the most amount of sense. Getting people from unprompted awareness to genuine familiarity takes time and money, so it’s important to know when to stick, and when to twist. MTV’s gentle overhaul last year was an exercise in quiet evolution, and even managed to take into account the trend for ‘logo-as-receptacle-for-content’, joining the ranks of AOL and the 2012 Olympic Scribble, without feeling derivative or fleeting.

Shell’s infamous pecten is a study in the restrained and reductive. You can count nine iterations over 90 years, including an incomparable refresh in 1971 by Raymond Loewy. But a belief in consistency and bold simplicity has preserved an icon that over four generations will immediately recognise. So much so that the company name was dropped last year. Apple, Starbucks and Merrill Lynch have done the same.

BMW, or Bayerische Motoren Werke AG for purists, has similarly retained its iconic brandmark for a century and is all the more memorable for it. Though not for its original manufacturing operation – supplying planes to the German army in the first world war. The alternating blue and white gradients are the only legacy of propellers against a clear sky.

Interestingly, car manufacturers often feature in most studies of brand consistency. VW, Mercedes, Ford and Audi have resisted all but polite augmentation in their visual identities.

Technology companies are less inclined to stick to the plan. But there are notable exceptions. Paul Rand’s IBM logotype has remained unchanged since the day it was drawn, coincidentally, the year i was born. I’ve only ever known those inkjet stripes, intended to depict speed and dynamism.

Of course, some brands don’t know what they’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Google slipped out a snazzy new logo for Chrome earlier this year, only to replace it with the old one a week or so later. And let’s not even mention Gap, those troublesome British Airways tail-fins or ‘the people’s’ Post Office, after ‘the people’ held Consignia to be truly second-class.

There’s no shame in sticking with good tradition if it provides a brand with a desirable, durable and more memorable future, is there? So, when you’re thinking about your identity and it’s graphic legacy, consider this. Brands should be for life. And, certainly, for Christmas.

  • Simon

    Refreshing honest and informative – great article.