A couple of weeks ago, Wolff Olins launched a brand re-fresh for PwC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) the global consulting firm. My initial contact with the new Brand came from the increasingly influential (and increasingly snarky, more on this later) website Brand New. Brand New’s official review is glowing. Rightly so. As Simon Manchipp of SomeOne pointed out in his blog, there is probably no tougher brief than that of refreshing and focussing a global business of this scale, doubly the difficulty with a consulting firm, triple it with it’s organisational complexity and differing regional cultures. That’s one tough cookie to crack, and the re-brand, does the brief justice.
This work is bold, fresh and, importantly, works both from a creative and a strategic perspective. This duality is crucial. While Brand New’s write up might be spectacular in it’s compliments, the comments highlight a narrow design critique that offer much in snark, but very little in way of context, beyond a very narrow perception of what Branding currently is. They betray a lack of understanding of just what is involved when it comes to completing and delivering jobs of the scale and breadth of this Pwc job.
It also highlights the major problem that Brand Consultancies have in the wider Marketing Sphere. What do we do? Logos? Design? Identities? Consulting? Strategy? Exhibitions? Print? Packaging? Websites? Microsties? Apps? All of the above? In my time in Branding, these questions have never really resolved themselves, as Brand Consultancies have never truly found the right language to express their offer. (are we more like CO: for example than ever? Another time maybe) Hence the work is narrowed to quantifiable (read visible) components. A three year project, which probably involved as much internal engagement, strategic understanding and cultural change within the business, as design and implementation is (overly) simplified to the minutae of colour palettes. Great Branding, is now much much more than that narrow perception.
Let’s get back to the work above. The new (identity) succeeds in putting a fresh face on an extremely tired visual language, last seen mired in corporate hell. Many have pointed out that the original with it’s defiant angular strangeness (as a logo) was part of it’s charm. While it’s fierceness does make me think of Gordon Gekko and busting balls over a table at the Four Seasons, it also helps underscore the bold approach taken with the new work. As any good creative work should do regardless of discipline, it should make you re-assess the business or product. PWC is no different to any other business. It is in the business of selling itself, and suddenly it’s freshness in the market becomes a mark of innovation not a mark of fecklessness.
Wolff Olins have again looked to the future with the dynamic philosophy of living brands. Having blogged and written about how Aol. and Waterstones, among others this year are pointing the way for innovative brand solutions. While it might no share the same wild and expressive brush strokes that accompanied those two pieces of work, I’m glad to see the theory applied and delivered with aplomb in a very tough industry to spot brand innovation.
There are elements that I feel are lacking, the logotype jars at times, and when lingered upon, can feel divorced from icon. These, as with any design are subjective issues. They do not fundamentally subtract from the overall feel of the re-fresh. The website however, while functional, feels very dense, and doesn’t reflect the identity in a way that feels as engaging, but I can imagine with limited browser suppor in such huge corporate environments, it works as a functional information delivery mechanism that at least looks and acts how the brand should.
‘Under the hood’, the strategy and positioning offers a real simplicity and only reinforces the point that this is not a reskin. While not that catchy, (“Creating relationships that create value”) it is simple enough to offer ‘Baked In’ value to the brand. (The book of the same name from ex-adman Alex Bogusky and Victor&Spoils founder John Winsor on the subject is essential reading and relevant across many business sectors). It’s strong enough for people within the business to understand and rally around as an organising thought. The simplicity of promise, and freshness of visual language, bind together to say that we are a business that wants to make a statement within our industry. PwC will never be a ‘challenger’ but they can fortify their position as a market leader and with this rebrand. This comes through quite clearly, and in that context, this works.
While a critique of an identity is valid, the depth and breadth of this, and other well executed Brand projects are ill-served by such a narrow focus. Maybe the focus should be on establishing a compelling story for which to critique work such as this in the future and reframing the scope and influence a great Brand Consultancy can bring to a business. The great ones, are already on this journey. (You know who you are…) The question is, when will the rest of the Design Industry look up from their logo infatuated stupor?