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Branding is big business, so it’s no surprise to discover that the creation of a brand identity often comes with a hefty price tag.
The branding of the London 2012 Olympics, for example, cost a cool £400,000, and that was a snip compared with British Petroleum’s most recent makeover at a reported cost of £4.5 million.
At the other end of the scale, Nike bought its iconic ‘swoosh’ design from a freelance graphic designer for a paltry $35, while Twitter paid iStockphoto less than $15 for its now ubiquitous bird logo.
Admittedly, this was when both companies were mere twinkles in the eyes of their creators: it’s the subsequent phenomenal rise in their fortunes that makes the disparity seem so remarkable.
But it also begs the question: what is a fair price to pay for a corporate identity? Is branding a modern day version of the Emperor’s New Clothes? Money for old rope? And if not, how can six or seven figure expenditures on corporate identities be justified?
Whilst I’m no apologist for the big boys’ price list, you need to understand that’s there’s more involved in the origination of a corporate identity than letting a hairy creative loose on an Apple Mac for a couple of hours.
For the BPs of this world a new corporate is the reflection of a new, business wide corporate strategy, and for the agency or design company charged with its execution it involves an in-depth and on-going consultative process with the client, usually through several hierarchies of management.
Think of the design and presentation process as the drafting and revising of a new bill and its tormented passage through Parliament and you’ll have some idea of the sheer slog – and controversy – that can be involved in such an exercise.
Then again, at this level a new corporate identity is more than the creation of a new logo and company letterhead. For the London Olympics, for example, it involves the creation of an encyclopaedia thick identity manual that anticipates and specifies how the corporate will be used on ads, websites, hoardings, signage, clothing, promotional products and the myriad other applications it will be put to.
Major corporate identities can also involve the creation of custom-made fonts or font families that will take three or four months out of skilled typographer’s time. That’s at the deep end.
At the shallow end there are on-line designers (or perhaps we should call them ‘operatives’) who can and will knock you out a logo for as little as £25.
This is the agency equivalent of a 99p shop, and in an economic climate where high street stores are routinely offering massive discounts, you can understand why they exist.
How they do so is a mystery – even doing a bad job takes time, and £25 surely doesn’t buy very much of anyone’s time, with the possible exception of slave labour or the desperate.
What you get for that outlay is a logo cobbled together out of clip art and whatever whacky fonts the operator in question has on his or her machine.
Sorry to sound sniffy about this, but basically, as they say, you get what you pay for and it depresses me only because it devalues what the rest of us take a great deal of pride in.
What you have a right to expect when you commission a corporate identity is the intelligent, critical and live (as opposed to on-line) involvement of an agency or design company with the wit to understand – and challenge where necessary – where you’re coming from and what you’re aiming for; plus the ability to interpret your brief in creative terms across a variety of media.
Thankfully, there is a middle way between Oxfam and Savile Row – just make sure that you don’t get mugged between the two!