Obsessive Branding Disorder by Lucas Conley is a book that graphic designers can place on their shelves. Conley describes in vivid detail the extent to which branding has permeated modern culture..."/>

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Comments (38) Posted 11.17.08 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Adrian Shaughnessy

Obsessive Branding Disorder I



Obsessive Branding Disorder by Lucas Conley is a book that graphic designers can place on their shelves next to Virginia Postrel’s The Substance of Style. Both books are written by non-designers and both shine a spotlight onto the nature of design today. While Postrel’s book is a sunny affirmation of the power of aesthetic design to create pleasure and desirability, Conley’s book exposes branding as a “pesticide working its way up the food chain.” For graphic designers, Obsessive Branding Disorder makes grim reading.

Conley describes in vivid detail the extent to which branding has permeated modern culture, and the lengths to which brand owners will go to promote their products. This won't be news to graphic designers — especially those doing brand-related work. Designers will not be surprised to read about branded urinals, branded golf holes, branded beach sand, NASCAR M&Ms, Proctor & Gamble sponsored mobile toilets, product placement in movies, fake bloggers eulogising products; “customer evangelists” who use clandestine word-of-mouth strategies to sell toothpaste and deodorant to unsuspecting friends and neighbors.

What might come as a surprise, however, is to have the branding phenomenon forensically examined, not by an anti-corporate "No Logo-er", but by a contributing writer to Fast Company magazine. Lucas Conley is a business writer. His measured and controlled indignation over the excesses of branding is not caused by moral or ethical considerations (although it’s clear that he is personally affronted by much of what is going on), instead his indignation is based on far more pragmatic concerns.

In Conley’s view, corporate America is in thrall of the cult of branding and this has led to the abandonment of the “trusty, dusty principles of business — innovative products, good service, solid management” in favor of the “idealism of branding . . .” He berates executives for becoming “so focused on the strength of the all-encompassing idea — the brand — that they ignore the physical properties that compose it.” In other words, branding has become the quick fix that promises instant success: why bother with expensive improvements to products and services when a new logo, a ritzy strap line, and a brand guidelines book can do the job just as well and at a fraction of the cost?

Conley’s book reads like a ripping yarn. He finds countless examples, from the mundane, to the more sinister forms of invasive branding that threaten our sense of self. He believes that branding has led to the cult of “instant behavioural transformations” and asks: “What does it mean when our ‘sense of meaning’ and our ‘sense of identity’ are shaped by someone trying to sell us something?”

It might seem as if the culprits in this are the ad agencies, but Conley sees branding as having “superseded the advertising industry, either claiming advertising outright or dictating the message that advertisers are allowed to deliver. Increasingly, marketing has also become a division of branding.” And he does a good job at naming the professional culprits. Cincinnati is full of them, apparently: “What Los Angeles is to plastic surgery,” Conley tells us, “Cincinnati, Ohio, is to the branding business.”

And it’s here, amongst the latter day equivalents of turn-of-the-century frontier snake-oil vendors, that Conley delivers one of his most damming indictments of modern branding. After an encounter with a branding fundamentalist, he notes: “The more he describes branding, the more it appears to consist entirely of vague idealism and seemingly vain efforts to create something meaningful and permanent of what is often superfluous and transient. The simpler the product, the more Byzantine the branding seems.”

What does this mean for designers? If we put to one side the ethical and moral questions of being foot soldiers in the consumerist engulfment of modern life (in my view, a matter for individuals to decide for themselves), designers nevertheless have to question the practical wisdom of allowing graphic design to be subsumed into branding.

On the one hand it's a sensible way of maintaining demand for design services. Clients “get” branding in a way they don't always “get” design, so why not woo them with talk of “brand promise” and “brand essence”? On the other hand, it may not be such a smart business maneuver; by aligning itself with branding, design risks being sucked down with it, when as with most business credos, branding falls out of fashion or becomes discredited — and don't think it can’t happen. Look at what happened to Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe. Who would have guessed a year ago (six months ago!) that their financial wizardry would be exposed as not much better than banditry and they’d have to go begging to the government for a bailout?

