Over the last 12 months, our Branding through the Decades series has navigated the evolution of creative branding – unpicking how seismic social, political, and cultural events have shaped the way brands advertise. Beginning in the 1900s, we have traced the birth of the logo, wound our way around two world wars, spotlighted many pivotal tech inventions, and pinpointed the musical powerhouses whose influence swept through a whole generation.
We’ve seen how companies, from Coca-Cola to Sketchers, absorbed the mood of the era and translated that energy into creative campaigns that speak the same language. And it’s not just the brands born of that decade either, but we have mapped how and why a signature style of 60s branding, for instance, remains the visual identity of many modern businesses.
That linear journey through the last century has led us here, to the present day, a period which continues to reshape how brands communicate to their audiences. From climate-related messaging to influencer trends to responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, brands now have to think smarter and work harder to connect as an authentic and discerning option for today’s consumers.
Take The Trainline. Its recent ‘I came by train’ campaign is spearheaded by RnB royalty Craig David, who has penned a song about the environmental benefits of travelling by train. The animated advert sees an illustrated Craig David perform the title track ‘Better Days’ as he travels aboard a locomotive crossing through oceans, woodland and mountains. And this catchy ode to our planet is indeed only the beginning.
The online toolkit developed by The Trainline to host all of the campaign information is award-winning, providing everything from a carbon calculator – allowing users to estimate the amount of CO2 saved by opting for train travel, to a journey pledger, where one can bolster the campaign by committing to choosing trains over cars or planes for a specific journey.
Creatively the direction feels uncomplicated and simple, mirroring that of the message. Whilst the hero advert is bright and colourful, it’s not been made to feel overly cinematic. It’s soft and inviting, the same way the language is accessible, inclusive and deliberately pivoted away from the scaremongering of other similar campaigns. By reeling off quotes from the public, The Trainline has delivered an authentic human message that doesn’t feel like greenwashing. ‘I came by train because melting ice is good for G&Ts not icecaps,’ reads one testimonial, whilst another, ‘I came by train because being lit is for influencers, not forests.’ Concluded with a David Craig-esk hook line, ‘It’s time to say it loud and say it proud. I came by train,’ this clever and current campaign is a triumph of modern marketing: engaging, entertaining and downright essential.
Another brand seeking to pledge itself to the conservation of our planet is the premium sportswear brand, Lacoste. Perhaps one of the world’s most instantly recognisable logos – a grinning, green crocodile stitched onto crisp cotton – in 2018, Lacoste decided that it was in their logo, that the brand could make the most impact in aligning their ethos to sustainability.
Where others would shy away from altering such an integral part of their brand, Lacoste leaned into it, and during 2018 Paris Fashion Week, revealed a line of 10 limited edition designs of polo shirts, where the iconic crocodile left its historic spot to make way for 10 of the most Critically Endangered species in the world.
From the California condor to the Sumatran tiger to the Anegada ground iguana, the Save Our Species campaign was a collaboration between the premium clothing brand and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). By seamlessly threading a conservation message into its marketing activity, Lacoste has demonstrated how a company can integrate sustainability into its core business in a way that remains completely in tune with its brand identity, whilst also making an important statement.
Indeed, the campaign was so successful that the brand did the same again the following year, in 2019 – releasing another ten polo shirts stitched with a new series of critically endangered species. Keen to add more dimensions to the campaign this time around, and to ensure the message was conveyed both offline and online, nine Lacoste stores worldwide, as well as the online shop, got a makeover to feature the threatened species. Not only did the efforts win an unprecedented ten Cannes Lions Advertising awards, but following the campaign, a Call for Proposals was created for projects targeting any of the ten species. Three projects were awarded the Lacoste funds: one to protect the Critically Endangered Burmese Roofed Turtle, another to protect the Critically Endangered Mountain Chicken, and another to protect the Critically Endangered North Atlantic Right Whale. A true testament to both style and substance.
When talking about how sustainability and climate activism have seeped into the visual identity and verbal language of today’s biggest brands, failing to mention energy companies would be an obvious oversight. Perhaps one of the sectors to feel the biggest shift in how they communicate to consumers over the last decade, the companies who heat and light our homes are now under much more scrutiny to pitch green energy and sustainable sources.
In 2019, Octopus Energy launched its campaign Portraits from the Precipice. The idea hinged on a global roster of artists, answering the brief ‘What does climate change mean to you?’ A collaborative approach, Octopus Energy worked with Artfinder and DOOH partner JCDecaux, who provided support in terms of sourcing art and designing the presentation, while the Royal Society of Arts/Royal Academy gave the first annual Climate Change Art Prize (0f £10,000 cash) to the winning image.
Working with artists from around the world to create high-impact impressions of climate change, Octopus launched the campaign to coincide with a meeting of world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference, running the creative assets as digital out-of-home displays at 5,000 sites – which became the world’s biggest-ever DOOH art exhibition.
