Ever since I was a young child I’ve been totally obsessed with flags. And before you ask; yes, I did have friends.
Recently I came across a brand proposal that read ‘the visual identities we have created are flags to attract people, to rally support, to give leadership and confidence.’ Only now, after working in branding for over a decade, do I look back to the child playing with his flag jigsaw puzzle (poor sod) and realise that my journey to here all makes complete sense.
More interesting, though, is to draw parallels between thinking of flags as logos and countries as brands. Flags, like logos, are often very simple designs. Three horizontal stripes, three vertical stripes, a circle, a cross, rarely ever using more than three colours. The countries they represent, like brands, are far, far more complicated.
Often during branding projects, I get asked by clients if they should be worried that they would have to ‘explain’ their logo in case people didn’t ‘get it’. Yet could we ever really say that three coloured stripes fully represent the complexities of an entire nation? In the case of Chad and Romania, the blue, yellow and red vertical stripes of their respective flags are almost identical. Yet I doubt anyone’s ever turned up at Bucharest airport scratching their head wondering why on earth they aren’t in central Africa (as fun as it is to believe).
Despite having virtually the same flag, we know they are different. Why? Because we know they have different landscapes, languages, currencies, climates, trades, cultures. Different people, who stand for and celebrate different things.
This isn’t to say that flags or logos aren’t important. There isn’t a nation in the world that has opted out of having a flag, for example. But to expect a logo to explain something as complex as your organisation is to overlook the role of the rest of your brand. Things like brand purpose, brand characteristics, distinguishing beliefs, behaviours, engagement of employees, brand narratives, tone of voice, imagery and visual identity systems are what work alongside your logo to help communicate the full story of your organisation.
Nowhere has this been more obvious than with the recent BT rebrand. About a month ago a black and white version of the new BT logo appeared several times on my LinkedIn feed, often followed by a scathing attack on how terrible and basic it was. How could it have taken so much time and investment to do something that this person could apparently do in 2 minutes on PowerPoint?
Of course, there was always going to be more to it. Recently we got to see a more in-depth roll out of the project and…zero comments so far on my LinkedIn feed. Perhaps it’s easier to slate something rather than understand it. Maybe it’s just more fun. But the only thing more basic than the BT logo is actually judging it based on a black and white mark in isolation.
Now we’re beginning to see how that black and white circle works in colour, how it moves on screen, and how it adapts depending on the vast range of content BT need to cover. Now we see that the logo actually takes a step back and really lets the content sing. What really matters here isn’t a logo. It’s the ability of the BT brand to be able to communicate its hugely varied offer, to hugely varied audiences, in a consistent and relevant way. Simplicity, in BT’s instance, allows for diversity – something crucial to such a multi-faceted organisation.
So when next reviewing a rebrand remember to judge exactly that – the brand. When it comes to the logo, just ask yourself; ‘Can a flag really sum up a nation?’