Yet perhaps graphic design’s biggest mistake is the same mistake made by those businesses that are turning to branding for instant salvation. Conley nails the problem: “ … branding, when it’s consistent, provides us with clarity and simplicity in a progressively hectic world. But branding has become unhinged from its initial principles, and its aims have become increasingly exaggerated and warped.” Seems to me, we can say the same thing about graphic design. By allowing graphic design to jump the species barrier and become branding, designers acquire a new set of dubious guiding principles and divorce themselves from the tradition of being an honest conduit for communicating simple truths. Sure, graphic design has always been used to wallpaper over cracks and create bogus impressions, but now that reduction and deception (to use two charges that Conley levels against branding) have become its raison d’être, graphic design is changed forever.

For an additional interpretation of Lucas Conley's book, see the essay subsequently posted on Design Observer by Debbie Millman: Obsessive Branding Disorder II.


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I find it difficult to feel all the doom and gloom around the phenomenon of Branding. Branding seems like nothing more than a combination of strict Identity Design and Advertising, which are two areas not exactly unfamiliar to designers.
Chris Johnson
12.17.08 at 10:45

Having a strong brand is a wonderful goal, and a good way to build a strong brand is by having a design that customers desire and trust. Design should not be subservient to the brand. Instead it helps build the brand by providing meaningful products. Having a trustworthy business in general - not just good PR - also helps. The problem isn't branding as such, it's the false messages that motivate people to support lower-quality products.
Adam Williams
12.18.08 at 02:04

Practitioners of design may consider themselves as part of a neutral part of a factual communication chain, but it cannot divorce itself from the multifarious forces the direct and delimit it. Our current economic crisis is revealing (or for those yet unaffected, will reveal) the complex inter-dependent relations upon which all disciplines exist. To suggest design was ever ‘...an honest conduit for communicating simple truths’ is to perpetuate one of the disciplines biggest myths.
MLA
12.18.08 at 08:31

I think "brand" is nothing more than a jargon-y word for an organization's reputation. "Branding" is the process of trying to create, in consumers' minds, a positive impression of a particular organization--to build and consolidate a good reputation. It has just always seemed to me that "branding" can be a particularly insidious and superficial practice which strives to create, for example, an impression of quality where none exists. Today, it seems better to have a strong brand than actually offer quality products/services! To borrow a recent phrase from the political world, "branding" is all too often the process of putting lipstick on a pig. I can think of plenty of highly-regarded "brands" who have a reputation is far different from the reality of their products.

It also seems to me that the best organizations grow their brand in a fairly organic way. That is, by consistently offering dependable, quality products and/or services, they eventually develop a reputation for those positive qualities, and consumers choose their products over others. They don't need a superficial branding strategy--because their brand actually offers something of quality and value. Well, perhaps I am being idealistic and would just like to think it works this way.

But, in any event, whenever I hear the word "branding" I immediately think somebody is trying to convince me to believe something that may or may not be true. I really bristle at the whole idea of branding because I think it is merely an insidiously clever tactic to try to convince me to think in a particular way.

Thanks for this review. It sounds like the book might be sympathetic to my own views, and I can't wait to read it.

Rob Henning
12.18.08 at 09:57

A while back there were strong feelings toward the idea that designers should pick and choose clients, more specifically they should not work for clients who are destroying the environment. I responded angrily saying that it is something that is easy to say for people from Pentagram and other big name design firm. For students and freelance and even small firms, all clients that give us a chance are good clients.

Right now my position on the matters have changed. That is because I now understand the full extent of the power of branding. So-so brands are everywhere, good brands may go unnoticed or not become as effective as it should have been. But great brand can really mislead people and make people buy things or consume things they otherwise wouldn't want to.

The last draw came when there was a global warming poster design contest in Bangkok, and the top designers were there discussing about using recycle paper and materials, and I asked them outright whether or not they would reject clients who are destroying environment, specifically cars and cell phones companies. And their answer was... albeit predictable and obvious, still has an effect on me. They say that it is not possible because no one is financially ready to say no to those clients. And then I thought, what if you design a brand and sell more cars, causing there to be more traffic, which results in them building more roads, more carbon monoxide, gas price get higher, then they start digging oil in more places, there's no place to park so the city expand even more... etc. etc. How can we say, "Hey, it's all okay, because at least we used a recycle paper to design the logo on".

I think one thing we can take from all this, it's that our profession and what we do "can" effect many things and many lives. And sometime we have to be responsible for some of the things we designed.

