Going back to move forward

8 March 2017

Going back to move forward

Going back to move forward

John Sweeney of Colt www.thisiscolt.com

In 1948, when Polo mints were launched, branding was probably not such a big deal. The hole in the middle of the now famous mint was pretty much all the differentiation they needed. The typography on the pack, with its flat shadow, was a popular 1940’s style and suited the quirky, understated British mint.

Over the years Polo has undergone a number of packaging changes, with fancy swirls and 3D effects, and now it has reached back to its past by breathing new life into its original look. Of course there are contemporary twists to the new packaging but they emphasise, rather than detract, from the original brand cues.

Drawing from a company’s design heritage when doing a rebrand is certainly very popular of late. Yet finding a balance between contemporary and nostalgic is a fine balancing act, and not everyone can successfully plunder their heritage.

Those looking to their past for their future communications need to tread carefully, re-kindling an old logo or pack doesn’t always guarantee success. 

So let’s unpack what a brand should be addressing when it looks back, in order to move forward. 


Ditching the generic look

Focusing on the philosophy that powers a brand’s heritage rather than the products themselves is key. This is particularly true for those brands who have undergone numerous re-brands in an attempt to look contemporary, only to find they have become generic looking and increasingly like everyone else in their sector. 

Uncovering the original brand cues can help a business re-establish themselves by re-igniting that compelling emotional engagement, re-asserting trust, re-building credibility and offering a new, clearer direction, both internally and externally. Some brands do this very well as they focus on making their heritage count for today's new consumers. 


Recalling the good times

Take Co-op, who revamped their classic logotype as part of a wider re-branding exercise. It was a clever move as they managed to look contemporary to younger consumers whilst evoking nostalgia in older ones. By delving back into their past and breathing life into their 1968 clover-leaf logo, Co-op suggests consumers “forget about the recent lousy PR and remember when you trusted us back in the 1970s”. Nostalgia always recalls ‘the good times’!

Coca-Cola were arguably one of the first to see what was staring them in the face all along. Their successful de-evolution in 2007 saw them strip their packaging and communications of all the drop shadows, rendered bubbles and wavy lines that they had acquired over time, leaving behind the simple iconic Coca-Cola wordmark and instantly recognisable colour scheme. 

Adidas went so far as to create an entirely separate line of products that uses the retro Adidas ‘stripe’. Using this takes nothing away from Adidas as a modern sports apparel brand, but in creating this extension range they are drawing customers back with nostalgic cues.

How old is old?

A fair question to ask is how old does a brand have to be to claim genuine heritage? Getting the timing right is key. Twenty years old is borderline, as there’s a risk that going back to your fairly recent past could just make you look like an early aughts brand that needs to be brought up to date! 

However, there are interesting exceptions when not considering your heritage as part of a larger brand refresh, something product designers have caught on to.  Just look at the relaunch of the Nokia 3310; the accelerated speed of evolution within the mobile sector has meant the 17 year old design now looks positively antique compared to todays smartphones. 


Contemporary Heritage

In another sector where evolution is in hyper speed mode, brands like Amazon, PayPal or Google have established a kind of 'contemporary heritage’. Their brands are bright, reliable, desirable and have a sense of ‘heritage' hewn from rapid and consistent growth.

It could be that we increasingly live in a world where heritage that once took a century to earn can takes significantly less time, but this still doesn’t take away the true value of genuine heritage. 

It’s understandable that marketers across all sectors might look at high-flying, modern brands such as Airbnb, Uber and Tesla and think “why not do things like them”? There will always be things that new brands bring to the table that established businesses will naturally be inspired by, but it’s important not to loose sight of yourself in the process.

When it comes to packaging, it’s not all about slapping a cool logo on your product based on trends and tastes, it’s about establishing who you are, what's your story and what’s right for your business. These are the things that go on to create long lasting brands. Ultimately, building a product on a constant principle, such as heritage ensures that when, not if, the winds blow the other way, there is ample room to shift focus, while being true to a brand’s origins.

The perfect response to the creative challenges your brand faces today, might have been sitting in your archive for the last 30 years. 



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