Big, new corporate identity reveals never fail to stir up a bit of controversy.
I’m old enough to remember the headlines when BP launched the Helios in 2000.
20 years later, whatever your feelings for the spirograph flower, it feels like that prescient and elegant design strategy is vindicated. It turned out to be what proper corporate identity should be – a meaningful icon; with timeless appeal; distinctive in colour; unique in its sector.
An actual identity
But I’m not sure the same will be the case for the current era’s efforts. It’s very unlikely that the Thomas Cook relaunch in 2013 directly led to that great company’s demise last year – but I’d venture it made a contribution.
I’m wondering about John Lewis, too. During the past year the brand has been transitioning to a new name, a new colour, a new logo, and a new visual supergraphic. I mean, that’s a lot to take on when business is brisk – which it’s not.
There is probably a lorry load of research to prove why this strategy is a good idea.
But I’m curious.
A new name. Or rather, attaching ‘and Partners’ – to everything. I get the desire to focus on the business’s distinctive model. So, I get ‘John Lewis and Partners’. But ‘Waitrose and Partners’? And then I’m at a service station on the M11 (Waitrose is the best thing that happened to motorways) and here’s ‘Little Waitrose and Partners’. It’s all a bit daft. While in the background, lurking, is the spectre of the Partnership model collapsing under the weight of commercial pressure. I wonder how the actual Partners feel.
A new colour. Or rather black. Which isn’t a colour. Great visual identity uses colour as the singular differentiator. Vodafone red; O2 blue; John Lewis deep, sophisticated, quality, established, dark, resonant green. When their truck turned up with a washing machine a couple of years back, I indulged in a private moment of proper self-satisfaction. You still need a delivery van – even when you order online.
But what else was on that truck? And on the best ever paper carrier bags? And on the sticky tape they put on things that wouldn’t fit in a bag?
The logotype (that’s a LOGOtype. Not a BIT of type). Unmissable from a mile off. And that diagonal pattern - the Partner Stripes. Beautifully rendered. Unique forms. Instantly recognisable. Impossible to copy. Elegant and timeless.
These brand icons (I believe they just about fit the definition of icon) have been retired for a new system – or rather, an assembly of generic elements.
It’s all rolled out immaculately. Comprehensive (and costly) implementation, in the flagships at least, is faultless. All that black looks very, err sophisticated. But I reckon that’s what the presentations to M&S and House of Fraser said about those curiously similar efforts. Black and white with a generic sans serif typeface. Look what happened to them.
John Lewis has a true advantage in a troubled marketplace. An exceptional own-label product offering. More than just stuff, this is a design-led, cultural dimension to the business. Partners can be trained to sell it and it can be leveraged across B&M and digital estates in every category. It’s truly desirable and is actually great value. My sense is in years to come the business won’t be saying the same about this latest coat of paint.