Like the post above me saying it's the problem of the ad people, the message, and campaign. We just design the logo and if we don't do it someone else will, so it's not our fault. "Don't hate me because I am such a good designer." Something like that. But we are all part of the something bigger. The art work with the creative and with the client. We say there's nothing we can do. What side you are on in this argument depends on whether or not you believe the last statement is true.
Panasit Ch
12.18.08 at 10:07

“trusty, dusty principles of business — innovative products, good service, solid management”

Why can't a good "brand" stand for these principles? I've spent most of my professional career designing for an in-house design department that has enjoyed the benefits of a solid and trusted international brand, but has not lost sight of the principles that made it a household American "brand." Innovation, service and solid management is just as important as as it was for them today as it was in 1910.
bc
12.18.08 at 11:21

Who the hell is surprised by any of this?

You mean to tell me that it is not a pragmatic business practice to be “so focused on the strength of the all-encompassing idea — the brand — that they ignore the physical properties that compose it.” I would think most people already understand this.

While I've not read Lucas Connely's book. It belongs on the same shelf as books by writers like Malcolm Gladwell. They are enjoyable to read, but trade in stating the fairly obvious.

Thanks for the well written post, but when what we now describe as "branding" goes out of fashion. I have faith in the resiliency of the design profession. Most design schools still focus on the principles of form and communication.
Joseph Traylor
12.18.08 at 11:23

Good stuff!!

Last employer (a self professed "salesman who could read minds") would always brag about how he'd extoll "BRAND" in his pitches.

After six months of asking he finally said, "You know -- 'branding' -- wallpaper, doo-dads, drawings and type. Don't you get it? You're a designer. Right?"

He actually thought "branding" meant wallpaper treatment. In his mind, an initial visual treatment of a business would establish their "brand." End of discussion. Nothing of their actual business or practices or interaction with customers. No brief. No questions of goals. "That's up to us. Just make it look cool."

No longer work for him.

VR/
Joe Moran
12.18.08 at 11:35

Unfortunately, Conley’s observations I fear are right on. Business (and our society-at-large) instantly latches on to what sounds good today. Branding, as Conley points out, makes perfect sense to business and industry. They can build business plans, marketing plans; develop products and services -- all under the moniker of branding. Certainly, the “b” word is blatantly spewed-out within the walls of the corporate office cubicles and the halls of the business schools several hundreds of times a day, and it has been assimilated into daily business norms like the many buzz-words that have come down the business practitioners’ pipeline before. I also fear that the design industry is not immune. What has happened to the “trusty, dusty principles of business?” Good question. It seems to me, the response business and the design industry has had to branding is more typical than not. The design industry has adeptly learned to speak branding, a language business “gets,” but often we fail to focus on what underpins their brands. We all must be responsible for doing the tough work of delivering better products, better service - paying attention to the fundamentals - delivering on the promise! What’s happening on Wall Street is a good example, the banking industry and our public educational system may be even better ones, where taking the quick and easy path is excepted, and hard work and diligence are discarded as, taking too long, costing too much, requiring too much effort. However, I believe, we are now paying the price for the “quick and easy,” and for “instant salvation.”
Rob Kearns
12.18.08 at 11:39

I don't feel that branding is a bad thing. It's merely making a connection between a company's mark and the human visual memory. Advertising is essential in the competitive world in which we live and branding is an important way for a company to make a statement and fight to stay alive in such competition and it gives designers jobs and everyone loves that.
Nikki - Logo Design Guru
12.18.08 at 12:37

Problem is most corporate types have no understanding what underpins a "real" brand. To most its the logo or mark... not the services they provide. Why? We, as designers, failed to educate our clients.

And now every hack has taken a buzzword and made it part of the corporate lexicon.

Next word to be overused?

"Experience"
J.B. Chaykowsky
12.18.08 at 12:46

So how do we, as design professionals, use design to combat the perceived problem of morally and ethically compromised brands?
nick
12.18.08 at 12:57

@ Nick.

I'm not so sure it is our place to be the super hero here. If you are working with a morally bankrupt client who wants swindle their customers, or the entire world out of their cash then it really comes down to whether you want to be the person who helps them succeed or not.

Of course you could take the job, deliberately sabotage their branding efforts and make the business fail. But is that really an honest - design as a service - thing to do.

Who are you to take their money and say your right and hes wrong?

I think the best, boldest and questionably wisest thing to do would be to simply tell them how you really feel about the company. We talk about honesty, but if we are un-prepared to be honest with our clients, how can we demand honesty of them? Of course it may lose you the job, you both may agree to disagree or maybe you'll be the super hero? That is what I believe is the right thing to do it. But things are easier said than done.

