The Bernie Madoff of Brands
Charlatans though they may be, none can quite match the sheer larceny that passes for branding as created and perpetrated on the public by Peter Arnell.
In this day of Bernie Madoff, AIG, GM, Chrysler and a host of failing banks, I suppose the average man on the street doesn't care much about Peter Arnell or even know who he is. But I'm a branding guy. I care. Because he's the man that's crippling the branding industry much in the way Madoff has scorched Wall Street.
Let me begin by saying I don't know Arnell personally. He might be a great guy. But there are those who think Robert Nardelli is a sweetheart despite nearly tanking Home Depot as its CEO. What I do know about Arnell is that he's a soft-spoken guy who runs a multi-million dollar design firm that passes itself off as a branding agency. You may know some of his clients. And if you don't, allow me to introduce you to a few:
Pepsi is one of Arnell's clients for whom he designed a new logo. That the logo communicates no brand strategy would be criminal enough, if it weren't for the million dollar fees the agency charged to Pepsi for such a weak mark. Add to that the agency's now much-ridiculed, over-indulgent and just plain stupid supporting document (download the PDF for yourself) and you've got the makings of a modern day pirate.
Of course, everyone is entitled to one misstep. But Arnell didn't stop there. In a stunning display of mediocrity, his company re-branded -- in fact, re-packaged Tropicana's orange juice package and did such a horrible job that not only did the public mistake it for the local store's generic juice, the client reversed itself and pulled the design after spending millions on design fees, production and distribution.
Can you imagine what a million dollar designer would have to say for himself after this kind of thing? No? Well, you don't have to. Here's Arnell himself, attempting to explain what he was trying to do with his Tropicana design:
Okay, you tell me. Does any of that makes sense? Squeezing the cap relating to the emotional value of a mother hugging her kids? I'm not sure what he was smoking at the time, but it's a fair bet he must have passed plenty of it around for the chiefs of Tropicana to buy into it.
Arnell isn't alone. The masterminds behind Gatorade's recent switch to calling itself G are just as guilty. After years of running indecipherable television spots, I suppose the agency couldn't keep itself from following suit with the packaging. Either that, or none of the designers felt the market was literate enough to actually read the entire brand name on the label. Oh, to be a fly on the wall the day the account execs pitched the boys at Gatorade:
"Think of it, fellas -- we'll own the letter G!"
Almost as inspiring as when United Parcel Service embarked on their legendary quest to own the color brown. And in case you were wondering, yes, that, too, earned a million dollar payday.
You think insurance companies taking billion dollar bailouts is bad? Can't fathom how big time banks go belly up? Still not certain why American auto companies burn cash like kindling?
It's not hard to figure out. There's no accountability. The high-flying few have ruined it for the rest of us. There are bankers out there who are the backbone of their communities. But we'll never see them, because their shining points of lights barely twinkle in the shadows of mediocre monoliths.
Mediocrity, it seems, is now the law of the land. Sadly, it's as true in the branding world as anyplace else.