20 July 2021

Transform Magazine: Iconicity as the route to impact

Every day we’re bombarded with thousands of sales messages and visual stimuli to tickle our mental brain-buds to ultimately make us buy something.

Life is consumed with the digital screen and our index finger constantly flicking up and down, no doubt twitching while we sleep. Our brain needs to work harder than ever before to decode the deluge of commercial art placed in front of us. Consequently, we cut out the noise that doesn’t resonate and home in on what we can relate to. We call it the brand’s ‘fight to stay relevant’.

Research study after research study has told us that people don’t really care about our precious consumer good brands. We’re promiscuous by nature; buying and switching between different brands within our repertoire, seeing all brands as functionally very similar. And in a post-Covid economic pinch of the pennies, value will be key so switching will be even more prevalent. Iconicity can help cut through the clutter and give you a stronger rhyme and reason for getting dropped into the shopping basket.

Icons are often the familiar and calm we look for amidst a sea of madness; be that in an advert or on a piece of packaging. The old adage of KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) has never been as strong as it is today. The world’s leading brands have listened to the seminal work of Professor Byron Sharp, leveraging their distinctive brand assets in our minds. Think red soda, or a slogan about just doing it, a meerkat, an annoying opera singer or even Gary Lineker. Each of these distinctive assets instantly takes your mind to a brand. They are powerful memory structures for brands to own and leverage time and time again.

Distinctive assets

But just how can you help your brand steer the right course for success and win its fight for relevance?

1. Deconstruct

Stop and reflect on just what the brand stands for in people’s minds today (what images, symbols, colours, etc. come to mind) and where you want to take them on the journey tomorrow. Don’t assume you know, as you may well end up trying to leverage an element that has little to no iconicity.

What iconicity does the brand own in the mind that we can leverage even further? In our work with Nomad Foods we broughtCaptain BirdsEye back to the dinner table. He’d been cast out at sea for too long and needed to come back to shore to take on the frozen fish fight – at a time when the category was losing its battle for relevance with chilled food. This powerful character icon is something that parents fondly recall from their childhood and acts as a shortcut to those real food values and simpler times when families ate together and weren’t distracted by digital devices at the dinner table.

BirdsEye packaging design

The advertising agency cast a slightly younger and more handsome Captain, which caused an unexpected surge in media noise about a TV ad with ‘the hot new Captain BirdsEye’. The resurrection of the Captain resulted in a win for Nomad Foods with sales of the battered fish range increasing 51% in the first 6 months on shelf, and the breaded range increasing by 27%, at a time when it had been in freefall.

But there is a watch out. One of the biggest challenges we see is when new marketers come aboard and want to make their mark, often trying to start afresh and forgetting about the powerful iconic assets that they have in their arsenal. New Moonpig CMO, Kristof Fahy, called his decision to resurrect its pink pig a no brainer! The colour pink and iconic jingle are now once again front and centre.

2. Amplify

McDonald’s has done a great job at this with the use of its iconic golden arches in its recent ‘We Deliver’ advertising, cutting into an element of the iconic arch and using it as a beacon from their fast-food restaurant straight into your home. Apple just rebooted its iMac and went back to the original, embracing the power of colour against a PC world of beige. And talking of colour, Coca-Cola has just switched its Zero brand to red, realising the power of its ‘universally-recognised’ red.

All of these brands have looked closely at what made them famous in the first place, what visual space they own in our minds and then leveraged that memory to ensure we keep coming back for more. Hell, I want a McDonalds delivery, a new iMac and the new Zero!

Coke Zero packaging

3. Be coherent rather than consistent

Finally, don’t be afraid to break the rules. Too often we get caught up in a world that focuses on brand consistency, with strict and rigid brand guidelines that prohibit and restrict the powerful use of our assets. Can you imagine the shock and horror on the face of the poor brand guardian for McDonald’s seeing his beloved golden arches being cut and cropped to their dismay?

At Brandon, we talk more about brand coherency as opposed to consistency. If a brand expression is coherent and you get it, then that’s enough. Iconicity is there to be leveraged and stay relevant to our time. Just as we as humans constantly evolve, the use of our icons needs to also stay relevant to their time in history.

McDonald's distinctive assets

So, to win your fight for relevance and drive true transformational commercial change, know what assets you have in your arsenal, amplify your iconicity to demand attention and leverage those powerful memory structures, and don’t be afraid to break the rules. It sounds simple, it is simple, but simple is often really hard!

As featured in Transform Magazine.


If you’d like to know more about how to win your brand’s fight for relevance, then please get in touch.

Richard Taylor