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2017.03.30

Beauty+Logic: “Teaching Brands to Swim”

by Jorge Peschiera, Creative Director

There was a time when a brand identity was basically a logo, a font, and a color scheme. And yes, there was research and strategy that informed all of that, and stern talk of “safe areas” and “brand voice.” But still, it was simpler then. It was a time when mass communication was in its infancy and print was the dominant medium.

Those sweet, innocent days are over, but most people who work in branding today seem to have missed that memo. Many branding firms still adhere to a fundamentally print-centric model. They fail to see how profoundly things have shifted. Interestingly, it’s not because companies are different or because people are different or because the basic principles of design have changed.

It’s because we are watching something amazing/hilarious/adorable happen every day. Maybe more like 20 times a day. On TV and YouTube. On Facebook and Instagram. In your email/chat/SMS convos, and primarily in the form of moving images — whether they be full clips, GIFs, or even animated emojis and effects.

Over 70% of web traffic is video; in two years that will rise to 80%. Adults currently spend 5.5 hours per day watching some form of video content. There are over 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube per minute. Video on mobile is expected to increase eleven-fold between now and 2020. And that doesn’t include out-of-home video, traditional cinema, TV, nor the vast amount of coded-in animation that now appears pretty much everywhere — from web and app interfaces, to display ads, to emojis.

Everything moves.

The language of moving images is the new vernacular, regardless of the delivery method. Marketers are constantly jumping onto each new platform that comes along, but they are failing to really understand the powerful, 100-year-old mode of expression that all platforms are now molding themselves around. Moving content is not a just another platform. It’s not an add-on to your marketing salad. It’s the new way we talk to each other. The platforms have been rushing to build video delivery infrastructure just to keep up with the rabid demand.

In some ways, the advent of moving images can be compared to the invention of writing. Writing freed us from the need to use our mouths and hands, our physical presence, for communication. Video can free us from words, broadening our range of expressive options. Beyond that, it naturally allows for the sampling and remixing of nearly all other mediums. It can put one idea after another just like text, but it also operates on more visceral levels. Video doesn’t even have to be linear anymore. 

Perhaps this flexibility partly explains why, unlike writing (which for thousands of years was the domain of scribes, scholars, and elites), the rate of adoption for things like video news, video education, video documentation, video art, video entertainment, and, most recently, video-as-conversation, has been much faster. Like crazy fast.

Branding needs to catch up.

Brands must start to feel at home in this new, more complex ecosystem. They need to become native speakers of the dominant language of our time. Brands are no longer potted house plants; now they must swim in an ocean in which everything moves.

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The branding community largely seems to be in a state of willful denial about this. There’s a healthy appreciation of the heroes of the good old days of branding: Rand, Geismar, Lubalin, Glaser, Vignelli, the luminaries of the Bauhaus. They are our foundation. But it is up to our generation to figure out how to evolve the art and science of branding so that it can meet the demands of a new communication paradigm. Of the great 20th century branding giants, Saul Bass stands out for having really embraced what the future might bring, and his work in film titles and video-aware corporate branding has become seminal to what is still a fledgling field of motion-centric brand design.

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Still today, most companies fail to see that the print-centric model of branding doesn’t cut it anymore. Adding an animator or two to your team doesn’t cut it either. Video can’t just be a nifty gag that we tack on at the end of a traditional branding process. The shift has to happen at a fundamental level. Brands must be conceived as entities that swim rather than sit. In many cases, this could mean that establishing a working sense of a brand’s body language (movement, editing style, and sonic sensibilities) will precede and inform the development of a logo. Movement and sound have to be at the core of the process itself, because that’s how most people will experience a new brand. You see the body language before you read the name tag or even say hello.

Things have become more visceral. Nobody cares about letterhead and business cards anymore. We all make movies now. Let’s brand accordingly.

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