Crisis of Conservatism

Hans Hulsbosch

Hans Hulsbosch is one of Australia’s most influential brand designers and the executive creative director at Hulsbosch – Communication by Design. Over the past 31 years, he has been involved in national rebranding and repositioning projects for Woolworths, Virgin Australia, Masters Home Improvement and national sports retailer, Rebel.

We vote for them, follow their work and revel in their mixed fortunes, but governments of the day also promote a belief in us all. This backdrop of belief permeates across all spheres of life and determines both the tone and interpretation of thinking for current times.

Conservatism also comes from government, no matter the political mandate, and this impacts the creative community in Australia.

Broadly, over the last century we have seen the extremes of traditional political parties migrate toward a conservative and homogenized middle ground. We no longer have a left-wing labor or conventional right-wing model, but all parties overlapping the populist centre. This pandemic of homogeneity pervades all aspects of society and particularly corporate Australia, which tends to swim in the current of the mainstream.

When the Liberals were elected on 7 September last year, several critics warned bad days were ahead and forecasted budget cuts and a lack of investment. They also claimed a healthy creative/arts culture and a conservative government are like oil and water – they don’t mix.

This conservatism is also a challenge for our community of brand designers working with corporates. This is something we must challenge day in, day out by questioning the status quo, and not being complacent.

I’d argue conservatism can drive you to be more creative. The history of the music industry is an example of the successful emergence of a new way of thinking and performing through adversity.

Every generation has had its own youth sub-culture that shocks the established order. Punk, as we know it, began in the early 1970s (although many claimed Elvis was a punk in his day). On both sides of the Atlantic, more and more young and disillusioned white teenagers were looking for an escape from the boredom and constraints of conservative society, with unemployment, racial tensions and social upheaval.

It’s our inheritance as brand designers to search out the next new thing, big idea or movement of change – even to figuratively break the rules. We find ourselves in exactly the same position today as musicians and painters, wanting to always surprise people. That’s how you engage.

There have been times I’ve been challenged by a conservative corporate environment where brand design is considered a cost and not an investment in the company’s future. Thankfully today, most realise the potential of brand. Those who don’t will be left behind by their competitors who do.

In my experience, it is business leaders that make a good or bad impact on creative projects. CEOs usually get their job because they have a vision for their business. CEOs with vision trigger change and are prepared to allocate significant budgets to branding and design. They understand the value to the bottom line.

When CEO of wagering and lottery company, Tatts Group, Robbie Cooke, approached me late last year for a new brand identity, I asked him what enabled him to launch such big plans. He said he had to present a vision to the board and demonstrate this was innovation for the future of the business.

The Tatts Group example highlights how crucial it is for a CEO to understand the power of brand design. The CEO that has imparted brand DNA to their team is essential, as the business team is the embodiment of the brand.

Another standout example of a business having the courage to shake off conservatism and embrace a new vision is the airline formerly known as Virgin Blue. From 2009, we set out to help transform the low-cost carrier into a full service airline that appealed to both corporate and leisure markets.

Through many a long night, we strategised the new plan and vision and how to implement it, and articulated an informed, creative, design-driven solution.

Hulsbosch consolidated the airline’s disparate domestic and international brands into one unified brand, Virgin Australia, allowing it to speak with a single voice using a contemporary visual language. Hulsbosch worked on all brand iterations from a new name and brand identity to aircraft livery (exteriors) and interiors including seat design and on-board collateral. We also refreshed signage at airports and all styling for VA customer-dedicated lounges.

Virgin Australia showed 81 per cent growth in corporate and government revenues as a result, demonstrating that the repositioning of the brand had real commercial impact. Virgin Australia also led the way in Roy Morgan Research customer satisfaction surveys (June 2010 – March 2012), well ahead of its competitors.

The success of Virgin Australia is built on earned and proven client relationships and wherever possible, that of the CEO. Both of these components were essential in promoting and maintaining the creative plan and brand promise. Keeping stakeholders on board throughout the process is key in giving life to the best and most valued brand creative.

Brand can make the biggest point of difference. If it’s done well, and in collaboration with a company, it will meet an organisation’s wider corporate goals and objectives. Our world is an increasingly fragmented and diluted communication system but the one thing that is consistent is the brand. Therefore the brand is your most potent weapon.

If we can keep challenging conservatism, our visual expression will prosper.

Tags: brand strategy

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