Your Brand is Not a Sacred Cow

Cowlabunga! The World's Best... Something.

Here’s a really common scenario:

You get a new client and they have a great product but no brand. Let’s say they make, I dunno, cow print toys or clothing or something, so you futz around for a while and decide to call the company Cowlabunga. (Just roll with me here.) You get to work and develop strong visuals for print and web and awesome messaging for use everywhere. The client loves everything, and then – after having stared at this shit for 60 hours – they have a crisis of faith.

Normally, these crises are some combination of the following:

1. They get hung up on the pronunciation. Is it cow-la-bunga or cool-a-bunga? Will people get confused? Frankly, it doesn’t matter – you say potato, I say patatoe, but everybody is clear about what vegetable we’re discussing. Is Vimeo pronounced vi-may-oh or vi-me-oh? I have no idea and care even less; I can spell it, find it, and host my videos on it, so whatever – it works.

2. They get literal with the logo. People who are new at starting or leading companies are universally obsessed by their own logo. And the telecom guy always wants a phone, the real estate guy always wants a house and everyone in anything to do with discounts always wants to dick around with currency symbols.

Even in 1971, Nike’s designer knew you don’t do that. Your logo does not need to be literal to be clear. Nobody thinks McDonald’s sells arches, and nobody thinks Nike sells swooshes.

A logo need not – and often arguably should not – be representative of the specific product the company sells or the specific service it delivers. That is not the job of a logo. Thinking that the logo is what defines a brand or is even the most important part of the brand experience means that someone has no understanding of what branding is and probably should not be trusted to market a company.

3. They get hung up on the logo. Once the logo is agreed, clients tend to think it’s cast in stone. It shouldn’t be, because you absolutely can play with it. Google does. The BBC does. The New Museum of Contemporary Art does, too, rendering the words NEW and MUSEUM in a consistent type face and sticking whatever they want between them.

The static logo is dead, and thank God for that because if I have to fuck up one more website, flyer or poster because some sponsor’s logo MUST have a 30mm white surround, I’m going to start taking hostages. Your logo is a tool, not a monolith; it’s there to be used, not preserved as a sacred cow.

I would suggest, however, that you not call your company Cowlabunga. It sounds like a foot disease.