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Sep 25 2010

Brands Are Made (Not Designed)

Every once in while we are reminded that branding and design can’t change a company. We may be able to enhance an organizations’ strengths and highlight the benefits they provide but the rest is up to them. The latest and the greatest—since Enron, sans great logo—is BP.

Not only did I buy the BP promise, but all of my clients in the energy sector bought it. Everyone wanted a new brand “like BP but not BP.” It got to the point that it drove me and my team crazy. You would hear it in every meeting.

I do remember one high level executive mentioning in a marketing meeting, that “BP’s whole environmental positioning is going to blow up in their face. They are an oil company and sooner or later the public will see the dirty side of what they do.”

This was coming from a company that spends a terrible amount of time and money on renewable energy, but even they knew that BP’s brand positioning was dangerous. No matter how focused they are on alternative methods, all energy companies do some dirty things. Even if they use wind power and solar, you can bet they are burning coal to make most of their power.

Let’ face it, BP had one of the most engaging brand images, in any industry. As communication professionals, we all respected and admired it. In the end, Paul Rand said it best, “a company gives a brand meaning”, not the other way around. BP got us.

In hindsight, it proves that it’s better to be modest and transparent. Talk about the good you are doing and be honest about the realities of doing business. Any time that you drink your own kool-aid, you’re in trouble.

We as communications professionals need to make sure that a brand does not become a form of spin.

By the way, those images of wildlife drowning in oil, are hard to watch. Sickening.

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