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Lost in translation

July 16, 2015 — Jennifer Vasilache

When we create brand and product names, we think about how they will travel—across different consumers and even across continents. We make sure they translate appropriately in all the languages that exist in targeted markets. But sometimes, even when you manage to tackle obvious linguistic disasters (no need to remind you of the Nova or Mondelez mishaps, right?), the subtlest pitfalls still lie in cultural savvy. Cultural fluency is key to relevant branding.

Let me give you a personal example.

As a non-English native speaker and semiotician, I am constantly learning, observing, searching, studying, and dissecting new words and expressions that not only expand my vocabulary, but also uncover hidden meanings in my adopted culture.

Everybody knows the importance of idioms when learning a new language. Idioms are your way into a culture; colloquialisms are your linguistic passport. I came from France to New York City seven years ago with the level of English you get out of schoolbooks. But as I was working my way up in my new linguistic environment, I knew I finally got street cred the day I heard myself commenting on my colleague’s work: “It’s awesome!” No more “zees eez hinteresting” or “zat eez not […]

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Evolving Brand Equity: The Resurrection of the Colonel

July 14, 2015 — Christina Papale

Have you seen him? He’s on-air and online, wandering through highway underpasses and baseball fields with a big bucket of chicken.

Why, hello. It’s me. The Colonel.

Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), sold the company in 1964 but appeared in countless ads for the brand through the 60s and 70s – a big old-fashioned man with Southern fried charm. But Colonel Sanders was more than a real-life spokesperson for the brand – he became a larger-than-life brand equity, a Big Daddy Tennessee Williams style matriarch presented as master of his chicken universe. Even with cane in hand, the Colonel had a formidable power. You believed he was a trusted protector of real meals in the age of fast food, and a true chicken benefactor. In the days before Chick-fil-A and Church’s, when Americans wanted fried chicken, they went to the Colonel. They had a relationship with him.

Although the Colonel passed in 1980, the power of his image continued as the central force in the brand’s identity – his smiling mug was part of the logo, on packaging, and in-store. But the meaning of the Colonel shifted with the passing of a real human […]

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Showcasing branding at its best: reactions to the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage

July 8, 2015 — Taylor Ariosto

Bringing deeper meaning to branding isn’t exactly a groundbreaking idea (see Dove’s “Real Beauty,” Procter & Gamble’s “Thank you mom”, Chipotle’s commitment to Food with Integrity; all of the Google commercials…and almost any other successful effort over the past decade). Meaning is basically a necessary ingredient for branding that works.

But amid the celebrations for the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage last week, dozens of brands reacted in an incredibly poignant and noteworthy way—showcasing meaning and emotion and heart.

There was Ben & Jerry’s renaming of Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream to “I Dough, I Dough;” the rainbow that appeared trailing Uber’s vehicle icons as you waited for your ride; Google’s rainbow search bar, Facebook’s rainbow filter to add to profile pictures, and many, many more.

The tone was overwhelmingly consistent—inclusive and celebratory. Each brand just found its own way to express it. And as the responses poured in, they became part of the story.

In retrospect, their sentiment shouldn’t have been surprising. Many of these organizations openly supported gay marriage and partnerships (either in extending employee benefits to same-sex couples, or in publicly signing onto a legal brief in Massachusetts in 2011 asking an appeals court to […]

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Dining for Design’s Sake

July 1, 2015 — Natalie Shear

Choosing a place to eat in the ever-evolving and expanding food scene of New York City can be a daunting task. There are thousands of choices, many of which are convenient, affordable, and pretty tasty. But for myself and many of my peers, choosing a place to eat is about much more than the taste and price tag – it’s actually about being a part of a thoughtful dining experience. In addition to good food and good service, that experience is a result of good branding.

Creating a memorable dining experience (or any type of physical experience for that matter) is done by making connections; connections between the identity of the brand and the physical space, connections from that brand to the customer. From a restaurant’s mission statement to its décor, right down to the logo and the menu, our expectations have changed, and we want that connection in our day-to-day dining experiences.

There is a scale of breadth and depth at which restaurateurs are using branding to create a unique experience that’ll make them top-of-mind. On the shallow end of the spectrum, the experience may be primarily aesthetic – a restaurant is memorable because of its use of integrated […]

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When Scotch Hops the Pond, What Do You Call It?

June 30, 2015 — Kent Lam

Whiskey’s always been a bit of a troublemaker. From the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s to the freak-out over the whiskey made with antifreeze (Fireball), it’s the spirit that’s kept us on our toes the most (or at least with our heads in the toilet).

In recent years, whiskey’s been stirring up another controversy: What do you call American Scotch? Of course, those who know whiskey know there is no such thing. Scotch whisky is made in Scotland. It’s right there in the name. It’s as descriptive as it gets.

But we’re talking about those whiskeys that are made the exact same way as Scotch—the same recipe, the same process—but on American soil. At its essence, Scotch is single malt whiskey, which means the whiskey is made from malt and comes from a single distillery (again, whiskey wins at descriptive naming). So what do you call American single malt whiskey?

A lot of American distillers just call it “single malt” or “American single malt.” Never mind that when whiskey drinkers think of “single malt,” they usually think of Scotch. American single malt whiskey is in a golden era. Micro-distilleries are popping up all over the United States and thriving. In […]

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You’ve got mail!

