Sunday, February 22, 2009

GM's Problem – No More Speaky Branding

When we think of the U.S. auto industry's ailments, we think of legacy costs, unions, bloated bureaucracies, etc. But the illness goes to something more fundamental.

GM once had ideas – and intuitive understanding of brand differentiation. Over the years GM lost this understanding... and lost all else in the process. This picture tells the tale.
One car proclaims American muscle, sex and brass... The other reeks of clip boards, flaccidity and porridge... no doubt its owner's manual had instructions in English and French.
You can read the full sad story in the New York Times:
Draw your own conclusions.

The original Pontiac was a daring leader of Native Americans in the 1760s.
Under GM's guidance, Chief Pontiac would have been re-directed to sew moccasins for a living.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bank brands – All bets are off

On Saturday I was walking along in the sunshine and happened to pass an office of U.S. Trust – you know, the New York-based bank for rich people which was bought by Bank of America in 2007. As I stared at the sign out front, I felt uneasy and then slightly sick. No, not because the turkey bacon sandwich I had eaten was acting up. Slightly sick at our entire branding profession and the petty, indulgent services we often perform. Look at that bold, all-caps U.S. Trust signature, I said to myself. See how deliberately B of A preserved the U.S. Trust name in order not to scare off wealthy clients who might think, “Horrors, our clubby institution is now under the thumb of that plebian bank based in North Carolina.”

I noted the oh-so-deliberately placed Bank of America logo to the right of the U.S. TRUST name, a manifest link back to the “parent brand,” in marketing parlance. My eye drifted down to the subordinated Bank of America name, presented with such perfect calculation in front of the prissy phrase “Private Wealth Management,” which was chosen to ward off any undeserving mere millionaire dentist.

How many versions of this placement were tried by the design staff? Was the logo first placed in front of the name, then tried on top, then ghosted back? I know how these exercises go. The goal is to send the perfect message of interconnectedness between the ultra-PRIVATE U.S. Trust and the ultra-strong-and-ubiquitous Bank of America.

And now, in this crisis, it’s all such vanity.

Can you discern the cause of my weltschmerz? Today, this meticulous fussing over size, fonts, kerning, nomenclature and color is TOTALLY irrelevant. Bank of America is openly ridiculed as a ZOMBIE BANK, its assets considered toxic, its stock down from over $40 to under $4 in a single year, its depositors only hanging around because the U.S. government announced that it will protect their money.

All that costly fussing in a slick design studio has been rendered futile as bank after bank succumbs to the industry-wide disaster. One day, many months ago, a proud creative director pronounced that sign ready for placement on the building in front of me. Some day in the future, a workman will come along and lop off that subtly placed logo… or yank off the entire sign and replace it with a sheet of aluminum with red letters that read, DRY CLEANERS.