Brands without branding

There aren’t many great logos in my country. I’ve always wondered why. One of my theories is this: Having no branding is their branding.

I can imagine how readers might take this to be sarcastic, or at least very tongue-in-cheek. But I think it’s a valid theory, and here’s why.

The word “branding” has several definitions. In my theory, I was referring to these two definitions:

  1. Branding as a means to an end. For a typical company, this includes the company name, logo, colors, fonts, writing style, package designs, and website look and feel. This was what the first “branding” meant. For the rest of this entry, I’ll be referring to this definition as branding.
  2. Branding as the actual end. For a typical company, this includes the company’s personality, the impression it leaves on people, customer perception, what it’s known for, who the target audience is, and what differentiates it from the competition. This was what the second “branding” meant. For the rest of this entry, I’ll be referring to this definition as brand.

(Okay, I may have cheated by using a polysemous word with both meanings in the same sentence. But it made the statement sound witty, right?)

Essentially, a company does branding (designs logos, chooses colors, writes catchphrases, advertises) with the objective of building a brand (the impression they or their products or services leave).

This article points out the benefits of a strong brand:

A good brand achieves the following objectives:

  • Delivers the message clearly
  • Confirms your credibility
  • Connects your target prospects emotionally
  • Motivates the buyer
  • Concretes user loyalty

A strong brand is invaluable as the battle for customers intensifies day by day. It’s important to spend time investing in researching, defining, and building your brand. After all, your brand is the source of a promise to your consumer. It’s a foundational piece in your marketing communication and one you do not want to be without.

So, what exactly did I mean when I said that having no branding is their branding?

Can you think of any world-famous company that doesn’t have a logo these days? That’s right—there aren’t many, if any at all. Can you think of any world-famous company that doesn’t use the same fonts, company colors, and writing style in their advertisements? It’s rare, and when it happens, it’s usually considered a mistake.

Here’s the thing: Branding is something a company does so that people don’t confuse it with 1) another company, or 2) the individuals who work for it. Branding strategy and identity design result in consistency in how the company looks, feels, seems, communicates, advertises, and markets. And the problem with consistency is that it is decidedly machine-like.

Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.—Oscar Wilde

Consistency helps large organizations keep track of how they’re supposed to come off. But sometimes—for small companies, specifically—it just doesn’t work.

Let’s say you’re hungry one afternoon, and you walk down the street to buy crunchy corn kernels. You pass by the laundrywoman. She’s carrying a pile of garment bags, each marked with her laundrywoman silhouette logo and the words Aling Martha Laundry Services. You give her a smile and go on your way. Before long, you reach your sari-sari store, which greets you with a large sign: Jhonel’s Store in Gotham Black. All of the store’s posters—advertising foot-long hotdogs, cell phone credits, and tube ice—are in Pantone 032. You pay for your corn kernels as well as a bottle of Pepsi. You notice the bottle’s label and think, They’ve rebranded again? Then you roll your eyes and take a sip. At least it still tastes the same.

Now wake up from your dream.

Branding is great for companies who want everything they do to work like an Edgar Allan Poe short story—to leave a single impression. But, like an Edgar Allan Poe short story, professional branding is also very contrived. Consistency and contrivance together help make a brand successful—most of the time. But sometimes, it makes the brand seem like just another manufactured product, and the company like a machine. And other times, it’s simply out of place.

I don’t know about you, but I think there’s something endearing about a logo so ugly you know the Xerox shop owner asked his 10-year-old daughter to make it. There’s something oddly fascinating about a car repair shop named Carbucks whose sign is rendered in the Starbucks logo font. There’s a quiet dignity in every nameless, sign-less, around-the-corner isaw stall where the old lady handing out barbecued innards smiles warmly at each customer who comes to order. Sometimes having no branding strategy makes your brand what it is—approachable, friendly, and somehow more human than companies who spend tons of time and money on their branding.

So in the end, despite my love for good branding, I realize that not every design needs to be perfect. Not every document needs to be in the same font. Not every advertisement needs to sound like it was written by the same person. And somehow this makes me feel a little better about logo design in my country—and the horrible logos I see every day that, for some unknown reason, make me smile.

Bookmark and Share

Comments are closed.


Hello! I’m Madeline Ong, a web designer, avid reader, and tech enthusiast. Magic Lantern is an online journal where I write about design, literature, technology, and other subjects of interest. Thank you for your visit. Please make yourself at home.


  • My Twitter updates
follow me on Twitter