Tim
12.18.08 at 04:04

Without taking courses or having years of experience in branding--oooh, branding--I really belive that branding is all about RELEVENCE. Does it matter? Who are they? What do they do? Are they good at it? These are what make up branding. Is part of that the visuals? Yes, a large part, because the visual folks make the stuff the rest of the world sees. Some brands make it without the big ads and web sites. And for others, we start to wonder if they still exist if we don't see their commercials every 30 seconds.
John Mindiola III
12.18.08 at 04:20

Regarding the comment made by Joseph Traylor, please know that we'll be presenting the OPPOSING view on this topic in the coming weeks. Perhaps that will be more surprising.
jessica helfand
12.18.08 at 05:13

If I may, I'd like to offer a few comments:

Firstly, most of the issues here relate to commercial and consumer related enterprises, which is fair enough and currently where branding is used the most. But not all 'brands' are used for this purpose. For example, think of the Red Cross. Branding has the potential to identify organisations quickly and easily, and as a result one can immediately identify what a branded organization stands for. This is very powerful. And unsurprisingly, it has been used and co-opted (like many other powerful things) to promote business enterprises.

Secondly, for all those people who give out about the ills of branding, how many of them - when observed as consumers - actually purchase the branded products or services which they criticize? If they do, then one might argue they have been 'tricked' into buying that product or service through branding. On the other hand, the branding will have been successful in identifying something which that particular individual will never be ‘tricked’ into purchasing again. Of course, branding also identifies those things we do like and which we are happy to spend our money on. The critical point here is everyone has a choice and branding simply acts as informative signposting.

Essentially, these discussions always come down to morals and ethics. But as Wally Olins puts it, “branding has no morality”. It is simply a tool, and a powerful one at that. Demonizing branding misses the point. We choose to identify with whatever we choose to identify with. In business terms, the unsuccessful ‘brands’ disappear and the successful ‘brands’ survive by meeting demand (on multiple levels). Fortunately this success is never guaranteed because cultural trends are always shifting, which means our demands are also changing and what we choose to identify with will require new signposts.

As for branding disappearing sometime in the future I can’t imagine the demise of such a powerful tool for communication. But I can envisage a future where it may be used by more organizations who have honourable morals and ethics (the demand for this is increasing). Either way, branding will still remain a communication tool for whoever chooses to use it and for whatever purpose.
KF
12.18.08 at 07:22

Two months ago I taped a segment of a public TV show called "The Open Mind," usually aired on CUNY and WNET. The theme was my book Iron Fists: Branding the Twentieth Century Totalitarian State. The Charlie Rose format features a host, a scholar from NYU, who began by asking me "why branding is such a vile activity." It was not a question but a statement he wanted to have me support.

On the contrary I said, as many have written here: Branding is a tool and what is branded determines how good or vile the end result may be. He insisted that the act of branding was itself a vile activity that perpetuated myths and distortions, stopping short of invoking the "e" (evil) word. He seemed frustrated that "you, the author of this fine book critical of totalitarian branding" would otherwise support, or at least, not attack the entire field.

While I have no agenda to champion branding, I also will not vilify it or its practitioners. Actually, I have an open mind on the matter.

I left the taping thinking this may never run. To this day, I still don't have any idea whether it will or not.
Steve Heller
12.19.08 at 09:36

Branding is not the problem. Consistent and thoughtful branding is Business 101 and will continue to be. Binge branding—Branding Gone Wild!™—on the other hand, is the problem as I see it. There are so many examples these days of extremism in branding, in life, in so-called entertainment, the X-Games® generation has bellied up to the bar and restraint is not on the menu. If something is worth doing, it's worth doing to the extreme.

Additionally, whether the demand for honourable morals and ethics in branding is increasing or not (debatable), there will never be a shortage of unethical wolves who will happily don sheep's clothing in order to make a buck.


Andrew
12.19.08 at 09:53

@ Tim

I agree with everything you've said. But, with the design efforts and optimism surrounding a cause as large as a recent American election (and some might say the fate of the nation/free world), "rampant" branding should seem like small potatoes.

Being choosy with clients is one option, with the caveat that someone made earlier: that it's not always practical to be too choosy.