Whilst the energy provider had traditionally focused on the three big reasons for customers switching to the brand: customer service, fair and transparent pricing, and 100% renewable energy, this campaign marked a shift and an opportunity to go further with a campaign to raise public awareness of climate issues on a wider scale. Achieving exceptional results, Octopus saw a 163% increase in signups, gaining an additional 37,000 new customers compared to the same period the previous year, leading it to claim the 2020 Marketing Week Masters award for utilities. By creating a campaign centred on a visual identity designed outside the internal marketing team, Octopus Energy feels genuine in its pledge to the planet – something which has historically been difficult to achieve for a business trading in energy.
Another critical change in collective memory is of course the COVID-19 pandemic. When the virus swept across the world forcing us all to stay indoors, many brands were quick to develop campaigns that bolstered spirits and reflected hope in a time that felt incredibly scary and strange.
Industry giants like Nike launched poignant ad content with taglines like ‘If you ever dreamed of playing for millions around the world, now is your chance: Play inside, play for the world’. Whilst Apple took on messaging such as ‘After the storm, comes the rainbow,’ accompanied by video content demonstrating how their products can boost creativity during the time of stasis we were all experiencing.
Thankfully, the world has now returned to what we’d call normal, but the enormous gravitas of the pandemic has left its mark on the way brands advertise. Big tech firms such as Microsoft and Meta are heavily focused on how their products and services facilitate seamless remote working, whilst other household names like Ikea have truly made the home the heart of their identity.
Ikea’s recent ‘Conquer the Great Indoors’ campaign saw an animated yet lifelike lion ‘relax into greatness’ as he sinks into the brand’s soft furnishings. The focus centred on making the consumer’s own habitat – the home – the ultimate sanctuary and destination. In a time when we couldn’t leave our homes, Ikea made us appreciate the comfort and not the constraint. The tone is compassionate, wholesome and genuinely moving, making us all more aware of what we already have, rather than what we don’t.
In fact, in a world of harshness and sharp angles, that kind of compassion and humanness feels crucial for brands to get buy-in. Today consumers want to feel seen, heard and understood – rather than being bombarded by instruction and ads that hail celebrities as we’ve seen happen in previous decades.
Here at Glorious Creative – a leading Manchester-based branding agency – we’ve helped several of our clients do just that. EnergiMine is an established business offering energy management to companies all over the globe who approached us looking to articulate its brand identity with authenticity and transparency, a direction markedly different to its competitors.
Our task was to ensure this vision for the new energy age was recognised and clearly communicated through an extensive brand refresh. As well as a visual identity, featuring black and white photography and a restricted colour palette, we developed a strong symbol: one which takes its inspiration from the Greek ‘sigma’ symbol (in mathematics, the summation is the addition of a sequence of numbers; the result is their sum or total – which we considered an appropriate form of analogy for the blockchain ecosystem).
The rebrand also included the development of a brand purpose: ‘to make a positive impact on the planet’ and a brand promise of: ‘a world of energy’. The brand personality was defined as: ‘Innovative, daring, quick-thinking, adaptable, competitive, dynamic and pioneering’. And a set of brand values was also created: ‘Dare to disrupt. Constantly innovate. Be quick to adapt. Always, high performance. Be open and transparent. Achieve global change.’
All of the above work provided the team at EnergiMine with a robust set of guidelines from which to frame future marketing activity. Clean, simple, human-centric, compassionate and honest; all the kinds of qualities consumers are now actively seeking.
So, if you’re feeling especially compelled to pitch your brand in the here and now, rather than following suit of bygone years, here are the top five tips for branding in today’s consumer climate.
Be real. In today’s world, authenticity is crucial. Your consumers want to feel like you truly count for something important and a big part of that is being transparent, more than just a mission statement but in tangible outputs that demonstrate your business as one that truly does care.
Opt for collaborative user-generated content where possible. As you’ve been reading, brands that can create content through partnerships or via their audience feel trustworthy and human-centric. Rather than overly polished outputs refined in studios, it’s about reflecting your audience in your content.
Think Tone of Voice with compassion and empathy. If you’ve followed this series from the beginning, you’ll recognise that over the decades, we’ve moved from a very direct and instructive Tone of Voice, to where we are today. These days, people want to connect with a brand on understanding and compassion, to feel comforted by a brand comes from a place of warmth and shared interest.
Visually, your creative marketing campaigns should be simple and inviting. Illustration works well, especially when accompanied by a compelling narrative – think The Trainline – but you also don’t want the viewer to have to work hard to understand your message. Clear, clever and with meaning – that’s the way to go.
Consider both offline and online touchpoints. Perhaps more so than ever before, the journey to conversion crosses so many different touchpoints that to truly get your brand to cut through the noise – you need to consider the specific placements most effective for your audience, from outdoor advertising to influencer partnerships.
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