Bending the
brand rules

Posted in Brand on 18 March 2015 By David Hunt, Creative Director

As brand creators and brand guardians, we spend a lot of our time preaching about the importance of consistency. 

It plays a vitally important role in establishing your identity in the minds of your customers and audience. And when you think of the world’s biggest and most successful brands, they are the ones who have best established and protected the way they look and present themselves across all channels.

Their brand styling often has a signature element – something that makes it unmistakably ‘them’. It can be a tone-of-voice thing, a graphic thing or a photography thing, but more often it’s colour that helps a brand stand apart from its competitors. The battle between UK supermarkets, for example, is very much one between the green, blue, orange and yellow of ASDA, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons respectively.

Look further and you’ll see a similar picture across different sectors:

When Hutchison launched Orange in 1993, it owned that colour in that sector, in exactly the same way as EasyJet did in aviation. So strong was their ownership of the colour that as their businesses overlapped, when EasyMobile was launched in 2005, legal action followed.

UPS has a combination of gold and that brown-ish colour (Pantone Black 4C to be exact) that really stands out because it’s unusual and it somehow works, making them feel slightly utilitarian and old fashioned, but in a good way.

Tiffany’s stands apart with their unique colour that isn’t quite green and not quite blue.

Cadbury’s will always be purple as much as the Yellow Pages will never be blue.

And of course the godfather of all brands, Coca-Cola, will never be anything other than red. We all know that, don’t we?

That’s not right

Well, that’s why this bottle of Coca-Cola with a very green, very not-red label caught my attention at lunch time. “That’s not right”, I thought, but I didn’t storm out of the shop in disgust and start drafting a strongly worded email to Coca-Cola UK’s branding team. I picked it up, paid for it and drank it. Not before taking a snap for this article, of course. Interested, I bought another one, showed some people, started a conversation.

This felt like something new and something different from the packaging with someone else’s name on it –  I’m a bit bored of them now.

But wait a minute! Surely this is a the biggest sin of brand guardianship, I hear you cry. And of course it is. Except that, in this case, it isn’t.

What it is, is a great example of how bending the rules of your brand can re-excite your audience, awaken a dormant one and, more simply, create interest about a new product and help it stand out from the rest of your range.

When your brand is as established and as big and powerful and as identifiable as Coca-Cola, you can get away with this because we (the customers) know that it’s new and different rather than just plain wrong - or mistaking it for another brand.

That said, the only way brands get to this lofty position is by enforcing consistent application of their visual and verbal styling over a long period of time. As the example of Coca-Cola Life shows, only by putting the hours in,  building your brand and following your guidelines religiously, can your brand become strong enough to withstand a little bending of the rules.

That’s when playtime begins and anything is possible.


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