Saturday, January 7, 2023

Saturday, June 4, 2022

June 2022 Global Brand Letter

  Dear Friends

Welcome to the 23rd Brand Letter.

You can read the full text below, or visit for a full archive of letters dating back to 2004

2022 Global Brand Letter   June Edition

 "I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news." - John Muir


“When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” - Raymond Chandler


“A clown car crashing into a gold mine.” - Mark Zuckerberg ca. 2013, about Twitter


 Smash cut to a false narrative which permabans profit with purpose. Let’s not engage in de-platforming denialism or kratom-induced wacktivism. A monkeypox on your houses, BAYC. You can’t get me to join The Great Resignation. Forget code-switching. I’m up to my ears in Greenium. There will be no dimensionality, no impact investing, only integrated clienteling.


“This is the most important interview of all time, it solves the human condition & ends all the turmoil & suffering in the world & finally makes sense of our lives.” - internet ad line




Department of Exponential Buyer Beware: 1.5bn product reviews are received by Amazon each year. In 2020 the well-meaning colossus stopped more than 200 million suspected fakes. A glut of suspicious reviews continue to regularly post in stores on eBay, Walmart and Etsy. Amazon sued the two major review brokers who engage in overt robotic algorithmic exploitation. Follow the money: who benefits?


In an Egyptian tv ad for Citroën featuring a pop star, the driver uses his car’s camera to photograph a woman crossing the street, without her consent. The commercial concludes with them driving away together. Apparently the agency hadn’t read the research available, which indicates 98% of Egyptian women reported getting harassed at some point in their lives, or a UN study that 83% of Egyptian women did not feel safe or secure in the streets. The ad was withdrawn, with apology. It’s misleading to believe that taking an unsolicited picture from your car in Cairo could lead to a date. Instead, men could face imprisonment.


The FAA revoked the licenses of two flying aces who attempted a daredevil switcheroo over the Arizona desert. The stunt, live streamed on Hulu, had no spectators present, and no one was injured. Red Bull Air Force, a sponsored team specializing in aerial tomfoolery, trusted that the pilots could swap cockpits midair during synchronized nosedives at 14,000 feet. Oops, one of the Cessna 182 planes crashed, only the other returned. The FAA had earlier denied a request to exempt the pilots from regulations, and fined the squadron leader $4932 for abandoning his pilot seat and operating a plane in a careless and reckless manner. Red Bull called the stunt “partially accomplished”, the license revocations a matter between the agency and the pilots, and said the company looked forward to its continued friendship with them.

Brand misfire, from the founder’s bio on the website of the company who built the automatic rifle used by the Uvalde elementary school shooter. Daniel Defense got its start because Marty’s golf game sucked. He would spend most of his free time unwinding on the golf course, until the day a friend invited him to shoot his AR. Every shot he fired filled him with a satisfaction he’d never before experienced. Marty would purchase his first AR this same year.”


"I would prefer an intelligent hell to a stupid paradise." - Blaise Pascal


"Can you let me go to hell the way I want to?” - Wild Bill Hickock


"Hell is lowering your standards and getting comfortable with it." -  Bette Davis




Surveillance capitalism will soon further enlarge its footprint in the marketplace. On track to reach 100 billion facial photos in its database within a year, Clearview AI plans a massive expansion beyond the law enforcement category into virgin territory. Potential new intrusions into your private life: monitoring the gig economygait analysis, that is, identifying someone based on how they walk; your location, even if not disclosed, detected from a photo you’ve innocently posted; fingerprints, scanned from afar.


“Delusions of grandeur are especially infectious for the semigrand.” - Walter Yetnikoff




When Gap revealed a multi-year collaboration with billionaire rapper Kanye West in June 2020, its shares rose wildly. Ye, as he prefers to be known, contracted to design a line of apparel. He brought a link with street wear, connections with high fashion from his crossover deal with Balenciaga and added value with Yeezy, his footwear partnership with Adidas. But high profile problems surfaced as the musician’s messianic persona soon overshadowed any collaboration. He was suspended from IG after directing a racial slur at popular talk show host Trevor Noah, made bitter remarks concerning his ex-wife Kim Kardashian and her boyfriend, was canceled from a Grammy appearance, and a petition which received 40k signatures called for the Coachella festival to drop him as a headliner. Gap shares slipped. The parent brand operates in the mid-market retail apparel segment and their target consumers are already squeezed by inflation. Proof positive that sometimes a celebrity tie-in isn’t enough to automatically make a brand cool or profitable again.

