September 16, 2019

Breaking the code


We are currently experiencing a very interesting time in visual identity and packaging. The last six months has seen a significant number of bold moves by big brands that are playing around with their core brand elements. Barely a week passes these days without someone doing something to their logo, label, font or another of their brand codes.

The most recent of which was Cadbury who removed all wording and the logo from its UK packaging in support of Age UK and the plight of the elderly.

Research revealed that 4.5 million people have felt lonely in later life. The ‘Donate Your Words’ campaign was created to highlight their struggle by removing all wording from the packaging of a special-edition Dairy Milk bar and donating 30p to Age UK for each one sold.

Needless to say, removing every single letter from your packaging is a bold move but also a very smart and very effective one. When brands play with well-established codes in this way and remove or alter their appearance, the impact on salience and brand image is significantly improved.

When you change a distinctive brand asset such as a logo, colour or a shape, the market notices far more than if you are consistent in your execution. It’s a paradoxical effect but removing the word ‘Cadbury’ from a Cadbury bar actually makes you notice Cadbury more.

A similar result happened when Carlsberg turned its logo and beer red in June to celebrate its partnership with Liverpool FC. The first thing most people thought when they saw the special-edition beer was ‘green’. And then ‘why is it not?’. That kind of mental stimulation around a brand is gold dust.

We have also seen a host of brands support LGBT communities by temporarily colouring their logo in rainbow colours. Here we have seen two sizeable effects.

First, there is a clear statement of support for diversity and LGBT rights.

Second, consumers re-notice your logo and mentally rewind back to the last time it was presented to them in its normal colours. That latter effect creates a lot more salience than just presenting the logo in normal form and you get the diversity kudos to boot.

This kind of behaviour is so effective because it challenges convention in the minds of customers. All is not as it seems so we look harder to find out why. By paying more attention to these activities we spend more time with the brands and remember them more than if all was as expected.

I’m not saying you should remove your logo from all communications as of tomorrow, it takes a long time to build up the kind of recognition Cadbury’s have with its core brand assets but it does show the value of creating and owning recognisable brand codes within your market and then… when the time is right playing around with them.


If you think it’s time to review and strengthen your brand codes, get in touch.