Australia’s new wattle logo is a design, storytelling and timing failure

Last week, Australia's new logo was revealed: a golden wattle flower that many were quick to point out bears an uncanny resemblance to COVID-19. As Ash Ivory argues, it wasn't just a design failure, but also a failure to communicate the story behind the logo, and time its launch correctly.

Unless your NBN has been playing up, you’ll have seen Australia’s new logo: a golden wattle to accompany the beloved ‘Australian Made’ kangaroo logo. It would be easy to point out the COVID-19 likeness, as many have, or that gold foiling is extremely difficult and costly to reproduce on packaging.

Both of these points are valid and concerning. But there are even bigger issues: brand consistency, a failure to communicate the rebrand’s purpose, and the timing of the launch.

The new ‘nation brand’

Telling a story

When you’re tackling a brief as broad as ‘Australia’, you’ve got to be very sure of the story. The concept has to be direct and strong, and your storytelling needs to be punchy, natural and to the point. Those characteristics could also explain a typical Australian.

A rebrand is a big change, and your stakeholders are diverse and plentiful: Australians themselves.

Let me call out the obvious here: The typical Australian won’t tolerate flimsy reasoning. And I haven’t seen a compelling story to accompany the new logo.

Consider the backlash Facebook gets for a simple homepage update. More often than not, there is a lot of research and reasoning that goes along with a homepage update, or a new logo for Australia. But if you aren’t presenting the evidence and thought process to your audience, you are opening yourself up to a lot of criticism.

There was speculation that the new logo would replace the ‘Australian Made’ kangaroo (it won’t) or that it is replacing the ‘Australia Unlimited’ imagery. One Chinese newspaper pointed out that the logo “would only lead to confusion about Australian goods in the eyes of the outside world”.

And beyond that, I can see why this new logo in the family of ‘Australian’ brands is going to cause confusion. How should it be used? In what context? Can it sit alongside other beloved Aussie marks?

Humans make sense of the world around them by encoding information through stories. The best stories will win when looking at recall. A simple: “We had this, we wanted to refresh with that, and we ended up with ‘wattle’” would have sufficed.

The importance of timing and tech

If you’ve just spent two years and a considerable amount of taxpayer money on a rebrand to alter the perception of Australia globally and bring people into the country, it might help to launch that rebrand when trade and travel routes are a little less restricted. It’s also worth considering the context around a launch, and checking the current climate and attitudes.

Nothing really screams bad timing like unveiling a logo, during a crisis, that resembles the virus causing that crisis. To take some heat off the agency, Clemenger BBDO, the new logo was in the works since 2018, and it was approved before the outbreak of COVID-19. But this acts as an even stronger argument to hold off on the launch.

And then there’s the technology. Back in 2011, Telstra undertook a huge rebranding project. In just under a month, the company had completed a large portion of it, including rebranding its fleet of vehicles and all in-store signage. The systems that exist around the logo are just as important as the logo itself.

If Telstra could plan the process in such a way back then, brands in 2020 with far more technology at their disposal shouldn’t be battling years of rebranding lag. Australia’s rebrand also failed in this regard.

While you don’t need to plan for 100% new rebrand coverage in the first 30 days, you do have a window of opportunity in which to make a real impact, and you need to use it wisely. Australia didn’t on this occasion.

Thanks to a combination of poor timing, a lack of a compelling story, and next to no technology to enable the adoption of the new brand, it’s easy to see why the launch of Australia’s new logo was so lacklustre.

Ash Ivory is chief product officer at Outfit


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