Friday, March 31, 2006

Vodafone Brand Mark Evolution

I see that Vodafone have refreshed their brand mark. A poster outside Clonsilla train station featuring the new three-dimensional, gradient-shaded iteration of their quote-mark symbol got my attention yesterday. A bit of digging on Wikipedia reveals that ‘Vodafone is gradually phasing-in the new 3D logo version in some countries’.

I had already noticed that Vodafone have been implementing a new bespoke corporate typeface over the last few months. This has followed in the wake of their make the most of now repositioning. What caught my eye at the time was that they had implemented their new typeface all the way through to the text in the routine promotional form letters that I receive as a customer. It is too often the case (due to licensing costs) that the New Corporate Typeface only ever lives in above-the-line and agency-created communications, while the vast majority of direct customer interaction remains typeset in some pre-installed Arial-esque font family. (For that reason, I would be interested in seeing Vodafone’s updated suite of presentation templates.)

A more subtle visual evolution has been their switch in emphasis from communications that predominately feature red with white elements reversed out, to a white field with red elements overlaid. Which has the effect of dialing back the cumulative impression of their brand from being overtly brash to a somewhat more considered tone.

This subsequent move to typeset their logotype in this new typeface (Vodafone Sans?) and refresh the treatment of their symbol surprised me at first. But after some thought, I can see the benefits it will bring them. One of the increasingly key functions of their brand mark will be as an element within the on-screen interface of the next iteration of consumer smartphones. Their old logotype with its clever little quote-marks-within-the counters motif is just not going to execute effectively given the limitations in the pixel-scarce environment of today’s technology.

As all of the mobile operators rush to brand their user’s experience of online services accessed wirelessly, having a symbol that can work equally well as an icon, and uses some of the aesthetic tropes of today’s 3D desktops icons, is no bad thing. Picture this symbol as an icon on your desktop beside Skype. In design terms there is a definite nod towards Doug Hamilton’s identity for Three in the evolution of the quote symbol. Three’s brand mark concept of a brushed metallic, technological exterior revealing a colourful, communicative heart seems equally applicable to this new quote mark treatment. I also see echoes of the SonyEricsson sphere. A symbol that is most effective when it is realised in three dimensions on mobile handsets. How long before the current screen-printed Vodafone branding on handsets is replaced by such integral fabricated branding? Especially considering the escalating power struggle between the handset makers and the operators and the shift represented by Vodafone’s own-branded ‘Simply’ handset.

Trying to analyse the change from the existing flat colour treatment to the new 3D mark also makes me think of last year’s rebranding of DC Comics. Where that company realised that the vast majority of its consumers never encountered the brand in its core printed product. So their new brand mark is designed to work best animated in the credit sequences to films like Batman Begins, and television shows like Smallville and licensed video games. How it looks on the cover of their traditional 32-page comic books is far less important today.

Altered circumstances: adapted brand.

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