“This is funny.” - Doc Holliday’s last words






In the face of a global food crisis, you’re witnessing a scramble in the mass food category to build relevance, sustain and extend market share for iconic brands. It’s a response to COVID-related supply chain disruptions combined with massive transformations which appeared over the last two years in how cloistered people got their information about brands. Hence you’ll see many unconventional, bizarre, and incongruous collaborations and rebrandings designed to capture attention in social media feeds. This wave of rebranding characterizes post-pandemic reinvention in many industries. The messages combine whimsy and consumer interest and must stand out among celebrity videos, funny memes and eye-catching tweets. Another result is that a glut of challenger brands - that is, smaller brands trying to disrupt existing niches - joined the fracas.



Guess the extension, new product category or partner for these established iconic brands:


1. Hormel Spam

The mysterious globally-known lunch meat attached its brand to Hasbro’s Yahtzee board game

2. Jelly Belly Candy Co.

Provided signature color options for 5 new Reebok shoe styles

3. Oscar Mayer Bologna

Partnered with Korean skincare company Seoul Mamas to create a replica bologna moisturizing face mask

4. Kraft Heinz Macaroni & Cheese

Developed an m&c flavored ice cream with Van Leeuwen

5. Green Giant

Created cauliflower-flavored marshmallow bunnies with Peeps candy brand

6. Oreo

Lent its name and image to Dollar General branded housewares

7. Grey Poupon

Ubiquitous mustard offered wine under its brand identity

8. Taco Bell

Fast food giant launched Jalapeño Noir flavored wine

9. Arby’s

Restaurant chain introduced Curly Fry-flavored vodka

10. Old Bay

Added their proprietary food seasoning flavor to a branded vodka


The nostalgic 81-year old M&M’s candy brand revamped its mascots to better appeal to a new consumer base, Gen Z customers. The snack candy beloved in entitled rock star dressing rooms was given a makeover to express a less anxious, less sexy, genderless, more inclusive, welcoming and unifying brand identity. Green cast off high-heeled go-go boots, traded them in for cool, laid-back sneakers, gained confidence. Brown, the brainiac, put on sensible pumps. Yellow is no longer a ditz, and Orange adopted a sunny outlook.


Hostess Brands, a junk food phoenix, saw resurrection thanks to nostalgic brand advocates and new VC ownership. In its second incarnation the producer of Twinkies and Ding-Dongs perceives increased threat from better-for-you food competitors.


Sales growth of plant-based foods showed signs of slowing in 2021. While brand awareness remains high, trends did not favor the category: the pandemic brought along diminished focus on health-oriented eating choices. The market opted for comfort foods. A joint venture between PepsiCo and Beyond Meat is about to inject more promotion dollars into the category.


With $300bn in global sales, the natural foods category sought unnatural partnerships. Hoping to replicate the success of Patagonia Provisions’ line of sustainable pantry items like smoked venison links and cacao-goji power snacks, Reese’s Pieces and Heath Bars plan healthy brittle product launches. Cartoon franchise SpongeBob will dive into purified water. Incredibles and Toy Story plan to animate new trail mix brands.


The first wave of Big Food cannabis-infused beverages came to market. Pabst Blue Ribbon High Seltzer and Molson Coors ignited competition with 10-year old natural carbonated drink brand Jones Soda Company, who launched their new Mary Jones line, get it? The emerging problem in the industry is a new flavor of brand hijacking, cannabis-infused copycats across all categories. What resembled commercial gummy candies made by Nestlé - actually THC candies - were accidentally given out in food boxes to 63 people at a Utah food bank, resulting in hospitalized children. Nobody perished from overdose. Copycat packaging of this type (Double Stuff Stoneos) caused major food brands to call on Congress to do more to prevent proliferation of products that mimic well-known brands. Many of the marijuana-infused products are sold online, thus harder to regulate or shut down.


Food delivery services like Door Dash, Deliveroo and Uber Eats were nourished during the pandemic. The popularity of in-home dining fostered ghost kitchens, which take online orders and prepare the meals in kitchen-equipped trailers. They situate in temporary unused spaces like parking lots. It’s a made-to-order means of brand recognition. Celebrity-based businesses rushed into the space. Wendy’s, which operates 7000 full-serve restaurants in 31 countries, plans to open 200 mobile branded locations to fulfill orders.




