Earlier tonight I posted a comment at the Guardian’s PDA Digital Content blog.
I posted it because Wolff Olins’s work on the AOL logo was getting a no-nonsense pasting on the comments board beneath a post detailing designer reaction to the new look. You can see the post plus comments here.
I think the traditional design world needs to get used to AOL’s rationale – and you can see ex-Google-adman-turned-AOL-CEO Tim Armstrong’s interview at the Guardian’s Paid Content – because it strikes me that Wolff Olins has produced a piece of work which, assuming AOL’s core product and service stacks up, has a lot more to do with the significance of its brand in the future than its branding.
Anyway, here’s what I posted:
“If I understand AOL’s CEO correctly, this isn’t a brand visual identity that’s designed for the linear world of the mass media model that we’ve all grown up with, it’s designed to underline the provenance of content distributed by this brand in a messy, fragmented, user-centred world.
Very soon branded content will compete with branded content to build equity from consumer pass-alongs; we’ll no longer be operating in a polite brand sits alongside brand mass-media modelled world where adherence to visual identity guidelines is sacrosanct.
Wolff Olins clearly understand this. And they also understand that brand identity, particularly for digital businesses, is secondary to the creation of distinctive signature brand interaction design
This is where AOL appears to be focusing its attention – interaction and service – and, judging from the comments on this board, it seems they’re right to do so.
I think this piece of work has the potential to deliver a really adaptable hallmark brand. Its success will be determined by the quality of its application and in tandem with products and services that really work well for users. That is where its brand reputation will be built and not built on what it looks like.
The idea that brands – even today – have any control over their visual identity once it passes beyond the boundaries of their own business environment, is naive. So the loose association between the imagery and the text really works well to mitigate the risks of damage to the ‘Aol.’ brand name which, in reality, doesn’t even need a prescriptive typeface.
I think it has the potential to be a powerful adaptive brand but only if the ambition of the idea is matched by the ambition of Wolff Olins’s client.”
Wolff Olins’ approach resonates with my increasingly acute sense that – pretty much – everything we’ve understood about marketing communications’ conventions is now being rapidly and unceremoniously tipped on its head.
What’s motivating people like Tim Armstrong is behaviour elsewhere in his marketplace like this.