We have all heard the well-known adage coined by Charles Caleb Colton, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” We can appreciate this concept in theory, but when it comes to design and ownership of original creative content, there is a very thin line between imitation and inspiration—the latter being fundamental to creative development.
There is a long history of image appropriation in the fine art world. Think Andy Warhol’s 1962 Campbell’s Soup Cans, one of the most recognized icons of the pop art movement. Even Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”
Although commercial design is rooted in fine art, this “imitation” mindset does not translate. The world of commercial design comes with realities like legality and copyright infringement—which are not particularly swayed by the flattery argument. This “imitation vs. inspiration” argument is currently projected on the global stage with Japan’s recent retraction of the emblem for their 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The selected emblem (consisting of a “T” and a red dot symbolizing a beating heart) was scrapped amongst allegations that it was plagiarized from a logo that designer Olivier Debie created for the Belgian Theatre de Liege.
This has been a month full of exciting changes for Google. First there was the announcement of a new parent company, Alphabet. Then there was the spinoff of Google X into a standalone life sciences company. And yesterday, users were greeted with a fresh and playful new evolution of the Google logo.
So what do all these changes mean for the future of the brand? I think Alphabet will spell out a new era in taking much bigger risks.
Creating a new corporate entity is often a protective move to shield a brand from potential harm. The advent of Alphabet creates a separate place for the business to invest in the innovations that may seem too risky and perhaps too strange for a well-established and highly valued brand like Google to endeavor. Innovation is uncomfortable at first—it often looks scary or even silly until it becomes the new normal. For example, would a strange-at-first idea like Google Glass have earned greater permission if it had incubated in a start-up rather than Google, a brand that carries a defined set of expectations? Perhaps.
These changes should signal to investors that the brand is going to stretch significantly. In their announcement about […]
Becoming a “licensee” allows brands the opportunity to extend into a new category or industry, modernize, stay relevant and build upon their brand value. When choosing the right licensing opportunity and when implemented effectively, it can have tremendous benefits. As of late, we’ve seen this with Minion-mania. It’s been said that Universal will make more off of licensed products than the Minions movie that just came out in July. Sounds tempting, right? But before jumping in, let’s take a step back and evaluate licensing.
The way I see it, licensing is a very personal tool used by brands. I often think of it as a relationship. Two people joining as one and representing what each other stands for. You look to benefit from each other, you meet each other’s friends and as a couple you work together to make each other happy. But unlike a relationship, you have the opportunity to plan for success prior to creating the partnership.
Here are five guidelines for brands to keep in mind when thinking of entering a (licensed) relationship:
What are you looking to get out of this?
Licensing should be used as a strategic business tool. Brands that want to license someone else’s intellectual […]
When you’re born, you’re given two things: a smack on the butt and a name. Whether you like it or not, that name is forever a part of your identity. And while we may like to think that our name bears no part in defining who we are, how we act and what we do; truthfully I don’t believe that’s entirely true. Have you ever heard something like this before?
“She looks like a Becky.” “Really? She looks more like a Courtney to me.”
While I can’t speak for everyone, I know that I’m guilty of it. By nature, humans lean towards association. We want to connect dots and make sense of the world around us. That’s what leads us to taking those ridiculous quizzes and watching videos that try to explain how our names impact our personalities.
When you see a little baby called James, doesn’t that feel a little off? To me, ‘James’ is associated with power and presence, not cute and precious. It feels wrong for a baby. So, we nickname baby James to baby Jimmy. But then what about when baby Jimmy grows up and becomes adult Jimmy? Adults need to be taken seriously, to shed […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]