Distinction is brand identity

I have noticed a design trend recently which to my knowledge stemmed from a series of photos by Jasper James called City silhouettes.


The likes of Eurostar and The Moroccan National Tourist Office have taken this direction in their advertising campaigns.



Trends in their infancy are exciting, they suddenly show a distinctive way of presenting something, but by their very nature soon become obsolete as more companies use said technique to communicate, so it becomes less powerful the more it is implemented, especially when used by multiple companies promoting the same type of service, leading to confusion and less brand recognition. The trouble is, brands take notice of what their competition is doing, and they don’t want to be left behind as others in the same category are creating a particular look.

Goodfellas pizza recently underwent a rebrand, going from a distinctive, canvas painting style packaging design which reflected the care and artistry that go into their pizzas…replacing this with a generic design that sits comfortably within the world of frozen supermarket pizzas.

This ‘not being left behind’ logic goes against the point of creating a brand identity, an identity is supposed to create a distinctive look and feel for a brand to be noticed within their particular category, so by following the herd they are missing an opportunity to standout.


People as brand identity

What affect does George Clooney appearing in a coffee advert have; well apart from showing the brand are doing so well they can afford to pay such a lucrative star (which you could argue is actually off putting), the answer is, very little. Most people will just see it as George Clooney selling coffee, and nothing more, there appears to be nothing genuine about stars appearing in adverts.

Consumers will react more favourably to ‘real’ people appearing in adverts; they can see themselves in that situation, in their minds swapping that person for themselves. Imagine George Clooney in a luxury car, we know he has great wealth and can afford any car, there’s nothing to relate to, so this alienates people, now imagine a ‘real’ person in that luxury car, it immediately makes it more achievable that you too could own this car.

There is a dilemma; using ‘real’ people makes a brand less special, less exclusive. An answer to this is to use attractive, ‘real’ people; this provides the best of both solutions, the ambiguity of the subjects and the attractiveness of the celebrity.


The French fashion brand The Kooples do exactly that, they use attractive real couples, who are customers wearing their clothing, the photos are accompanied by a caption of the couples names and how long they have been together as authenticity for the concept.

I think the future of this type of brand ambassador will come with the evolution of product placement.

Product placement to me is the next logical step for advertising on TV, adverts saturate programs now to a frustrating extent; if they were incorporated into the shows then at least there would be no interruption from the programming.

With product placement you can create a true lifestyle brand, by set dressing and careful placement of other objects and imagery you want to be associated with your brand you can create a living advert which would suit the likes of Fat Face down to the ground, Home and Away could feature a character who is a surfer, he lives in a trendy house by the beach, his home is decked out with a smoothie maker, a wicker picnic basket, an acoustic guitar, a Frisbee, maps on the wall, wood on the floor, he has a VW camper van in the drive and of course wears Fat Face sunglasses, clothing and sandals. Said character could also become a brand ambassador outside of the soap, legitimately stepping up to be the face of the brand through time.

This evolution of a brand ambassador has in a way, already happened, with Michael Jordan for Nike. Jordan was of course a hugely successful basketball player but what Nike did was to create an ambassador out of him, pushing his profile so high, he became one of the most recognisable people on the planet, and Nike and their values went with him.

Art as brand identity

Whilst travelling on the underground recently I got thinking about the health and safety posters provided by TFL, they occupy the same space as advertisements but remain disconnected and are instantly recognisable as information rather than promotion.

This is a great achievement for the information to be so distinctive and clear and is achieved by the use of bright and somewhat unusual block colours and the use of a simple info-graphics style. In my opinion these aren’t the most attractive designs, but more importantly are some of the most distinctive. Because they are information rather than promotion they are able to be more risky, eye catching and break from conventions.

A distinctive look such as this is what a brand identity’s goal should be, an effective way to create a unique visual identity would be for a brand to adopt a famous artist, most artists’ work is recognisable and distinct, as an artist will be using the same techniques or the same subject matter to create a body of work which can sit together comfortably, these qualities are evident in good brand identities too, the company’s output will be following set guidelines and working from a tool kit of elements to create consistency in the long-term.

This concept came to me when I saw a bottle of Tangerine & Lime Firefly energy drink which features the work ‘KIDS’ by Michael Craig Martin, this is a money raising venture for Oxford Children’s Hospital (wherein the original work resides), but you can see the potential of using a recognisable artist’s work as the identity throughout the entire range.

Similarly, in June of this year Magners cider unveiled a campaign featuring artist and graphic designer Noma Bar, his bold shapes playing with negative space are instantly recognisable and certainly make you look twice (Among them is a design featuring bees leaving a negative space between them of a bottle)

These campaigns are where the idea has ceased for said companies; in the case of the Magners identity, Noma Bar’s style could feature on everything from posters and web promotion to bottle labels. There is scope for the brand to evolve with the artist long term and for cross promotion but how would the art world react to an artist ‘selling out’?

With branding becoming more and more important within business and the design industry, companies need something to stand out from the crowd more than ever; perhaps this could provide an answer.

