Logo bashing won with the wattle logo’s canning, but it shouldn’t always

The government was right to ditch its ill-advised Brand Australia logo, but that doesn’t mean the critics are always right when it comes to branding decisions, Charlie Rose argues.

News the government was canning its controversial ‘corona crest’ and opting for a redesign was met with a collective, ‘I told you so’.

In case you forgot, and I certainly hadn’t, the logo received a near-universal panning when it was unveiled in July. We can all agree, they got it wrong this time but that doesn’t mean rebrands always do, even if we don’t agree with them.

When it comes to rebrands, everyone has an opinion and for those of us in the business of branding, we reckon our opinion carries some weight. And rightly so. After all, we’re privy to the thinking process that’s supposed to support these sorts of decisions. However, we’re also guilty of indulging in the perverse pleasure of logo bashing.

The ‘nation brand’ was pulled this week

I get it, I’ve worked in brand agencies for more than 10 years and rest assured, I’ve bonded with my colleagues over many a surprising rebrand.

I think we can all agree that the decision to invest millions of dollars – during a recession – to create an abstract visual asset in lieu of our existing treasure trove of globally recognised symbols is a bad one. But I can empathise with the team behind the work. Every time we launch a brand, we’re conditioned to expect an unhealthy dose of logo bashing.

But there’s something more at play here than simply an aversion to change. There’s also the sense that, given the opportunity, we could have done a better job. Which is easy to say when you’re sitting on the sidelines. When faced with the pressure of multiple stakeholders and the expectations of the public, you’re fighting an uphill battle, especially if you think you’re going to please everyone.

According to the Journal of Product and Brand Management, one in 50 companies will redesign their logo in a given year. As a consequence, this widespread phenomenon affects the reputations and general wellbeing of brand managers and marketers around the world.

So, what exactly is behind this tendency to bash new logos? Is it that people don’t like change?

Research certainly suggests change interferes with people’s sense of autonomy and makes them feel like they’ve lost control. Rebranding disrupts the status quo and imposes your new identity and worldview onto others, requiring them to accept it when they haven’t asked for it. But when a brand changes, people exaggerate the perceived effort involved. They intuitively overestimate the ask as a consumer or stakeholder, even if it’s just looking at and investing in a new symbol.

Status quo, or familiarity bias, is one of the powerful psychological forces at play here. Routine is comforting and change jolts the mind in uneasy ways. Too much change is perceived as distracting or confusing. According to behavioural economists, when a new product is introduced, people irrationally overvalue the old over the new.

So what can be done to avoid the seemingly inevitable logo sledging? It helps to let people know the change is coming. When collaboration software company Slack rebranded in 2019, the brand anticipated and prepared for 95% of their users to hate their new logo.

When brands provide a heads up, people are more open to the change. The forward warning enables us to feel like insiders and mentally prepare for the upcoming shift. A hallmark of successful rebranding efforts is business leadership and transparency about the rebrand with a clear rationale as to ‘why now?’

The biggest branding backlashes come when passionate communities feel they aren’t consulted or are out-of-the-loop. A study found the most committed brand advocates are likely to also be your most vocal detractors. When your brand is, well, Australia, you’re dealing with a whole lot of brand advocates.

Clear talking points for stakeholders based on a coherent case for change are crucial to reducing the fallout. State the case early and often. A succinct story helps connect the dots and satisfy rational left-brain thinking about why the change is happening.

In the case of Brand Australia, the vehement logo bashing shone a light on an ill-informed strategic decision, a rare example of the power of the internet being used for good. Ditching the logo is the right decision, but that doesn’t mean we’ve established a precedent of kowtowing to the crowd.

Sometimes, people aren’t going to like your new brand. Doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.

Charlie Rose is associate strategy director at Principals


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