Tuesday, August 20, 2013


VERIZON LOGO (not exactly) Redesign

Update September 2015

After much analysis and speculation as to the meaning/intent of the CHECK/V mark in my original post from approximately 2 years ago, Verizon has launched a new brand. It is basically "the same as the old brand." This amounts to an incredible amount of money spent with expensive firms: Pentagram/design, Siegel+Gale/implementation, and others, to basically generate a typographic "tweak," and for the company to finally commit to the check mark being a check mark.

In the end amounting to a not very convincing, weak "re-brand." 

The Check element, which was broadly "overplayed" in it's original and confusing application, now feels an afterthought, or carry-over. It is at its very least indicative of a "choice." So that much was accomplished. But in a juxtaposition that reeks of "design by committee," it is not an active player in the design whole, so much as a superscript notation in an invisible box. 

Visibility and readability have improved as the revised and finessed font steps away from italic, and thankfully eliminates the inconsequential Z object. With nothing much else to work on/with I daresay the lowercase text was tweaked well and with precision. But as the implementation begins to take place. Usage on colored backgrounds makes the red Check often disappear.

The brand footprint is no longer a sprawling mess, with multiple production and layout versions needed, so I suppose Michael Bierut can console himself on that front, and S+G will have an easier job. But the "check" remains an abysmal failure as it feels like a vague afterthought in weight,application and placement.



In a follow-up to my last telephony post, let us now visit one of the weakest and convoluted telecom brands in the U.S.— Verizon. Could someone please tell me the origins of this wonky mash up? Or what the hell it means?

                                                            VERIEST      ZONE
                                                            VERACITY   HORIZON
Do they even know? Did they simply drink the Kool-Aid that some agency sold them? Since the Z is red in the tag, the implication is that it indicates a break or division. So is it simply: VERI-ON, which could be read as one (black) slogan and the Z means nothing? Or is the Z just a decorative zig zag, or a reference to napping? 

Then there is the confusing top element also in red: a decorative/redundant V for Verizon and/or a stylized check mark? 

There has always been just too much going on here. What is the point of having two different focal points?


The other trouble these two fighting components created was to make the whole lock-up not very compact. To exacerbate the issue they created a alt. horizontal layout with the check mark hanging off the left side creating a cumbersome layout in both renditions.

From a production standpoint, the fades/gradations at the two ends of the Check and the one end of the Z tail created problems from the start. First, they were not effectively rendered to fade the graphic to a white background. The end edges can still clearly be seen. Second, the reverse rendition and screen printing conceits were never considered. Despite the seen edges, the effect is fairly convincing against a white background. But the designers did not effectively fade the red ends to transparent, they faded them to white!

So that when the same art was applied to a dark background it did not fade (to black), 
and the gradation effect was lost.

When there was an attempt to remedy this, instead of recreating art for this application, it was just dodged and botched, merely making the ends appear dirty, thereby ruining the effect.

This in turn created challenges for third party vendors, who often hadn't the space to accommodate all the who-ha and (in this sample) eliminated the Check entirely and didn't attempt to recreate the gradation either. Consistencies of brand cannot be realized.

There are indications of a thinning of the V checkmark, or perhaps there was just more than one version.

Eventually someone cried uncle and a half-assed solution was applied to more recent versions of the brand whereby the fade was eliminated and the ends merely come to a narrowing point. Which simply means that on a national scale ALL of these versions (esp. on signage) will continue to co-exist.

They dumped the 'wireless' tag in 2010 and have been running as just Verizon ever since.

The 2010 adopted slogan: Rule The Air! finally killed the "Can you hear me now" guy.

In an interesting bit of irony, a broadcast/web ad I saw just last week, which has customers talking about their need to switch to Verizon, includes dialog, "I had my reality check when..." along with a footer tag on the bottom left of the screen. Finally at long last making an actual reference/exploiting the V/checkmark. I guess THEY have now officially said: yes, it's a checkmark. Who knew?


Monday, August 12, 2013

The Bell and the Brand

The name: American Telephone & Telegraph, should never have been allowed. I don't believe anyone should be able to co-opt the brand of the country by calling themselves American Airlines, U.S. Airways, American Broadcasting Company... unless they are an actual agency of the government. (though for a year—1918-1919, during WWI, AT&T was nationalized)

Was the Bell System, back when the country HAD a system, a de facto monopoly? Check. Did it also have consistency of service and unified national infrastructure? Check. But it was a government-sanctioned monopoly, validated by the Kingsbury Commitment, basically a variance issued in response to an anti-trust challenge brought against the company in 1913.

