An established brand changes its brand design/ logo, and there you have it – the eternal debate between the old and the new, the classy vs. the peppy, the understated vs the wannabe. Usually its just a manifestation of people wanting to cling on to something they loved, but sometimes the rolling stone gathers a bit too much moss. GAP and Tropicana have learned the lesson the hard way, and judging by the initial reaction to Airtel logo (on Facebook and elsewhere), I guess things might just be heading in similar directions.
So what is the deal with a brand logo? My very limited experience of presenting in a couple Ad-Design competition had me memorized (more or less) my introductory speech when the logo part came in. A logo is judged on its aesthetic values – the colors, the fonts, how it fits with the overall brand image, on reproducibility and on the story it tells (I believe that every logo should have a story). But I guess, in the end its just one thing – RECALL VALUE, RECALL VALUE, RECALL VALUE. So if I ask you to think of a famous logo, probability tells me that you would think out of Nike, Coke, Google, Mercedes, and Apple. (Sadly, I could not think of even a single Indian brand logo in the same league).
Now how this recall value thingy screws up things is this: it does not matter how good or bad these logos are graphically, if either of these 5 brands, changed their imagery tomorrow, you would just hate. Most of these logos are no pieces of art in themselves – subtlety generally works for logos. So much so, that the Google logo, I feel is - for lack of a better word - the “cheapest” logo to make it big. If I tried selling a logo like that – primary colors in a serif font, I would be hit on my head with a hammer. Admittedly, the Catull variation is slightly better, with smoother edges. In recent past, I would say Facebook logo has been culprit of the same. Even though it’s much neater than Google, like Google, it works because its there.
And that brings me to what started this entire (rather misplaced) criticism – Airtel’s new logo. There is no doubt the “old” Airtel logo worked. Not just worked, it was magic in many ways. It was clean, simple, and legible and for what it’s worth, it had a great recall value. But, is the new Airtel logo that bad? Most people around me seem to think so. If you break it down – the color theme is still there, the new font is better than the last one, by far (and dare I say, sexier than the last one), and by itself it looks nice. So what’s wrong? Its not the old logo, yes. It’s a wannabe, yes – a Vodafone wannabe. But the Vodafone Speechmark is a great role model to have – fonts, colors, story, recall value and all – probably the best logo among the telcos.
On the need for change, everyone cites the Coke vs Pepsi branding as an example, how Coke has had only logo in human history whereas Pepsi has had around 20. Again, its about what works and what not, and if you ask me, Pepsi designers haven’t done a bad job of it either (there I said it, I like the new Pepsi logo as well). So did Airtel need it? In India, they surely could have done without it. The established identity, would have been a big differentiating factor in face of the new competition (your Uninors, MTSes, Videocons and Docomos). So, what their business strategy was, I can only guess. Maybe this logo is supposed to look and feel more international. But from a purely design point of view, for me, the new logo is not half as bad as the last one, recall value aside, especially put into context as on the revamped site intro (www.airtel.in). Could it have been better? A big YES (As rightly pointed out by Anvesh, they should have retained some of the black). But for me it’s a refreshing change, one I am more than happy with. It’s not a two-tone text in rectangular boxes. I have nothing against text-based logos – Canon and Oracle hold their own, SanDisk is beautiful, FedEx has a great story to tell, Amazon is sheer brilliance and I (spoiler alert) just love Microsoft. All I am saying is that if Nokia and Sony tried re-branding tomorrow, I wouldn’t be breaking a sweat. But if Nike even dreamed about anything remotely close, trust me to write a 1000 word protest letter to their CEO.
I guess, in the end it’s about personal choice, and given the initial response, a lot of the criticism would come my way for taking Airtel’s side. But the thing with brand logos is - there is one factor even more important than Recall value – and that is FIRST IMPRESSION. On that front, this Airtel logo has worked its magic on me.
All in all, my best wishes to Airtel, because fonts, colors and logos aside, they still provide the best damned service. So bring on the criticism (of the logo and this article), I will try and defend as much as I can. And while you are at it, http://www.colourlovers.com/business/blog/2010/09/15/the-most-powerful-colors-in-the-world, is one nice page to visit.