Sacred Ground No More: Brands Play With Labels

Corporate logos used to be sacred ground, but a few marketers have recently begun defiling them in advertising. This summer, Masterfoods’ Snickers rolled out an out-of-home campaign in eight markets with messages like “Substantialisious” and “Hungerectomy” delivered in the brand’s signature red, white and blue logo and font.

Earlier this month, Perrier, the water brand, began tweaking its logo in ads, replacing the name with “Sexier,” “Sassier” and other iterations ending in “-ier.” And finally, Gap is swapping its standard blue in ads for Red, the Bono-led, charity-driven brand.

Though MTV has been known to constantly update its logos, branding experts were at a loss to remember the last time a marketer tweaked its logo in an ad. “Most branding firms and intellectual property lawyers would likely caution against diluting trademark equity in applications like these,” said Hayes Roth, CMO for Landor Associates, New York, who applauded the idea.

Scott Vitrone, creative director of TBWA\Chiat\Day, the New York agency that created the Snickers campaign, said things are loosening up. “I do think that there was a time when it was maybe considered a little taboo,” he said. “But you can’t apply hard-and-fast rules anymore.”

In Snickers’ case, the ads seemed to have worked. Vic Walia, senior marketing manager for the brand, said sales jumped an average of 10 percent in the markets where the campaign ran. Household penetration also rose. “They’ve both gone up, indicating it was a positive move for us,” he said. The reason, Vitrone suggested, was that the ads make you do a double take. “It draws you in,” he said. “People actually think it’s a Snickers logo at first.”

It’s too soon to see if the Perrier campaign is working, but Nicole O’Connor, manager of consumer communications for the brand, said the campaign felt right: “It showed a little confidence.” The campaign also seeks to update a brand that’s commonly associated with the ’80s. One way to do that is to adopt the “Pimp my brand” aesthetic of user-generated media.

“Twenty-something year-olds want to have their own creative statement,” said O’Connor. “Here they have lots of license to do that.” Terry Finley, group creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, the New York agency that created the campaign, added that the effort was “kind of coming off of a youthful trend right now.”

In the case of Gap, the motivation was different. The retailer was one of several brands—including Motorola, Armani Exchange and American Express—to co-brand themselves with Red, a brand developed by U2 lead singer Bono and Bobby Shriver, the California politician and member of the Kennedy clan. Portions of Red merchandise benefit AIDS relief in Africa. This month, Gap rolled out ads for Red featuring Christy Turlington, Don Cheadle and others. Gap’s logo appears in white in the ad, rather than in its trademark blue.

Though tying in with a high-profile charity hardly seems risky, messing with your corporate identity flies in the face of years of conventional wisdom. Allen Adamson, managing director at Landor, said the brands should run the campaigns for a maximum of six months. “It shouldn’t be done for a long period of time,” he said.

“Fundamentally, the best brands are the ones that are consistent over a lifetime,” said Al Ries, partner in branding consultancy Ries & Ries in Atlanta. “I don’t see any benefit, though it certainly makes more work for art directors.”