I think some level of branding education for design students is another option. I, for one, received only anecdotal knowledge of branding while in college. (More extensive coverage may be given to marketing majors, but I don't know.) Just about everything I learned about branding I learned either on the job, or from reading trade publications. Which is great, but I missed out on the "anything is possible" optimism that went along with the rest of my college education. This optimism empowers students to actively participate in the creation of what branding is when they do enter the professional world, rather than simply react to what they are told it is.

And when I talk of education, I mean an even-handed approach to the possibilities of branding and what it can do, not one which extols a judgement on what is right and what is wrong with it. (A very fine line)

Of course this is also part of the "What-should-a-design-education-entail" discussion. But I'll leave that to another post.
Nick
12.19.08 at 12:12

Regarding the stance that branding is simply a tool or an unproblematic means of communication, the original post and the book it discusses emphatically assert (with supporting examples) why this is not the case.

Poster KF says:
The critical point here is everyone has a choice and branding simply acts as informative signposting.

The critical point is that choices are always constrained and a product of context, a context which is in part determined by branding itself. Branding is complex and not reducible to signposting.

To build on this and addressing Steven Heller's comment, we do not just use tools, tools also structure our relation to our world and make certain actions and beliefs possible, reasonable, more likely, and legitimate (or vice-versa), as designers know. Moral choices do not occur in a vacuum. To say that branding is simply a tool and then to avoid asking how such a tool shapes human behavior is to disavow a designer's perspective at the very point where it might actually be useful.
Ralphy
12.19.08 at 01:35

I have an uneasy feeling about brands which essentially derives from the nature of the commercial exchange.

The idea of a 'brand' originated with the necessity for trademarks - essentially identifying marks used on crates or barrels during the shipping of commercial goods. Likewise, the physical branding of cattle primarily functioned as a form of identification to differentiate one ranchers stock from anothers.

By contrast a contemporary brand has shifted its function from simply identification to a complex mix of identification and persuasion. My problem with this as a designer is quite straight forward. Once a consumer has engaged in a fair exchange of money for goods why then should they have to accept (in the obvious case of branded shoes/clothes etc) that these goods be used as a platform to promote the makers product/business. If I insisted that every piece of design work I produce must prominantly include my signature I would very quickly be seen as an arrogant braggard. The work should spreak for itself. Why shouldn't the same standard be applied to a pair of sneakers?
Duncan Hamilton
12.19.08 at 02:20

The practice of brand development accomplishes what design wishes it could or presumes it should all the while using design to do it.

This makes many designers sad, because they hate to think that they're part of the process instead of THE process.

I really enjoyed that comment about about Cincinnati, because P&G is probably the most design-savvy big company I've ever worked with. And designers in Cincinnati are doing a lot of really good things, but I don't know, I guess because its not a museum flyer that they did for almost nothing it doesn't count. Whatever.
bobestes
12.20.08 at 01:29

Over-zealous branding is rampant today and I am glad someone took the topic head-on. I am also glad a designer did not write the book because when designers discuss the morals of branding it rarely seems genuine, kind of like people talking about diets at the dinner table.
Aaron Stienstra
12.21.08 at 07:12

Is it yet safe to say tar the design "fad" is past it's apex, and we can soon return to honest, dedicated practitioners less interested in fashion and relevance?

I personally hope the design "fad" is fading so people and corporations will stop whoring it to look cool/hip.

In regards to this book, I hope it does it's job and wakes people up to the almost inherent falseness of "branding."


12.22.08 at 12:02

It seems those who control branding can't tell the difference between cheating and achieving, if they can even recognize that there is a difference...

That's the fundamental problem with branding. It's easy to cheat and say you are something you are not.
ed mckim
12.22.08 at 12:11

Adrian, thanks for the great post. This has been a very interesting dialogue. Such diverse opinions about the role of designers concerning blanding.

On NPR a few weeks back I heard an official from FEMA saying that after the debacle of Katrina the agency is considering rebranding itself. Not much talk about fixing the agency, only creating a new image. So it goes.
Eric Baker
12.23.08 at 09:36

Interesting dialogue indeed and it certainly lays claim to pick up Conley's book to grasp more of this continuing phenomenon we now call branding.

Multiple definitions seem to continually swirl about, particularly with many corporate execs or managers, that with no real understanding or practice of such, are continually expounding the "brand" word, snake oil or not.

Isn't branding just another word for the work that designers (and some of those ad guys) have been producing since the dawn of the industrial age? I tend to think that it's a cloak to what we've always done and like everything else, complexities in the way we go about our creative efforts have reached critical mass.

