Sunday, August 30, 2009

Warmer, fuzzier, friendlier logos a sign of the times?

The image below is the new Walmart logo, in use for the better part of 2009. It's a shift from the previous version in a few dramatic ways. The old one was darker blue, the letters were in all caps (shouting) and there was a star icon separating the Wal from the Mart, like the asterisk does here: Wal*Mart. So what right?

The new logo is softer, lighter, fuzzier and friendlier. Some would say a needed change and a sign of the times. The addition of the tagline, "Save money. Live better" certainly is a sign of the times, just like the PC commercials running, in an attempt (as yet unsuccessful) to steal market share from Apple by showing how a PC can be cool AND cost under $1,000. Bill Marsh wrote a bit about this in his Ideas & Trends column earlier this summer in the New York Times.

Another example he gave is the change in the Kraft Foods logo. I grew up with the Kraft logo of old, dark blue all cap letters, in that thick red outline box with beveled edges around it. It graced the boxes of KD I ate in first year university when food budgets were tight. What a change Kraft has gone to in their new logo, below. Light, airy, open, colorful, friendly. Even the tagline is an opportunity to make the most of the day - "make today delicious".

These astute marketers and the creatives behind the changes are in touch with the times, and in touch with what I believe to be a lasting change in our culture today. One more humanistic, more open, more accessible. We've all heard the adage, "customers are more in control than ever before" and it is true. What these changes in corporate identity tell me is these companies are realizing that control isn't just about media usage and having the ability to Tivo out commercials, or select news feeds to be sent directly to in boxes.

Perhaps this added customer control is also about wanting to not accept all the negative, and to just find a few little ways to feel better. No emblems of distant, cold, standoff-ish behemoths. Give me non-threatening, reassuring, even playful logos. Faces of friends. Those of you on the more traditional side of the spectrum here, please don't misread this. I am not saying we are becoming a bunch of soft, unaccountable, come-as-you-like-do-as-you-pleasers.

I am saying that life can be a whole lot more fun, and I believe ultimately more productive and sustainable long-term if you come at it in a more open, inclusive, inviting way. That's what I read in these logos and the thinking behind the change.

1 comment:

  1. ** Boy, does your story bring back memories, especially about the Kraft logo during my macaroni and cheese days (still a great dish, by the way).

    ** But the more striking change during the last 4 years involves Walmart. The incessant negative press that company has received over the past decade has subsided a LOT since 2007. The company seems to be going out of their way to invoke, for wont of a better phrase, Erik Qualman's mantra in Socialnomics to "listen first, sell second."

    ** Walmart's engagement with its former detractors -- and its concurrent "make-over" -- are NOT an accident. And Walmart's biggest business competitors are steaming angry at its recent political forays re: health care, promoting green, etc.

    ** Well, efforts by Walmart's competitors to bring the king-sized company to its knees are not working. More people are warming up to Walmart -- and it's not just because of its consistently low prices. The company, once universally lambasted by the press -- is -- with its logo makeover serving as a striking symbol -- now ENGAGING customers, environmentalists and political leaders -- about issues that go beyond simple retailing. It's trying to become a positive force in the communities it serves -- gaining "newbies" like myself who rarely stepped through its doors.

    ** Whatever antipathy one might still feel about this most successful of retail chains -- I give Walmart props for drastically trying to change people's attitudes. The end result, they hope, is to create a better retail experience -- and a "better emotional feeling" about what Walmart represents, what it stands for. (Note how Target's balance sheets continue to take a beating, despite their "hip ads.") What does TARGET stand for? "Hip" doesn't work as well in a roiling economy with businesses going under and people losing their jobs. But Target, as TST noted in one of her earlier posts this year -- is trying hard to engage customers to prevent its extinction.

    ** Have you ever bought groceries at Walmart? As an experiment, I did for the first time last month, driving a few extra miles. The place was buzzing with people that looked like "newbies" like me. The atmosphere felt down right communal (though the parking lot is still a mess). Probably we all felt, as consumers, that Walmart remains something as vital as water and electricity -- and the roof over our heads. And I think that's incredible.