The late Leonard Cohen still makes me smile. On my favourite of his albums, ‘I’m Your Man’, is a song in which he grumbles “Now I’m in trouble with the jazz police.” It’s a daft song, not one of his greatest, but it resonates with me because I often find myself in trouble with the brand police.
We’ve all dealt with them, the self-appointed guardians of the company brand, who distil their wisdom into brand manuals which are so dull, bulky and absurd that even their own colleagues - who, unfortunately, often happen to be my customers - don’t read them. There is a certain amount of self-justification here - if the rules were too simple or succinct, the entire company wouldn’t have to keep referring back to them and they wouldn’t be able to pontificate like judges.
The other day, we had a job where the client, in her ignorance, had got confused about the brand’s primary and secondary colours. I sympathised because, although it seemed fairly clear when I read the ‘brand bible’ - as they pompously call it - the final advice from the head of marketing completely contradicted that.
They added, for good measure, that the exclusion zone around their logo wasn’t big enough. That’s the thing about exclusion zones - whether they’re around coastlines or logos - they just seem to keep getting bigger.
Once you’ve read one of these manuals you’ve read them all. The specifics - the typefaces, whether you can use capital letters, the style of their photography - may vary but every one of them insists that they have an illustrious history, enjoy a reputation for excellence and attract clients because their people are the best.
I was half-minded to email the aforementioned head of marketing and remind him that, in the preamble, they clearly state that: “Brands are not static. They must be managed proactively and positively or their value will erode.” To my mind, proactive and positive didn’t mean rigidly sticking to the letter of the law - as they defined it verbally rather than in the 177-page document we are all supposed to obey.
But there are some arguments that just aren’t worth having and one of the few things I’ve learned running my own print business is to nod and smile when the brand police are called in and try not to drink too many espressos.
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