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?)

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