Look for more counterintuitive pairings, especially in fashion. Designers and brands gravitate toward associations with celebs, crazes and causes that boast big pre-existing fan numbers. Couture brands view content as another form of art, and issue limited editions largely sold online that encourage a perception of urgency among consumers. Limited quantities and choreographed product drops create a sense of scarcity. The popular online game Fortnite released an eyewear line, with 2 styles featuring blue light filter lenses that enable long-duration screen play.


The 1997 Think Different ad campaign by Chiat/Day for Apple started the trend of marketing individualism, though it was intended to counter the Think campaign run by competitor IBM.

The current, oversaturated Audemars Piguet Icons campaign continues that thread, touting humility as the prime virtue. Moncler has paused the Genius ad program, returned strategic focus to their main collection, planned a push into technical apparel, and will innovate D2C retail. Genius is slated for relaunch next year with a focus on Gen Z customers.


A new interactive attraction has opened at the Legoland California theme park which enables you to build, test and race your own LEGO Ferrari.


There wasn’t a dry eye in automotive luxury when the cargo ship Felicity Ace caught fire and sank between the Azores and Portugal on March 1. Over 4000 luxury vehicles among them Porsches, Bentleys, high end VW EVs and bespoke Lamborghinis now garage 2 miles below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s suspected that the fire started in electric car batteries. Estimated insurance damages $400m, but speculation that fraud is involved. The ship rests outside Portuguese jurisdiction and underwater salvage would be costly and complicated. Showrooms across the USA thrash about to meet demand for vehicles.


You’ve heard of Meng  culture? It translates as “cute” in Chinese. In the West, precious, cartoon-inspired designs are only meant for the eyes of children and not adults, who buy luxury to feed their hungry souls. But in Meng-influenced China, cute designs have appeal to both children and young adults. According to the Meng rhetoric, appearing pretty and harmless is the ultimate form of sexiness. This preference for childlike cuteness is the opposite of the typical ideals portrayed in Western luxury advertising, which center on maturity, sophistication, and seduction. The Beijing 2022 Games’ official mascot, Bing Dwen Dwen, a Meng-ish panda wearing an icy body shell, went viral in China. Alert to the local preference for cuddly things, Games organizers called for “one Dwen at each family.” In Beijing people obeyed, and stood for 5 hours in a slow-moving 900 foot line outside the licensed flagship store. Cuteness has become a key to local Gen Z and millennial marketing. As Meng culture extends its influence beyond China in this interconnected world, will brands that swap glam for cute have an edge in the Gen-Z market?

Легенда гласит, что производство началось в Ленинграде в 1943 году. В 1972-м «Столичная» стала первой водкой премиум-класса, импортированной в США и поступившей в продажу под рекламным слоганом “Только водка из России - настоящая русская водка!” Пациенты с Мэдисон-авеню покупали ее по непомерной цене как обезболивающее средство, которое они предпочитали всем прочим. После конфликта с российской властью (или олигархами, или Путиным) – свидетельства расходятся - основатель Юрий Шефлер отправился в добровольное изгнание и перенес производство в Латвию. После начала специальной военной операции России в 2022 году, бренд хочет выступать за мир в Европе и солидарность с Украиной, а в производстве использует только словацкое сырье. В следующий раз, заказывая коктейль мартини, просто просите Stoli, ребрендированную в настоящую 100% нерусскую водку.



Legend has it that production began in Leningrad in 1943. In 1972 it became the first premium vodka to be imported to the USA, marketed under the slogan “Only vodka from Russia is genuine Russian vodka!” Exorbitantly priced, it was the preferred anesthetic for Madison Avenue admen. After a dispute with the Russian state or oligarchs or Putin - accounts differ - founder Yuri Shefler self-exiled and moved production to Latvia. Following Russia’s 2022 special military operation, the label wishes to stand for peace in Europe, solidarity with Ukraine, made from only Slovakian sources. The next time you order a martini, simply ask for Stoli, rebranded as the genuine 100% non-Russian vodka.


Russian translation by Dmitry Petrov


“How about if I sleep a little bit longer and forget all this nonsense.” -  Franz Kafka




Venture capitalists cite the hottest trending business resales: content companies.


NFT owners now seek to attach tangible value to virtual tokens. World of Women (WoW), a metaverse space, will sell licensed products like dolls, collectibles, figures, costumes and accessories based on its NFT designs, online and in brick-and-mortar stores. They’re also setting up film and tv deals. Bored Ape Yacht Club opens a restaurant in LA, Bored and Hungry, a pop-up location. Food Fighters Universe announced the first NFT-backed restaurant group to exist in both the Web3 digital world and in the physical world. “You’ll be able to do things in the metaverse that you can’t do in real life,” the founder said, but did not divulge details. In NYC, The Flyfish Club requires the purchase of a $3400 NFT for membership.


