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23.11.21 + Inspiration

NOT TO JINX IT, BUT IS BRANDING…COOL?

Branding: the slightly nerdier cousin of marketing. Or is it? Director of Creative Strategy Mika Saulitis weighs in.

Branding has always felt like a niche industry—the slightly nerdier little sibling of marketing. I can see how this perception came to be: “We made that Super Bowl ad” is a much more simple idea to grasp than “We developed the lower thirds, bumpers, and mortises that you see when you watch the Super Bowl.”

Personally, I had no idea the branding industry existed when I started my professional career. After signing a lease in Los Angeles with no job lined up, I jumped at the first opportunity presented to me—which happened to be a receptionist gig at a leading branding agency. Even while working there for my first few months I was still trying to figure out what, exactly, we did. I heard words like letting, hex, sting. Acronyms like RBG, SVG, AEP. It all seemed so inside baseball. The learning curve was sharp, so I can only imagine how difficult the industry was to grasp for someone who wasn’t embedded in it.

Today, the industry is having a cultural moment. Think about all of the discussions around not just brands, but the creative and strategic process of branding.

Back then, when brands would evolve or refresh, it seemed like an article or two would be written in a trade publication and largely, that was that. Some conversations between creative directors would be had at conferences. A blog may post about it. Then, the world would move on with little mind paid to the updates (with some notable exceptions that broke through to the mainstream, like Gap’s infamous 2010 rebrand).

Branding has long been a very insular industry: positioning and identities are built, refined, and optimized for the sake of a better consumer experience and to more deeply connect with them. Often, that means if it’s done right the audience won’t notice at all—very much the opposite of a splashy ad campaign whose entire goal is to get people to talk about it. And so, we have strategized, built, and created in our own little branding bubble for decades.

Social media is the great equalizer, opening up what has been a closed-off industry and introducing a new generation to the wonderful (and slightly geeky) world of branding in a way that wasn’t available before.

That was then.

Today, the industry is having a cultural moment. Think about all of the discussions around not just brands, but the creative and strategic process of branding. HBO Max’s update to Max. Twitter’s rebrand to X. Dunkin’ droppin’ “Donuts.” Burger King going retro. Pepsi going retro. M&M going retro. Even the NBA is getting in on it, as teams continue to spotlight their previous identities by donning “Classic Edition” uniforms during the season. (Interestingly, some players feel these jerseys lead to teams “losing their identity with so many different looks.”)

All of these examples have inundated mainstream culture, not just design conferences. But it’s more than just discussions. There are also wildly popular TikTok and Instagram accounts that showcase the process of designing a logo or building an identity—something that could have only previously been gleaned by attending art school.

Social media is the great equalizer, opening up what has been a closed-off industry and introducing a new generation to the wonderful (and slightly geeky) world of branding in a way that wasn’t available before.

Showcasing beautiful identities (I’m slightly biased), motion design, and mockups is what Instagram is practically built for. Branding hot takes and memes fly around Twitter. But the real movement is happening on TikTok, where branding is being introduced to millions of people through content that’s equal parts educational and fun.

Take Matt Rosenman, for instance, who has amassed over 400,000 TikTok followers by posting cheeky videos that reposition and reimagine the identities of food companies: what if Oreo positioned itself as a health food brand?

Designer Lucy Eden and self-described “Internet’s Creative Director” Oren John have both amassed 130k followers, respectively, through bite-sized videos and design tutorials that pull back the curtain on their creative process, break down branding trends, and analyze the strengths and challenges of major rebrands.

Kristen Tatarynowicz has a more modest following at just over 5.5k followers, but her video series, “The rebrands I don’t like” has caught fire, with her most recent iteration featuring Rolls Royce, Subway, Airbnb, and GoDaddy amassing 4.1m views and over 465k likes.

For sports fans, Emily Morgan has developed a cult following by redesigning college football, NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB team logos—showing her process from conception to completion in under 30 seconds. Even official team accounts actively engage with her content: her video of a proposed new Minnesota Vikings logo (which currently has 5.1m views) has comments from official accounts of the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions, New York Islanders, and Toronto Maple Leaves asking for her to reimagine their logos next.

There have always been cool, culture-defining brands. But today it feels like the process of branding is grabbing the attention and imagination of more people—specifically outside of the industry—than ever before. Discussions are being had at the proverbial water cooler. Tutorials are being made available to all. The creative process is more transparent than ever. Heck, even self-improvement and wellness content has been reframed as “rebranding yourself” on social media. It feels like the walls are being broken down and a new era is upon us.

I don’t want to jinx it, but at long last I think branding has maybe, possibly become…dare I say…cool? Call us the Crocs of the creative industry. Now, does that mean our parents finally understand what we do for a living? Of course not. Some things never change.

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