The transition away from the 'bell.' The last time the company had a solid, recognizable brand. Though I never embraced the brutish all caps, which offered no hierarchy or contrast to the icon weight, setting the whole thing oddly out of balance.

My father worked for the phone company when it was AT&T, then New England Tel & Tel, then NYNEX, and before it became Verizon. He would occasionally reference his youth in the company as the era in which he "climbed poles."

The issue of monopoly seems absurd evidenced by today's loosey goosey, under-regulated environment. For example, ISP markets are regionally divided in New York. No competition. Rates rigged. Drop a service and suddenly your cost for the other two goes up. Price fixing is the norm. Again, no government oversight/protection. In the 20s the government allowed the purchase by AT&T of most all local carriers to consolidate the 'system' and with the FCC creation in 1934, the government regulated rates. This was an approach that worked.

World travelers will attest to the fact that service in smaller countries is superior to the U.S. by virtue of smaller land area and unified infrastructure. The grand bargain to sell or cede the national telephony infrastructure to the government, but still do the business of maintaining and selling equipment and service was an opportunity that was quashed. But had it been executed properly, for the good of the public trust (something we don't hear much of in this country), service in the U.S. would now be the best in the world. 

The introduction of new national land line services such as MCI and Sprint, who wanted to be able to tap into the (un-nationalized) network infrastructure, was what prompted the divesture. Cellular services came later.

AT&T, as it spread its wings as a 'global company' responded with a graphic, optical sphere that, with AT&T letters, could be stacked or side by side. But apparently they did so without any underlying thought for usage and application. Soon after they had to address the question, "What if it's on a dark background?" Suddenly realizing that when reversing the original art, the top and bottom edge would be lost. Their afterthought made clear by the fact that they actually added additional lines top and bottom to retain their circle in the reverse version, instead of just making new art.

Then things got worse. They had to address optical distance. Logos that would be printed smaller had to have less, thicker, simpler lines. Designers and vendors now to had to manage pos/neg, a 12 line logo, and what, an 8 line version... 6 line version... 4 line version... dunno. Oy!

Scalablity is key. Why would they design something that wasn't scaleable? Because they didn't think about it and then had to reverse-engineer it in versions that would be readable at smaller sizes and that were readable on black.

ABOVE: This version seems to be a transition (adding shadow) that presaged the full-blow optical/dimensional hybrid version to come.

When the sphere was rolled out (PI) it oddly kept the old, optical interpretation of the earlier version, adding a shaded back layer revealed though the slats, and a shaded exterior shell. This joined a cluster of modern spherical industry icons. But immediately something seemed off in its geometry. Though realized from a downward angle, the back layer lines do not seem of equal number to the front and the top and bottom (polar) caps do not see to be attached to the same pole. The few times I have seen it in rotation in broadcast, it was not created as a rotatable object. The rotation was faked.

The new art, because of the exterior shading, seemed capable of separation off of dark or light backgrounds. The friendlier lowercase at&t was a breath of fresh air. But the production of store signage became more expensive for the complexity of the art. And backlit was preferred. This made it difficult for consistency among 3rd party companies/vendors printing one color. 

Finally they had to reverse-engineer a one-color version for the current logo as well! For positive and negative, adding a heavy-handed line around the whole thing. What a mess. It now looks like a croquet ball.

The notion of AT&T using a slogan seems beneath them. Even as a cellular entity. To add insult to injury this one (above) sounded like a Fed Ex slogan.

AT&T's recent slogan is a linguistic misnomer.

Because 'Possible' is good right? So why would I 'Rethink' that? 

What they mean to say is 'Rethink Impossible.'

(AT&T, are you paying people for this crap?)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Penney For Your Thoughts

Retool, Rebrand, Refresh.

James Cash Penney (his real name) began working for 'The Golden Rule' store in Kemmerer, Wyoming in 1902, later buying out all interest in that venture, and moving its HQ to Salt Lake City to be nearer the banks and the railroads. There he re-founded as J.C.Penney Company in 1913 with business partner William Henry McManus. The following year HQ moved to New York City.

As you can see, the brand has gone through many brand and slogan iterations over many successful years of diversification and expansion. 