Why seek out the real thing when you can have a location based experience? Immersive exhibition spaces promise bespoke digital art experiences and refer to themselves as true cultural destinations. In the Sixties we called this stuff light shows. Since its opening, French production company Culturespaces’ original van Gogh show in Paris has drawn over 1.4 million visitors annually, average admission €15/person. Animated 30-foot images from Vincent’s most famous paintings move around, synchronized to an original score. This month in NYC, their first North American spectacle opens, an immersion into the work of Klimt, in a renovated 33,000 square foot landmark building. The same company also owns Frieze Art Fair. In Washington DC, National Geographic presents an immersive experience which allows audiences to enter the tomb of boy king Tutankhamun while seated in rows of bright red VR chairs. In Las Vegas, a new escape room experience themed on the highest grossing horror movie of all time IT”, a popular novel by Stephen King, intends to scare the daylights out of you and your wallet. In addition to 20 interactive rooms, state of the art special FX, lighting, animatronics and live actors, a retail store features photo opportunities and exclusive jaw-dropping merchandise.


rückkehrunruhe - the feeling of returning home after an immersive trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness


Once upon a time it was the song “White Christmas”. Now, the world's most valuable copyright has got to be Baby Shark. The first video to ever reach 10 billion views on YouTube sailed past “Despacito,” which had topped the charts in November 2020 with 7.7 billion views of its own, and now sulks in the distant  #2 spot. The children’s anthem about a juvenile elasmobranch, created by Pinkfong Company of Seoul, inspired a viral dance challenge, topped music charts, launched an animated series on Nickelodeon, dominated global merchandise licensing, has a forthcoming live world tour, stars in its own interactive games, and can be found in multiple NFT forms. And shows no signs of going away. Irving Berlin is turning over in his grave.


"I must also have a dark side if I am to be whole." - Carl Jung




Garbology is a form of observational research which studies consumption trends within a target population, community or culture by analyzing its waste. A researcher at the University of Oregon has spent hours wandering around the online game Animal Crossing, looking for things people have thrown away - in cyberspace. A feature allows exploration of virtual towns used by other players, and this quest searched for in-game items that people had apparently lost or discarded. A new subdiscipline, call it meta-garbology, will create useful metrics for the decline of civilization in the virtual rubbish space.


In the metaverse, you’ll never be lonely again. The days of just sitting there playing by yourself are soon to be a thing of the past. Interaction and community are the big keywords, brands are the door openers that fans use to communicate with their friends. Game companies love loosely regulated in-game revenues. Relationships between video games and the metaverse deepen. Hello Kitty licensed goods are already sold on Azerion’s platform for multiplayer games. Soon you’ll be able to connect there with your very dear friends Tinky, Winky and Dipsy, and for a limited time you may even run into Dr. Who.


NFT technology has raced ahead of branding and trademark protection. Already infringers started a land rush of trademark claims in the metaverse. They are staking out homesteads in in-game worlds, 3D virtual real estate, virtual music theme parks and concert venues. In November two trademark applications were filed by third parties for Gucci and Prada logos for metaverse-related graphic applications including downloadable virtual goods, virtual worlds and clothing. A Wild West mentality prevails.


Hermès successfully sued artist Mason Rothschild after he sold an unlicensed Birkin-inspired NFT artwork for $23,000. A 47-page complaint was submitted to NY District Court. Digital dupes depict fur-covered bags shaped like the iconic totes. The MetaBirkins bags, which retail for over $10,000 in the physical world were first offered at $42,500 but there were no takers. NFTs depicting fashion items have sold for millions in recent months. Balenciaga and Nike experiment with virtual fashion. Questions remain about how trademark protections for real world items will be enforced in the digital realm. Primary responsibility in disputes is divided between the platform, the brand, and the service provider.


Why infringe when you can simply counterfeit? OpenSea sells celebrity trading cards, collectibles, other categories of NFTs. The metaverse clearing house believes 80% of the items created using a tool it offers for free were plagiarized works, fake collections or spam. On OpenSea there are several variations of the BoredApe theme using marks similar to the original, offered at significantly lower prices and selling smaller quantities. The dubious works were created to dodge bans from other marketplaces. Once again, legal thin ice. And uh-oh, creation of NFTs is largely irreversible.


