Playing in tune

Brands cross-promote all the time, but the emergence of these two bedfellows– BMW and Steinway– is truly fascinating.  I actually like it.  A lot. And I’m not sure which brand benefits more, which is why it is probably a good deal for each party. BMW benefits from the elegance and sophistication of Steinway, a classic figuratively and literally. Steinway benefits from the modernity, engineering halo, and sexiness of BMW. Steinway is an older brand and frankly a little juice might help keep it relevant. Great stuff- proving once again that some of the best ideas out there are way out on the perimeter. A car-piano partnership, in the abstract, is not intuitive. But this one works.

What’s next, a deal between Harley and the Gibson guitar company? Wait a minute, that might actually work…

Garbage time

I am not always a fan of overly clever product concepts, but I like this one. Interesting name, and of course note that the container is itself a trash can. Terrific.

In any event, I would bet this concept would do better than a generic container that simply said “pretzels and stuff.”


A box by any other design…

One of my hobbies is rose growing (even as a resident of downtown Chicago- my wife and I are fortunate to have a roof deck that is just big enough to satisfy my interest and curiosity as a green thumber). ‘Tis the season for planting. I had already purchased the 2010 editions from the preeminent nursery David Austin Co., so technically they could have shipped the roses in a banged-up Charmin toilet paper case and it wouldn’t have made a difference in what ultimately went into the containers. But you know what? They shipped in custom-designed boxes, and they looked really nice. And sophisticated.

Just a little touch that added to the excitement of my experience… and a little touch that would make me hesitant to defect from David Austin next year, even subliminally. You don’t see graphic design applied to shipping boxes like this very often.  I’m sure these custom boxes add to Austin’s cost, and I’d bet you a rose bush that they have often considered trading down to generic boxes… but here is at least one customer who is glad they haven’t. Good design is almost always good business, even in—or especially in—places where you don’t expect it.


Will it fly?

I have to say that it is very wise that the powers that be behind the United/Continental merger announced today decided to retain the “United” name, and not go with some sort of awful hybridized or hyphenated name, or even worse some new name of dubious meaning… but that is one @*#& hideous looking airplane right there.

Looks like the United name stays, but so does the Continental design identity. They should have just picked one whole branding regime and gone with it!

I’m perplexed. Does the above illustration mean that a United pilot will retain control of the wings, fuselage, and engines, but a Continental guy maneuvers the tail?

It is historically risky business to play mix-and-match with brands and design elements when a number of entities come together… or generally, for that matter. By definition there is no design integrity, and it can lead to confusion. The merger between JP Morgan and Chase provides another example, although that time, they apparently decided, “aw screw it, let’s just mash everything together.” In the logo below, the circular rotating thingy is derived from Chase, and I think the typeface is derived from JP Morgan.

I think it’s sort of lame, actually. It reflects the inability to make a real decision.

Of course, there is one particularly famous example of doing a Frankenstein combo job on a number of different design elements, and having it work beautifully (I guess I should specify, have the new design work beautifully… some cynics might say the jury is still out on the rest!)

It’s the Union Jack… a very clever combination of the flags of England, Scotland, and St. Patrick’s cross (an older Irish symbol) to signify the United Kingdom.

Unfortunately for design enthusiasts, if that preliminary airplane rendering above is any indication, this new United/Continental merger is no Union Jack. Let’s see if my spell checker picks up “fugly” (yep)


Don’t worry, be happy

Sometimes branding and marketing game can bring ya down. Never mind the innerworkings and other machinations behind the scenes that consumers never see, but mainly because there is some really really really horrendous strategic and creative work out there, polluting our airwaves and grocery store shelves. But just when the fervent believers like yours truly might start to lose faith, you discover something like this. That’s why I love this business

What a tremendous brand concept. Great design- no words on the front label, not even necessary! I don’t know much about “Project Happiness” winery, but the design alone was enough to cause a purchase. And yes, make me smile.

Haven’t tried the wine yet, but that is secondary anyway. The power of packaging. We all know that the label is super important and all powerful, but it is a very rare breed whose label alone can supersede all other considerations and make you buy something.

By the way- the front label can be peeled off easily and reattached to other things. Viral. Cool.