Penney succeeded in the transition from the downtown-centric stores to the mall environment, but struggled and began divesting other interests in the modern era. They dropped their quaint but iconic black/blue, brush stroke logo for a more streamlined look, reintegrating the JC, no periods needed (see JPMorganChase). The font reminiscent of the earlier Sears brand.

 In the 2010s the company was challenged by a changing, internet-driven economy. And as it struggled it seemed to continually rebrand as a way to suggest a new beginning. First a transition to a more vibrant key color and slightly bolder version of font.
Then 2011: CEO Ron Johnson buys shares of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and launched 'mini-Martha shops' in stores, and enhanced web. Here is a shift to all lowercase with [jcp] reversed out of a solid red box. Seemed the next obvious step was to detach the square and reduce the brand to [jcp] alone.

In a fractious 2012 Ellen DeGeneres, a former employee, became spokesperson and the store made press for blatantly courting the gay customer. President Michael Francis exited after only 8 months on the job. Probably falling on his sword for his boss. But meanwhile, in a fit of near-genius the brand became an American flag, enlivening the label and the advertising for a moment with it's clever use, as it mimicked other brands and flags that we know.

With his 'Shops' (stores within a store) strategy failing, Johnson is fired in April 2013.

What next?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ford Invents a Time Machine?

Cunning Linguists

[I take a break from the decidedly visual, aesthetic assessments of these pages to discuss a glitch of language usage within Ford Motor Company's recent aspirational tagline...] 

Auto makers love slogans, thematic concepts often utilized as much to inspire customers as they are to play the role of (current season) vision statements that serve as directives for their dealers. They are typically 'launched' at the dealer conferences.

What You Meant to Say

The problem lies in the confusing usage rules that draw a very fine distinction between FURTHER and FARTHER. While there are subtle differences found on online reference sources, sometimes parsing (note) further distinctions between Brit. and U.S. usage, I decided to go to the oldest and most respected American resource, every college English major's friend, 'The Elements of Style,' originally written by Cornell University English professor William Strunk, Jr., in 1918, and later famously revised and republished in 1959 with E.B. White.

Therein it is explained that: 
"...there is a distinction worth observing: farther serves best as a distance word, further as a time or quantity word."
Or in college shorthand: "Farther is distance, further is time."

Clearly in this instance, a company that make vehicles that "take you places," 
intended it's usage to mean DISTANCE. FURTHERmore, the slogan starts with the word GO, which implies movement. Clearly, or maybe not so clearly, FORD should have used the slogan: 

Unless Ford is designing a time machine!?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Coppertone's Bum Wrap

Pales By Comparison

Coppertone is currently running a nostalgic broadcast ad wherein it asks (supposed) random people to smell their tanning lotion and tell them what it reminds them of. This is a boomer-centric success from that standpoint and a testament to the documented strength of the olfactory memory vs other types of memory.

In some of the 'on the street' interviews their classic little girl/dog ads are even positioned strategically within the frame, in the background.

So iconic, established and omnipresent in the culture was this girl/dog motif, that it was often parodied broadly in our culture.

Coppertone's "Don't Be a Paleface" tagline derived from the fact that it's original branding involved an Indian chief. Well, sometime in the 1950's (perhaps) a higher level of consciousness regarding the racist nature of the branding took hold. Coppertone's agency cleverly retooled the campaign, creating the now iconic image of the little girl with dog playfully tugging at her suit, revealing her tan line and her baby bum. 'Paleface', get it?

So identifiable was this tableau to the brand that there were (at one time) building signs around the country, resembling the one from Miami below, that were mechanically animated so that the dog would pull down the girl's suit over and over and over.

But something happened. In 2009 pharma giant Merck bought Shering-Plough, the maker of Coppertone (and other assets), for $41.1 billion. Then, sometime between then and now (maybe then Merck CEO, Richard Clark was a prude?) adjustments were made to our much-loved little girl and her 'paleface' was eliminated from view in the advertising. This was disconcertingly evident in the broadcast ads, though it made no sense, for we saw her bum in the retro ads, seen in the interviews, but then it was covered up in the signature.

 That someone thought a baby's bum, and a bum we have been seeing in public for nearly 60 years, was suddenly crass?, offensive?, suggestive?, erotic? ––is a disturbing notion. Then what of the poor black spaniel dog? Was he euthanized for his repeated transgressions? The whole thing seems absurd. I say "Bring Back the Bum!"

"Bad dog! Bad dog!"  The expurgated version. The little girl isn't even tan!