"What people in the world think of you is really none of your business." - Martha Graham




Tova Borgnine, 80

She was the hypnotic, pitch perfect pitchwoman who handily upstaged her chirpy co-hosts, a serial cosmetics entrepreneur and home shopping promoter who found success with an exotic skin care line. The fifth wife of actor Ernest Borgnine, her makeup boutique first catered to Las Vegas showgirls. She married the Oscar-winning Borgnine in 1973, the fourth time for her, and eventually published a book about how the marriage lasted. She was a firm believer in pre-feminist marital values. In 1976 a syndicated gossip columnist complimented her husband on his dewy complexion. In reply he plugged his wife’s cactus face mask, launching Tova’s next career as a beauty entrepreneur. Following the mention, hundreds of letters arrived requesting product, and included checks totaling $56,000. Steve McQueen, Burt Reynolds, Elke Sommer and Charo all endorsed her products. Eight years later her yearly sales had reached $6 million. In 1991 she became one of the earliest superstars of QVC, the home shopping network, hawking her beauty line and signature perfume. Ernie died in 2012, but she kept the business going. Television was her mainstay. By 2020 her sales averaged $15-$20 million per year.


Ron Galella, 91

Starlets spat at him, security men throttled him, Marlon Brando broke his jaw. He was called a creep, a stalker and worse. He regularly bribed doormen, limo drivers and maids. A judge referred to him as the most flagrant of the two-bit chiselers and fixers. The dean of American paparazzi, his photography was both intimate and aggressive. It chronicled stardom through the lens of the ultra-outsider and suggested the dark side of America’s love-hate relationship with fame. Galella acknowledged that his prime motivation was mercenary. He stalked Jackie O because there was a lucrative market for pictures of her. She said he made her life intolerable, almost unlivable, with his constant surveillance. Time, Life, People, and The National Enquirer were regular customers. To his surprise, at end of his career he exhibited widely and had achieved legitimacy, hack no more.


Jordan Mooney, 66

When she commuted by train from her parents’ home in East Sussex, her appearance often cleared entire cars. Conductors would move the girl with the peroxide bouffant, green makeup, and belted Mackintosh for her safety into the first-class car. First she worked as a shop girl at Harrod’s, but then was hired by Vivienne Westwood to work in the transgressive London boutique Sex, a retail emporiuim filled with seditionary manifestoes, rubber and leather fetish wear. It was the store that launched the Sex Pistols and ground zero for disaffected teenagers. Jordan performed with Sex Pistols, was known to hurl chairs at the audience. She had an unhappy heroin-filled marriage to the bassist with Adam and the Ants. After their divorce she disappeared and detoxed, then reinvented herself as a breeder of Burmese cats and a veterinary nurse. She was once upon a time the figurehead for a generation of anarchists and anti-Christs, briefly an avatar of Punk style.


Peter Moore, 78

He was one of a group of Nike execs who worked with Michael Jordan to create Air Jordan 1, a basketball sneaker that became a sales phenomenon and later a valuable collectible. It was the first shoe with a pocket of compressed air concealed in its sole. The shoes originally cost $65 a pair; a vintage production pair today could go for $2000. Sales the first year of 1985 totaled $126m, far beyond Nike’s expectations. In 2021 the Jordan Brand of footwear and apparel represented $4.7bn of Nike’s revenues. Moore also reconfigured the Adidas corporate logo, still in use as brand’s primary logo


“Shall we sum up Russia’s history in one phrase? It is the land of smothered opportunities.”
 -  Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago.


Place Branding


The Idaho Potato Commission created a limited-edition French Fry fragrance.

Sold out in four hours.


A new logo rebrand was intended to symbolize the people, their passion and love for the city. Florence Alabama’s community’s motto is “Live For More”. But city fathers spent $25,000 to outsource the job to a Birmingham firm. An immediate backlash followed. Locals did not feel the new logo registered any of the amazement, delight and pride that the design company suggested it would. The Florence City Council apologized for the logo, “which has brought so much disappointment to our great city.”


“Tell him I was too fucking busy - or vice versa.” - Dorothy Parker




If you visit the city of Houston, Texas, keep a tight lasso on your personal data. The city has rolled out the first in a series of digital interactive wayfinding kiosks, part of a city-wide initiative to build smart city infrastructure. Y’all, it looks a lot like what is popularly called surveillance capitalism. The free and convenient interactive kiosk experience nicknamed IKE is intended to enhance the pedestrian experience and add vibrancy to Houston’s urban landscape. It also rustles data on every person who comes near, id’s your bluetooth and wifi devices, its cameras record your face, examine your choices and selections and corrals the information.