Copywriting as brand identity

Innocent smoothies copywriting is legendary, a friendly, honest tone of voice which resonates throughout the company’s output, from the tiny but mighty detail of changing the use by date to: enjoy by date, to the whimsical flavour descriptors;

‘When you find spiders in your raspberry bush, you have just one week left to pick the fruit, or so says some old wife somewhere. These ladies also swear by crushing eggshells to stop the witches getting in, reckon cats can steal the breath from a baby’s mouth and advise you to never walk over 3 drains in a row or wear blue socks on Tuesdays. But getting back to raspberries, we don’t use spiders to tell us they’re ready to eat. We just politely ask the man who grows them. Much easier that way.’

This lighthearted and friendly style has recently been implemented in the language of Oloves olives, taking influence from its name and front of pack (two olives making a heart shape), the BOP features personals ads from olives seeking a partner, this is an unusual and comical way of engaging with its audience but is completely relevant as the medium is associated with love.

Although I like this idea, I do think they could have used this language to tell you more about the product and what distinguishes each flavour, where they are from or what each olive goes with, ‘I grew up in Italy’ ‘enjoy bathing in cream cheese’, saying that, this brand story does its job by giving you a reason to buy these olives over any other finger food as it stands out and gives you something to remember.

During a tea shop branding project whilst at university, a lot of my time and energy was concerned with creating a tone of voice which would put the identity of this ‘antidote to Starbucks coffee’ between Victorian tea drinking etiquette and the demographic of modern city businessmen. I looked into tea drinking etiquette and the typical English gentleman and settled with a tone reminiscent of the Sherlock Holmes books, I created a description for each of the 11 teas which expressed its USP in a mini story or scene setter, here are a few example:

Raining outside? Dash it all! Confine yourself to the sofa to enjoy the warming effects of GINGER WITH A HINT OF LEMON, take pleasure from being away from the foot falls and fumes of the city by settling down with a crossword (or your psp)

All you need in the morning is a chair, a newspaper and a cup of BREAKFAST TEA. Just the thing to clear your head when you’ve just rolled out of bed. (for those that have risen late, reach for the afternoon tea instead)

With this type of thing, the copywriting is a part of an overall identity and can go unnoticed, but a brand identity can be purely about the words rather than the image. Gabriele Skelton is a design recruitment company, they’re all about match making, ‘creating unusual combinations to make magic happen’ this message is communicated in a unique and compelling way, by matching one half of a famous double act with one half from a different double act, but in a way that seems right.

Romeo + Judy

(Romeo and Juliet/ Richard and Judy)

Tarzan + June

(Tarzan and Jane/ Terry and June)

Bubble + Sweep

(Bubble and Squeek/ Sooty and Sweep)

These pairings are allowed to shine by sitting white on magenta with no images throughout the branding, this is an expertly delivered message that uses a system which could be added to in future to keep things fresh, acting as a nice payoff for their clients.

The way in which a tone of voice is used can really connect with people and can transcend the boundaries of the brands usual reach.

Fosters good call campaign started as TV advertisements and turned into shorter sponsor stings before and after ad breaks, the interesting thing about this particular campaign is how it made its way into Shortlist magazine as an ‘advertorial’, the page is an agony aunt style question and answers feature, with Brad and Dan from the adverts answering the questions in their laid back aussie way, The only mention of Fosters is a logo in the corner and the colours used on the page. Because people are familiar with this campaign it doesn’t need to scream Fosters, this way it can have more fun with the audience which at the same time actually does a better job at creating brand awareness.

Ritual as brand identity

You arrive at your arranged destination to find your friend is already there, you approach and they notice you, in unison you uncork your earphones and start to wrap them round your ipod and place it back in your pocket in time to commence the usual face to face pleasantries.

This got me thinking about rituals which are sold as part of the brand experience and help to distinguish a product from their competition. A case in point is with Corona beer, when you order a Corona a ritual ensues with the barman cutting a wedge of lime which is inserted into the bottle, this means you wait longer for a beer, but it gives this drink a sense of occasion and a fresh hit of citrus which improves the flavour. Both things help to make Corona stand out amongst their competition.

The ultimate product that utilises its ritual is the BUMP app for the iphone, the product is the ritual, you select the information you want to share and bump phones with the person you want to receive that information. Not only is this a unique way to share information but it is great for social interaction which is key for Bump becoming popular in the future.

Rituals don’t have to be invented, they can be a by product of the object in question, take Schweppes, the ‘schhhhhh, schweppes’ tagline comes from the sound of a bottle of carbonated water being opened, this has been tied into the identity of Schweppes and does a good job of jumping Schweppes to the top of your mind when you purchase carbonated drinks. This sound tag has recently been worked into Schweppes Olympic campaign to encourage people to swim. In advertisements they run with the tagline ‘Schwim free’ and on the bottle top you have ‘Sch..wim cap’.

In Brazil, Brahma beer took this idea of an ownable sound to the next level, In a campaign spearheaded by Saatchi and Saatchi, Brahma used the sound that a can of beer makes when opened ‘Tsss’ to be a vocal shortcut for Brahma beer, make this sound as you enter a bar and your friends would know what you wanted, this sort of thing can easily grow virally just through overheard conversations, and makes you feel part of something which in turn leads to brand loyalty.

Rituals help a product stand out from the crowd by creating a sound, action or set of actions which help create associations with the brand, giving you something to remember.