June 29, 2015 — Jennifer Vasilache

Who gets excited anymore when they open their mailbox? Do you welcome the mail from your cable company as a delightful surprise? Do you giggle and wiggle at the sight of a letter from the bank? How special does the finger-staining, “current occupant” addressed catalog from Cardboard & Plywood make you feel? And let’s be honest: when was the last time you received—let alone sent—a note just to say “Hi”?

Pixinote, a newly launched printing and mailing service, is changing the rules of correspondence. With your mobile device, you can go to www.pixinote.com (mobile apps are in the works), select a picture from your photo album and jot a note to a friend. Pixinote will then transform all of this into a physical, thoughtful, personalized little note in a cute, crafty looking envelope. It’s as simple and lovely as it gets.

At a time of fast and furious virtual communication, who takes the time to snail mail a note anymore? By putting together the best of two worlds—materialized emotions and dematerialized logistics—Pixinote is reinventing the category by creating a new physical format for the way data is consumed on people’s phones. It gives a body to Facebook status, tweets and […]

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Shame, Shame, we don’t know your name…

June 19, 2015 — Rachel Bernard

Remember when Domino’s dropped “Pizza” from its name back in 2012? You wouldn’t know it by all the signs with the old logo saying “Domino’s Pizza” still hanging out at its franchisee locations. Enter Domino’s new social media campaign encouraging the public to shame locations yet to embrace the new logo, arming them with the hashtag #logoinformants and the promise of free pizza for a year.

Before we start the play-by-play on Domino’s naming and messaging strategy—can we just take a minute to savor the delicious irony of this? Domino’s wants to be known for more than pizza so much that they are willing to entice customers to narc on franchisees with…wait for it…pizza—the very product they are trying to distance themselves from. Hilarious.

Anyway, let’s carry on with brand analysis of this move.

The good: name-dropping We are big fans of this type of name-dropping. In 2007, Apple dropped “Computers” from its name paving the way for greater innovation in everything from phones to tablets, even watches. In 2012, Starbucks decaffeinated its name by removing “Coffee” from its logo, a move that perhaps overshadowed the Domino’s name-drop that year. All of these brands did one very simple thing when […]

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Ben & Jerry’s and beer: How stretchy can you get?

May 11, 2015 — Cindy Lord

First of all, I need to reveal that I am pro-beer — in pretty much all situations. And that has colored my opinion here. And secondly, Ben & Jerry’s Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale sounds delicious.

But a lot of folks have wondered, “Is this a road too far?” Can an ice cream brand migrate into beer? And I think here the answer is a resounding, “yes.”

When thinking about brand stretch there are a few big things to consider. The first is “brand fit.” Usually this is about identifying things the brand does well that can credibly migrate to other offerings. Often this is bringing a signature attribute, benefit or image association to a new category. Coach, for example, began as a luxury handbag maker and then used its expertise in leather, and its equity in luxury, to credibly launch a line of high-end shoes.

In this case Ben & Jerry’s is leveraging its expertise as a “craft” food manufacturer and its expertise in creating unique flavor combinations to enter a category that is all about “craft” and unique flavors. Oh, and they both come in pints! Ha!

It can also help if your new offering is targeting the […]

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First things first, nailing the brand called “Hillary”

May 8, 2015 — Sandra Creamer

Earlier this year, I commented on how I would advise the team responsible for branding Hillary Clinton’s political campaign. Well, last month Fast Company commissioned UK-based branding agency Moving Brands to rebrand Hillary after her 2016 bid announcement caused commotion in the design community. The hypothetical rebrand developed creative executions to bring it to life—and yielded a very similar conclusion to mine.

I recommended applying a framework of the role, personality and behaviors that should be emphasized to create a unified presentation of Hillary’s beliefs. I said she should adopt the role of the “sage” and demonstrate personality traits of self-awareness, discernment and discipline to set herself apart from her contenders. Turns out, I was in good company.

The Fast Company article similarly suggests that Hillary demonstrate her role as the wise leader by showing that “there is a better way,” implying that she can help guide America there. Also, the main thrust of the campaign execution comes in the form of a tagline, “make it real.” This speaks to the personality traits I had suggested—discernment (being able to judge what people truly need) and discipline (making it happen). From a verbal style and tonality standpoint, using an imperative verb tense creates […]

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Captivating Characters

April 27, 2015 — Audra Nebolini

My love affair with typography started like it does for most creatives with doodles. What young girl didn’t write her name all over her notebooks in school? Sounds like a cliché, I know, but movement of thick to thins, creating the drama of revealing shapes and forms just makes my heart beat faster. I must have known somewhere in my subconscious that these illustrative habits would transform into my future in use of visual communication.

As a result, I can’t hide my excitement for the recent rise of hand lettering in graphic design. Breaking out of the mechanical digital age in design has become a prevailing trend and is a new outlet for self expression. Even more than social media, blogs, and autobiographies self expression is evolving from verbal to visual through typography.

This new trend is signaling the need for originality in the DIY culture we are living in. Calligraphy and hand lettering styles have boomed in the industry in forms of personalization to emulate the handmade look. In a recent article, Martina Flor, a well known typographer, describes the two perfectly: “Calligraphy embraces randomness and surprise, while lettering decides exactly the shape that a certain gesture or letter should have.” You could compare a letterform or type style to any human trait, and that’s what makes them so […]

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