Worth More Than A Hill Of Beans

Some really deep pocketed coffee companies are currently engaged in a very public and occasionally nasty bidding war to acquire Diedrich Coffee. If you are an owner of Diedrich, you likey. (Disclosure: I am in no way involved in this stock shootout, nor are any of my clients or partners, as far as I know)

Now, Diedrich by all accounts has some pretty cool products, including an innovative technology in pods, which seems to have been identified as the new “it” segment by the big guys. A unique technology can certainly be a value driver, for sure. I have to think, however, that absolutely tremendous graphic design for which Diedrich has made its name is a factor too. I have always felt that great creative arts can work in very irrational ways, particularly in design. Take a wicket, wrap it in an incredible design, and it’s more interesting, more proprietary, and ultimately more valuable.

I am sure the Diedrich owners would agree. So would Starbucks, by the way. Those are the guys who figured out how to sell a cup of coffee for four bucks… previously a laughable concept.


One, Two, Three, Four … I Can’t Take It Anymore

I am going to call my local, state, and federal representatives and suggest legislation making it illegal for any marketer or agency to use music by Feist or anyone who sounds like Feist. For those who are not familiar with Feist’s work, she is the patron saint of what is in my purely subjective opinion a true cultural scourge: the insufferably trite, intentionally ironic (which makes it not ironic), and nauseatingly cute genre of coffee-house music, closely associated with a veritable army of Lisa Loeb wannabes.

Some otherwise great brands have been committing this crime. Apple started this unholy mess when it launched its Nano product with Feist herself (photo above; my reaction: screams as if from Hitchcock’s “Psycho”). Target followed suit when it chose a song by some Feist knock-off artist called the Icicles to accompany its “Long Live Happy” spot, which is somehow even more saccharine than the music itself. Now, Amazon seems to be jumping on the bandwagon, recently launching its new Kindle campaign with a tune by someone named Annie Little, who seems intent on out-Feisting Feist. 

Aside: I have seen this Amazon commercial about 20 times now, and have no @*#& idea what the first 28 seconds mean, never mind what they have to do with the final two seconds that deign to tell us what is actually being advertised, or better put, who is paying for those 30 seconds of time, since it could be argued that nothing is actually being advertised other than the soundtrack and the production studio who put it all together. Someone help me out here. Honestly- what the heck is going on?

Anyway, marketers and advertisers everywhere, for the love of all that is good and right, please pay attention. If the song you pick for a commercial could also be recommended by a doctor as a perfect replacement for Xanax should you run out and the pharmacy is closed, please pick something else. First Amendment, first aschmendment—let’s make it illegal. If you cause harm to the viewing and listening public by using a Feist song in a commercial —or anything that sounds like a song that could be by Feist, even if it’s not actually Feist—there should be some sort of medieval punishment exacted. Such as, listening to a Feist song against your will 500 times.


Mama Said Knock You Out

I’m a fan of the name and the branding approach being taken to market by this relatively new Chicago-area food company I stumbled across. They make pie crust, for goodness sake. It’s pretty bland, figuratively and literally. The clever name (pun and all) and nice graphic design give some character to the enterprise. Their product is very good, as far as pie crusts go I suppose, but more notable to me is that this is a terrific example of how branding can help de-commoditize a commodity.


Meet me tonight at ‘Ahoinyah,’ or maybe it’s ‘Skoinvuak’

This is a sign for a night club- at least, I think it’s a night club. I don’t know what they do or even what the name of the institution is. I have walked past this sign countless times, as it is right near where I live, and have even paused on several occasions to stare up at it and try to decipher the thing. I can’t read it.

First rule of branding: communicate! From that perspective, this one gets an F. To the extent that the text is frustratingly difficult to understand due at least in part to a legibility problem, it conjures up one of my favorite rants on a different but somewhat related subject (caution: foul language). “I can’t read it, there’s no words on it! What does that mean?!?!?!”


The ultimate brands

Look at all those logos!

The opening ceremonies in Vancouver tonight- with the parade of athletes, each decked out in national regalia, and brandising flags- prompted the question… is a country a brand?

Absolutely it is… by my definition of a brand, at least.  Take any nation, and evaluate it against this brand-or-not-a-brand test:

(1) Compelling narrative (bigtime – just as Coca Cola has a compelling story behind it and untold user experiences, so too does, say, Ghana)

(2) Unique name? (yes- only one country is called Estonia; there’s only one Montenegro, etc.)

(3) Distinctive logo? (sure- is a flag not a logo?)

(4) Slogans, characters, jingles? (how about “In God We Trust,” Uncle Sam, “Star Spangled Banner”)

(5) Loyal, deputized, passionate consumers? (mostly… for the sake of world peace, let’s hope that more passion is channeled in productive ways… )

And so on.

See? Don’t mean to be too cynical, as obviously national identity trumps any commercial label in its impact and significance, but it’s sort of interesting to ponder. And hey, this is a brand blog.

– PE