“The one who tells the stories rules the world.” - Hopi


Social Media


How does an article go viral? A profile of the singer Sinead O’Connor in the NYTimes by writer Amanda Hess got millions of page views in its first week of publication. While O’Connor isn’t completely forgotten (she once tore up a photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live), she no longer occupies the high profile she once did in popular media. Experts weighed in on the phenomenon. Articles which evoke high-arousal emotions like awe, anger, surprise and anxiety are more likely to go viral. Articles which evoke low-arousal emotions like sadness or contentment are less likely to be shared. It turns out that value centers in the brain respond to physical rewards, like chocolate and money. The same regions react when we make decisions about sharing information to strengthen social bonds. The ‘share versus read’ gap occurs somewhere in the territory between content sharing and deep engagement. So contrary to popular belief, sharing isn’t caring. It’s chocolate.


"I like those who carefully choose words not to say." - Alda Merini




Aesopian language - In Russia, oblique political talk or reporting using innuendos and hints.

 algospeak - refers to code words or turns of phrase users have adopted in an effort to create a brand-safe lexicon that avoids getting posts removed or down-ranked by content moderation systems

 chaos monkey - the name of a piece of software made by Netflix that it called “a resiliency tool that helps applications tolerate random instance failures.” It aims to throw content haphazardly into a system to test its robustness.

 clearnet - the part of the internet governed by attention algorithms, which rewards poorly reasoned instant reaction and/or banal smarm

 cryptic lineages - oddball viral fragments found in NYC wastewater

fictosexual - asexual identity for someone who mostly is attracted to Fictional characters.

hopium stocks - where most of Musk’s wealth is located, and his potential undoing

 normative dilution - the concept that it’s possible for a thing to become so normalized that we become cynical to it, less likely to forgive, in turn rendering even an authentic apology useless.

politainment - the tendency in mass media to enliven political reports and news coverage using elements from public relations, pop culture and journalism to make complex information more accessible or convincing; to distract public attention away from politically unfavorable topics.

Reality Distortion Field - what Steve Jobs was known for: the ability to change doubting minds through charisma, hyperbole and braggadocio

secondary perils - industry classification for last year’s huge winter storms in Texas, summer floods in Germany and December tornadoes in the US midwest. All caused the insurance sector billions of dollars in losses.

 sin stocks - pariah non-ESG securities from defense, tobacco and gambling companies

Broadway producer Max Gordon told George Gershwin in 1929: "The jig is up."


What Is A Brand?


“Brands are a lie we tell ourselves.” - Scott Galloway


Shall we then proceed from the assumption that falsehood is embedded in brands?

Cynicism, disillusion and doubt, all byproducts of this era.

A brand is an excuse for not having the right answer.

A brand is a word we use as a substitute for compassion.


See you in your prime in 2023.




Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Cultural bias in pharmaceutical packaging

 Here's a suggested design intervention to more accurately position a drug product.

The leaked SCOTUS draft opinion on rescinding Roe v. Wade provoked another look at product branding and the innate prejudices inherent in the package design for what is tag-lined "The Early Option Pill." Men bear half the responsibility for the condition. The existing Mifeprex package art focuses solely on a lone female's arm directed at the womb, a gender-specific marketing signal which ignores the father. I've updated the illustration and added a masculine figure with post-coital penis, his arm directed toward the reproductive regions. The revised treatment is a more accurate product-specific depiction of the drug's actual audience. 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Travel and Hospitality Trends

 Here's an article I recently authored for Toronto-based Branders magazine.


Where are we headed now?

Let me first tell you a tale of a vanished world, a more innocent time when people wandered freely and visited new places at the last minute; effortlessly crossed borders without interruption; witnessed romantic panoramas (accessorized with hot tubs, palm trees, hammocks and always-full champagne flutes) in the most exotic of island destinations; took many a selfie on enviable backdrops; stayed in luxurious hotel suites; sought out the best deals on the internet and came home Monday mornings energized after spontaneous getaway weekends.

But then a plague swept across the land and changed everything. Suddenly you couldn’t travel for pleasure or for work. The airline business went belly-up. Car rentals, forget about it. Your favorite small and mid-sized hotels shuttered. You had to stay home, or wear a mask when you went out. Cool destinations became inaccessible. Big chain hotels downsized their brands. Thousands of service jobs evaporated. Only private jet travel boomed.

What can be told about the brand world of the future, now that mass tourism as we knew it is a figment of the past?