Regardless of how we define the work we do, or the monikers that we use, there will always be work that is forthright, sincere and damn good. And there will always be a plethora of the "snake-oil," wanna be's, bad.
Tyler Blik
12.23.08 at 01:44

The snippets from the book read like a page out of Obama's playbook.
Hans Forckmann
12.23.08 at 02:45

A poor premise at the outset. Show me something that cannot be handled as a brand.

Brands enable us to make our way in the world.

Any discrete identity can be usefully held as a brand. A brand is a nested set of opinions. All we can hope to do is manage the value of these opinions.

The better we get at identitfying effective opinions the better we get at managing brands. The most useful opinions prevail.

A clarification of branding in terms of commerce won't help. Commercial brands may behave more intrusively than other types but once we grasp the value of Brand (singular and capitalised), we can better direct and regulate the attention we give brands. This in turn influences how brands make appeals to consumers. The most enlightened brands behave indirectly, consensually and discreetly, when they are not being applied directly to what they are good at.

Any judgement says more about the judge than about what is being judged.

Lucas Conley may make some interesting and clever observations about brands within a particular language space. What he succeeds at is identifying the limits of the language space he uses to handle brands (and the process of branding). I need only read Adrian's review to identify this.

Brands are not inherently problematic. Branding is not a necessary evil. Everything is a brand. We make sense of everything with branding. Some brands we get right, some we don't.

Design can never be in service of anything other than branding. What we need is a new language to manage brands. A new brand language will take care of anything design could ever address.


A.
Andrew Sabatier
12.24.08 at 09:09

My thoughts on branding (read: logo, impression of a company, emotional reaction, reputation) have always been that they should speak to the product and goals of the company they represent. But the idea of branding has been reversed, turned inside-out and on its head.

The idea has become "make a slick, impressive, believable identity and sell THAT instead of the product". Redesign of a logo and a new marketing spin is far EASIER and CHEAPER, than working in the opposite direction. The end goal being to push up profits while driving down costs. Periodic injections of new blood in the form of a marketing campaign, logo or website redesign works to push awareness and the fervor of "the new". Whereas a slow steady reliable building of a "brand" is no longer desirable. "We" all want the quick fix, and to get out while on top, taking our stock options and leaving the mess for the next person to clean up.

Branding is not an evil thing, but can be used towards those ends. As designers we have a responsibility to only communicate who and what our client is and NOT sell a false persona to a gluttonous and gullible market.
Iconiqdesigner
12.26.08 at 03:54

I feel like a lot of this backlash has to do with everyone beginning to question what their companies have been telling them. If a mortgage crisis, a credit crunch, an administration which abused the people's trust, AND a giant ponzi scheme doesn't make you want to question the authenticity and ethics of every corporation, and the government's role in this, I don't know what will.

It's easy to think that everyone is putting lipstick on a pig (and a lot of people are), especially when you've been burned... multiple times.

If anything, there will be a finer tooth comb going through the products and companies which are available. In the long run, I feel like this will be a good thing, and when the bonfire of the vanities finally is burnt out, we will all be better off because of it.
ed mckim
12.26.08 at 11:22

True: branding has become another slippery word for telling consumers what they want to hear, regardless of truth. But branding, when done well, can serve a more noble purpose: it can be a rallying cry that keeps a company focused on the right things. It can offer one, unifying message that both employees and customers quickly understand, identify with, and are compelled by. Often, the only true, authentic brand voice and personality is the voice and personality of employees who care about what they do. For, lest we forget, corporations are not faceless monoliths: they are composed of people like us.
Josh Greenhut
12.28.08 at 05:45

"Branding is a tool and what is branded
determines how good or vile the end result may be."

- Steven Heller

Adrian thanks for an insightful review of OBD. I still agree with Steven Heller's comment above after reading Lucas Conley's book. I believe OBD is a symptom of the Web 2.0 transition and it will be cured when horizontal and vertical networks meet.
Read - Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom INSTEAD. . . . and then throw some sheep at your friends.
Happy New Year Design Observer!
Carl W. Smith
01.02.09 at 10:32

"why bother with expensive improvements to products and services when a new logo, a ritzy strap line, and a brand guidelines book can do the job just as well and at a fraction of the cost?"

That's not a brand. It's a logo and a strap line and a guideline book. The OBD book should be subtitled "calling something a brand when clearly it is not."

