Another Burned Unveiler: The UK’s OGC

Branding always has it problems. Often, they’re international in nature; remember the Unix systems vendor Arete? They had big problems in France where arrete means “stop.” Who wants to buy the stop computer?

Sometimes, they’re cultural — I remember at Business Objects when the (English) product manager for BusinessMiner proposed a product icon that had two huge letters BM along with a flashlight running across them. I also remember when I lived in Paris literally begging the French to stop abbreviating Business Objects as “B.O.”

But I digress.  Sometimes, the brand name is just dumb. Remember Monday? Some professional services firm (was it PwC?) was trying to rebrand itself as a day-of-the-week right before they were acquired. Imagine this conversation: “hey, we’re meeting with the Monday guys on Tuesday … or was it the Tuesday guys on Monday.”

In that vein, I am frankly amazed that UPS has continued its “brown” campaign for so long. Are they actually trying to re-brand themselves as brown (as the tagline “what can brown do you for” suggests), or is it a just an expense exercise in synonym creation? While I’m riffing, one wonders if the Mexican Groupo Bimbo should regionally brand their “Bimbo” baked good products much as we call it Hellman’s mayonnaise on the East coast and Best Foods out West, or Hardee’s in some states and Carl’s Junior in others.

Sometimes you successfully run the gauntlet of brand naming only to explode on logo design.

I remember once at (the original) Ingres when marketing spent hundreds of thousands on a new corporate identity only to discover from an engineer at the internal launch that: “the logo looks just like Borland’s new logo.” But by then it was too late to do anything: new cards had been printed, new signs had been made, new ads had been placed. Watching that one experience permanently cured me from the “unveil mentality” that I see common in most marketers.

But this post was inspired by a story in the UK’s Telegraph about the Office of Government Commerce which, despite a simple and descriptive name, managed to blow up on the logo design. Viewed as intended, the logo is a simple set of initials. But in the text message, emoticon culture of today people don’t always view things as intended. Often you look at things sideways, as with the smiley face :-) emoticon.

Sadly for the OGC and its design agency, I guess they didn’t show their new logo to enough generation Y types because, when viewed sideways, the otherwise-innocuous logo resembles, … well, of all things, an aroused snowman. Whoda guessed?

The simple moral — don’t unveil; show your draft work early and often to a wide variety of people.

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End note:  I revised the post revised to remove the accidental inclusion of not one, but two, urban myths: the Chevy Nova anecdote and the Gerber baby food tale (about which I admit being a bit nervous while typing, but heck, it made it into Harvard Business Review in 1984).

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