1. Brands will need to attract new talent, train new people, and emphasize workplace improvements to retain team members. With the loss of so many jobs and people reluctant to rejoin the workforce, it’s going to be arduous to get replacement staff into service positions. Prepare for tough times ahead in HR Departments.

2. The age of bargains is over. As brands struggle to recoup lost revenues, travel is going to be more expensive than it was before, with fewer irresistible deals. The getaway weekend special is on temporary hold until the industry stabilizes.

3. A younger demographic will venture forth, eager to get out after being sequestered so long, prepared to spend discretionary income on better adventures. But these adventures will need to track with their hopes and ideals. Youthful travelers will seek values-driven experiences that may involve cultural immersion, community engagement, good deeds built into relaxing holidays. Gen Z prefers glamping to cruise ships.

4. The luxury sector will be the first to rebound. The one percent is ready for a return to action. Among its seven ultra-exclusive hospitality offerings, the French Airelles chain recently opened a 14-suite property on the grounds of the Château de Versailles, where rates start at just above US$2000 per night for the entry level room.

5. Brands will need to promote their sustainability credentials. Green Pearls, a German chain with international presence, chooses its member properties based on sustainable initiatives and green projects. Their brand marketing focuses on owner profiles, ethical policies, local engagement, hotels and holiday homes in historic buildings, smaller scale, and zero food miles in F&B offerings.


6. Look for synergies generated around collaboration and cobranding. Already Airbnb has brand partnerships with Ikea and Lego. The small airline Eva Air has a branded jet emblazoned with Hello Kitty.

7. Big chains will grow meeting and conventions business. Volume is the name of the game. Heritage Hotels of Lisbon has spent the pandemic upgrading existing properties and preparing for the return of larger scale parties. Their brand emphasizes authentic Portuguese style and comfort.

8. Staycation is the new green. Travelers will opt for longer single location stays. Family-friendly resorts and residences will focus on long-duration guests with full-service offering. The Baglioni Group, an Italian luxury brand, shuttered four Italy multi-room big city properties and in June opened The Baglioni Resort Sardinia, located on Sardinia's north-east coast. They have a second resort newly-opened in the Maldives.

9. Ask the team. During the pandemic Hoshino Resorts, a remarkable Tokyo-based hotel group who have many hot water spa properties on the Japanese archipelago, retained all their staff, albeit with reduced hours. They asked their team for suggestions on pandemic workarounds, how to better accommodate guests, ways to make their service more responsive and efficient. One great innovation was a custom app which advised guests of wait times and guest numbers at spas. Another staff-generated brand strategy in response to reduced travel itineraries was to attract guests who lived closer to the resorts.

10. Market locally. Along the lines of the Hoshinoya strategy, Accor, a monolithic French hospitality chain, oriented its Pullman sub-brand to attract neighborhood clients by emphasizing culture, and offered public areas at their hotels as a welcoming meeting place for local traffic.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Conversations with Gottschalk, Part 3: airlines

Fritz Gottschalk, the grand old man of Swiss Design, is founder of Zürich-based Gottschalk+Ash, international design consultants. (Spoiler alert: I’ve served as international brand guru for the firm since 2003.) Fritz designed what is inarguably the foremost example of nation-branding on planet earth, the legendary Swiss passport, executed in 1985.

This is the last of 3 conversations with Fritz, straight talk about the shape of strategic branding today. Our first conversation dealt with the latest evolution of automotive logos; our second conversation looked at the French petro giant Total’s latest logo evolution. For our third conversation, Fritz looked at a number of airline brands. With the reopening of the travel market and the entry into market of a number of newcomers it seemed like a good topic to engage. 

Fritz is of the emphatic opinion that airline brands began from a point of reverence for perfect design reflecting engineering, but have since devolved to examples of simple garish embellishment. Aircraft, he said, were always beautiful because they were innately functional. At the outset, the public viewed air travel with awe and respect. The cost of an air ticket was in synch with the respect of and joy for flying. Now that air travel has become the mode of transport for the masses, the quality of the art has “hit rock bottom.” More than once he used the word garish to describe the state of current design.

I began by asking Fritz what he felt the greatest airline brand ever made was. Of course, he chose the masterful solution for Swissair created by Karl Gerstner. A look at the level of craftsmanship which endures shows the excellence of the brand work. A careful examination reveals that Gerstner preserved the proportional nuance of 7:6 in the Swiss cross - a perfect square only exists at the center point of intersection. A detail like that is what makes for great design.