I had a recent "Brand" experience with Good Barry. I saw an advert on this site for Good Barry and since I was looking for an all in web site management package I thought I'd try it out.

now Good Barry is Web 2.0 - it looks good - great name - great branding? Not quite...

I tried to use Good Barry and had to give up after 30 minutes of frustration. The web page editor simply did not work - weird HTML all over the shop. Also, to set up a catalog was so painful my eyes watered.

So, for me, as a brand, Good Barry is not so much Good Barry as Good Bye. Poor branding.

To quote from ZAG :
How do people engage with you?
What do they experience?
How do you earn their loyalty?
How do you extend your success?

Getting those questions right is all about good branding.


James
01.08.09 at 04:08

I don't see the problem with branding.

A brand identity and ad campaign is nothing if the company cannot deliver on what it promises. No use telling people what your brand is if they don't get that experience when they interact with it. If it does back up what it says with its brand 'experience' then wheres the problem, if it dosn't then they surely won't last long.
jack g
01.14.09 at 02:56

Conley's "tone of voice" aside, it seems perfectly healthy to question something has become quite mythical, as Roland Barthes would have it. When things become omnipotent and credible they become part of the "natural" order of things. These "natural" things can become dangerous if they are never called into question. As Milton Glaser put it "One of the signs of a damaged ego is absolute certainty."
Michele Champagne
01.19.09 at 10:11

I have to say that I couldn't disagree more with the premise of the book as described:

1) While it is inevitably true that there will be excesses in the process of brand experts selling branding, it is also true that the battle for the (consumer's) mental real estate is very real indeed.
It is worth reading Ries & Trout's books on the "Immutable Laws of Marketing/Branding" about this stuff again, the proof is there.

In an information economy, attention is fast becoming the only scarce resource. So your brand has to push through the noise, connect with the imagination, and stay implanted there for your product or service to have much hope.

As history is littered with products that were superior (supposedly, though there never is a truly objective measure of such things anyway) yet failed to catch on and win in the marketplace, the importance of proper marketing is undeniable. "Build it and they will come" (which seems to be proposed by the author's talk of "trusty", product/design/feature centered principles), if it ever worked, is certainly not working anymore in this new internet era.

Even the mighty Google just had to find this out once again when they decided to pull some useful, even brilliant, applications such as Google Notebook, due to lack of adoption momentum. Which is a shame, because as far as I know, there never was a serious attempt made to cross-promote GN with Google Docs, etc. No marketing, poor branding, no result.

2) Neurological studies of perception show that people literally may not be perceiving what they do not know at a deeper level, i.e. a product not tied to the mental real estate of a beloved brand may be completely overlooked on the store shelf.

Similarly, there is no objective standard for quality, because perceived quality, enjoyment, etc. go up with the brand equity and related value perceptions of the product or service (including price perception). Read Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational for examples of such "distortions", e.g. different reactions/outcomes to the same medicines based on price alone.

3) Archetype branding in particular can be used to create a compelling story that people instinctively connect with. It can in fact be argued that all successful brands have made use of these archetypes, whether by design or by accident.

Without using archetypes, your story is just not sticky enough, it's too difficult/confusing to make sense of, and people turn away when they are confused. Archetype branding on the other hand guarantees that not only your customer understands, it will be easier for you to create products, sales copy, etc. around the archetype(s) that your company/brand stands for. After all, they exist in your mind too.

Follow me on Twitter, I follow back:
Twitter.com/AlexSchleber
Alex Schleber
01.22.09 at 01:29

Sticking a new badge on an old car is a waste of time. Product or service first, brand/identity second. Simplicity is key, don't over engineer you're offer or promise anything you can't deliver.
Kevin Blackburn
11.04.09 at 07:46



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Adrian Shaughnessy is a graphic designer and writer based in London. In 1989 he co-founded the design company Intro. Today he runs ShaughnessyWorks, a consultancy combining design and editorial direction. He is a founding partner in Unit Editions, a publishing company producing books on design and visual culture.
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DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Adrian Shaughnessy

Supergraphics
Unit Editions, 2010

Graphic Design: A User's Manual
Laurence King Publishing, 2009

Studio Culture: The Secret Life of a Graphic Design Studio
Unit Editions, 2009

Cover Art By: New Music Graphics
Laurence King Publishing, 2008

Look at This: Contemporary Brochures, Catalogues & Documents
Laurence King Publishing, 2006

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