Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Bernie Madoff of Brands

A day doesn't go by when someone, somewhere corrupts the notion of branding. I should know. I live the stuff. I have to deal with designers who really think that selecting a new font constitutes re-branding. I have to endure warmed-over ad agency rejects who peddle new campaigns to clients under the guise of increasing brand awareness.

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.


Blogger itGOESWOAR said...

I didn't realize before that you had enabled content moderation. Don't you think it's a touch disingenuous to create blog as a way to encourage substitutive debate surrounding branding and then not allow other opinions.

Assuming your POV is always correct is a fine way to roll, after all who wouldn't consider their own opinion above others. But to not be willing to tolerate others is another thing entirely. I encourage you post all opinions, not just your own.

Forgive me if your site just doesn't elicit many comments and your not censoring them.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

Like it says at the top of each blog post, I encourage as many people as would like to respond to my posts. It's just that blog spam is a major issue, so all I ask is that you register (one time) to post.

As for editing or censoring, if you know anything at all about me, that's totally not what I'm about. As long as it's somewhat intelligent, not stupid or hate-driven, I've got no problem publishing whatever opinion you have.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Rob, I've been a fan of your position on branding for a long time. I agree that most of what passes as branding is NOT. I was on your email list during the web1.0 days. I was there when you started i-legions. I even participated in your own Frankel community.
I've seen the case studies on your site. What I have NOT seen is an instance of how you positioned a product/service/company in the mind of prospects as "the ONLY solution to their problems"

7:33 PM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

Actually, you have seen a few if you've been to my site. It's likely they may not appear to you to be "the only solution" because you may not be among the target audience to whom the brand was presented.

That happens a lot. Most companies forget that their market is not global, and that their brand need only be perceived as "the only solution" to the prospects within their environment.

9:36 PM  
Blogger Meg said...

Wow, I feel like I really missed out, you know, not getting the symbolism of the squeeze cap when opening cartons of o.j.

I actually did think the cartons were nice looking, if a tad sterile. But then I like minimalism and know that Tropicana doesn't taste much like freshly squeezed orange juice.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Let's do a "the ONLY solution to their problems"
case study from the prospect's perspective?


12:29 PM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

Okay. First thing we do is get Pepsi, Tropicana, the GAP, Gatorade and the SciFi Channel to call.


1:03 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Design (Visual) is part of "Branding" process. Branding is a process. It is not done in an instance and must take some time to be tested. There's NO "only solution" thing since the market is constantly changing, evolving, and adopting itself. So to address each problem that's sprouting from the market, a certain study is necessary to develop a certain process or solution to a certain problem. Part of that certain solution is branding through visual communication or what many think as DESIGN (The word design is a broad term but usually associated to visual art or graphics). The main goal of branding is to collect trust from its audience and branding comes in two form. We have the INVINSIBLE branding and the other is VISIBLE branding. Visual Design goes under the VISUAL Branding since it communicates to gain trust through visual medium. On the other hand Experiential Design goes under the INVINSIBLE Branding since it communicates to gain trust directly through feeling and emotion.

I think if we just know these things about BRANDING, there should be no place for this discussion.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

Well, the first thing you may want to do is re-read my definition of branding, which is how it's "getting your prospects to perceive yours as the only solution to their problem.

That doesn't mean it is the only solution to their problem. It means to them, no other alternative will suffice.

Branding is also not a process. It's a defined, strategic plan that requires leadership. Unfortunately, those who can't connect the dots from "brand" to "the bottom line" also tend to pander to the public instead of setting the public's expectations.

For design to succeed, it merely has to communicate the brand strategy through visual means. Without the brand strategy, there can be no effective design, as companies like Landor and Arnell consistently show us.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Technically and LOGICALLY speaking, Branding IS a process. If you can read the work "ing" in "Branding", that means it's a process. You may want to grab a dictionary for that.

It is a process to achieve integrity and credibility. Two primarily things that the prospects is looking for.

Yes. Branding is dealing with PERCEPTION. And one major factor to stimulate perception is visual designs. Through visual communication, customer may perceive in an instance, the image that a company wants to impress.

Visual is only suggestive thus it requires to be proved using strategy to meet expectations.

Visible and Invisible Branding goes hand in hand. The key is to balance these two elements to achieve a successful branding.

Just like a good concept is nothing if not implemented well or a body is nothing without the spirit.

Expectation (visual) = Experience (emotional).

8:44 AM  

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