Brand Australia misses the mark

New international branding for Australia came under fire last week and CMO takes a look at what it takes to get an iconic logo right

Australia’s new international logo, which is to be used for overseas trade missions and business exchange programs, came into the spotlight last week - but for all the wrong reasons. 

The new national brand, a circular image of gold wattle with the letters AU emblazoned in the centre, is part of a project initiated by the former Turnbull government to create a stronger brand for Australia. Having a single, identifiable logo was intended to create a unified brand for the country as a trusted exporter of goods and services to the world.

It is not replacing the green and gold kangaroo label for Australian-made products, although part of the lacklustre response to the new logo was around confusion that the kangaroo was out and the wattle in. Not so. The kangaroo label has been tweaked to update the shades of green and gold. 

Credit: Australian Made

Host/Havas chief strategy officer, Olly Taylor, agreed the green and gold kangaroo is iconic and perhaps world famous, but “having been created in 1986 perhaps it no longer acutely represents contemporary Australia”.

"Its equity and awareness is important, but so too is change,” Taylor told CMO

“Perhaps its simplicity is actually veering on a stereotype. And stereotypes probably aren’t that helpful in today’s world. Surely we need the world to see there’s more to Australia than boomerangs and kangaroos.”

But back to Brand Australia.

When it was first mooted, the Austrade brief said it wanted “a unifying, authentic and compelling nation brand that will differentiate Australia’s competitive position in the global marketplace, now and in the future”. It was felt the imagery and branding up to that point was inconsistent, confusing and diluted the messaging to overseas audiences.

“The stronger Australia’s global image, the easier it is for Australia and Australians to attract attention, make a difference and succeed on the world stage,” the statement read.

Clemenger BBDO Sydney won the tender for the unified brand for the National Brand Advisory Council, which is overseeing the project, and last week recommended the new logo to the government for new national branding. However, the proposed new logo was met with less than enthusiastic reception, with criticism of its likeness to a virus, wattle imagery unclear and AU branding unclear as Australia. Most of the criticisms zeroed in on the question of ‘why’.

“The arbiter of any logo must be ‘does this make sense and is it understood by the target audience?’ BrandQuest co-founders, Jason Eisner and Graeme Gladman, explained to CMO. “A logo not instantly and intrinsically linked to the brand and requires explanation for the target audience is a logo that has failed its task.

“Too often, brand logos are judged and approved by the decision-making panel or group, based on their own subjective likes or dislikes, based on their assumption that the target market ‘the rest of the world’ understands everything they know and have learnt through the design process and therefore believe the choice is clear."

The risk with changing a long-standing logo or adding in another logo is diluting and confusing the symbolic message intended. Outfit head of marketing, Tim Brown, said when you have an iconic image synonymous with your country, like the kangaroo, it's odd to start from scratch again with this new wattle logo. 

And the issue with the new logo is potentially cannibalising the brand equity in the iconic green and gold kangaroo, which has been built up over 30-plus years, although the symbol is being retained for Australian-made products.

“The brand equity accumulated in the Australian Made logo is a value that many, if not most, countries would die for,” Eisner and Gladman told CMO. “We were once advised by a highly regarded communicator to never run away from a cliché. Cliches become clichés because their message is easily understood, clearly transferred and effectively received.

“So if 99.9 per cent of the world’s population instantly link the image of a kangaroo with Australia, and the colours of green and gold provide a further linkage, why change? Surely not for the sake of being different or for simply attempting to be original. To build enduring and valuable brands the last thing you need to do is to completely change your image in the market. Being ‘different and original ‘simply for the sake of being ‘different and original’ are the enemy of good branding.”

Can two logos be better than one?

Rules were made to be broken and, in this case, it could be a case of breaking the one logo rules. “In this case, more than one logo can work and, if communicated correctly, can be the exception to the rule," VMG group head of marketing, Samantha Summers, told CMO.

“A logo is a distinctive mark that represents not just an image, but the promise of what your brand stands for. Combining multiple logos can create mixed messaging. But, in this instance, it’s representing a whole country’s trade which spans many facets. I think in this case more than one logo can work and if communicated correctly, can be the exception to the rule."

However, when it comes to rebranding rules it’s crucial they be adhered to or the brand can suffer from serious loss of identity and accumulated brand equity. For Summers, rebranding is much more than a design change. “Rule number one is that there should be a very clear reason as to why a rebrand of any kind is taking place,” she said. 

Read more: Buy Aussie Now marketplace launches

“To protect the brand’s commercial value, communication is key. In this case, given all the confusion from, well everyone, about why this new logo exists and what it’s replacing, it would seem the government has missed the mark in this area.”

Whether it’s just a fluke of bad timing and coincidental design choice, the virus-looking logo has been a talking point.

“The biggest miss with this particular design would appear to be context and timing,” Summers said. “It’s been perceived to look like a virus. In the current climate, it would seem that fail is a goliath one and won’t just echo within Australia, but globally.”

Credit: Brand Australia

Retaining the Australian Made logo, while effectively having two separate and distinct national logos in the mix may muddy the waters, it does at least hold onto the brand capital of the iconic kangaroo. 

For Summers, changing the ubiquity of a symbol or icon so ingrained not only in Australia, but around the world, is likely to be damaging to brand equity, at least in the short term.

“It’s the Holy Grail to have a brand so instantly recognisable internationally and that kind of heritage will be difficult to recreate and will take time,” she said.

A national logo is a tough brief. Host/Havas’ Olly Taylor said to CMO, that along with this it’s probably a victim of too many cooks.

“But has the brand been damaged? I’d say no, not at all, in fact quite the contrary,” he said. “This new logo has been noticed and it replaces a logo no one really knew existed so I’d say it’s abided by the ‘rule’ of brand equity -  be noticed in the first place.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia

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