It was the correct moment to engage the classics.

Fritz called Vignelli’s famous 1968 identity for American Airlines “concise, intelligent, underpowered and drab.” He cited the unpainted aircraft as a downside of the branding, but he was complimentary about the double-A+eagle symbol.

We spoke about the legendary 1965 solution for Braniff, a lesser airline which was put on the map by the advertising agency Wells Rich Greene. Fritz characterized it as “pure marketing” and felt it heralded a new generation of design. I felt it was a prescient solution, since today all luxury brands have collaborations with artists like Calder and fashion houses like Pucci. So Braniff re-thought a staid idea to good effect. The idea endures.


Fritz had praise for the Eastern Airlines brand over the years. He called the legacy solution elegant, timeless, to the point, and sophisticated. A recent rebranding in 2020 referenced the Braniff solution, and simplified the logotype, while retaining the heritage symbol, seen on the aircraft tail.

Fritz also had kind words for the abiding purity of the KLM and Lufthansa brands.

I interjected that I always liked the vintage SAS brand

I appreciate the use of italics to suggest motion and movement, the sparse letterforms reminiscent of Optima, the simplicity and economy of Scandinavian design.

I asked Fritz to reflect on the classic Pan Am brand.

He characterized it as wonderful, reminiscent of the great times in which it was created. He reminded me that great brands are always close to the beat of their times.

It’s true. The classic vintage Pan Am shoulder bag still stands as an emblematic accessory for all travelers.


Vueling is one of the last brands executed under the supervision of the late Wally Olins. A Barcelona-based budget airline, their graphics are distinguished by a minimalist treatment and a playful attitude. The website is quite efficient, the rates are low, and the service reliable. 

Unfortunately, American’s recent rebranding is a weak substitute for the intelligence and clear-headed iconography of Vignelli’s earlier work.

Next we touched on the ultimate budget airline, the much reviled Easyjet. Fritz said that there was no thinking evident in this solution. The absence of any typographic sophistication, the blatant marketing, and the aircraft as a flying billboard contribute to prevalent visual pollution. Fritz also observed that this disturbing branding degrades the beautiful shapes of aircraft, which are in themselves elegant sculptural objects.

It seems like Southwest’s designers revisited Braniff’s ideas to apply primary color and supergraphic treatments to their aircraft. They are nowhere near as exciting as those generated a half century ago.

Now to the flood of garish newcomers to the marketplace.

Volotea, a budget airline that covers the eastern Mediterranean, has partnered with Aegean to add destinations in Greece. The brand identities are decorative and can barely be distinguished from each other- so the partnership dilutes each, and reduces differentiation.


Air Dolomiti has an undistinguished signature reminiscent of other brands, not all of them in the airline business. The decorated tail of their aircraft looks like the logo has been dumped over a confusing motif and obscures any brand identification. Coupled with a confusing typographic solution, the brand does not inspire confidence.

The same malaise afflicts Avelo. An uninteresting typographic solution coupled with a confused cosmetic motif gives the brand little distinction.

Looks like a private jet, doesn’t it? But Breeze adds a double marketing flourish to its signature, a check mark and an embedded pun. We are supposed to think it is easy to travel with these folks. If it’s so simple, what does the check mark represent?

French Bee is a new transatlantic budget airline, €220 from Paris/Orly to NYC. I am not sure I see a bee, but I do see a butterfly. Or perhaps a shamrock? Misleading advertising implies the low number is a round-trip, which it is not. 

The extremely popular low-budget carrier jetBlue borrows a typographic figure from the iMac universe, but it’s a shabby treatment plastered on a confused background which appears on the aircraft tail. The graphical solution correctly suggests a no-frills experience.

Small Planet looks like they have harvested their logotype from Google. And then pasted a fruit salad over the tail of the aircraft. One has the impression the multicolor and childlike type treatment is supposed to suggest diversity and play. It may also suggest, “Don’t take us too seriously.”

Budapest-based Wizz Air suggests they will turn things upside down in a surprising way. Yet they seem to have borrowed their color palette from Air New Zealand or any of the South Asian carriers. Their typographic twist uses the inverted i character to suggest the Spanish exclamation point. In case you missed it, their website is shown on both the aircraft side and on the jet engine. 

Finally, Fritz cites Qantas for once-noteworthy brand work. But their latest redrawing has simplified the kangaroo icon, so that the poor creature has lost its arms. A more legible type treatment has been adopted. The addition of computer-rendered gradation on the aircraft tail motif has devalued the brand representation.