Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The 50 Dollar Logo Experiment

Recently I came across a re-post by acclaimed designer David Airey called “The 50 Dollars Logo Experiment”. The post made a lot of noise as it initiated an incredibly intense discussion between design professionals, about cheap design online services.

Here what happened; with the rise of a lot .com design services that somehow hurt the business of a lot of professionals (I am one of them), a man named Jim Walls, creative director at 160over90, a Philadelphia based branding agency, conducted what he called an experiment with one of these online companies (50DollarLogo.com.) to make his point.

Of course, some of the people that felt threatened by these companies embraced the so called study, when others called it outrageous because (and they are right), you cannot compare a high-end culinary experience with Chef Ramsey in one of his million dollar restaurant with a Big Mac from McDonald. That being said, we should agree that the rise of those companies is just a natural consequence of the evolution of a market and it should be enough to invalidate the so called study. However, the experiment does have some value as it highlights some of the downsides of doing business with such companies, startups should be aware of. Believe it or not, yes there are still people out there expecting getting the next Facebook done for $1000.

As Jim writes in his post: “...there will always be good clients who recognize the value of what they’re getting when they pay experts. Likewise, there will always be the pizza shop owners and recent MBA grads launching their next Basecamp rip-off who get what they pay for when they go for the lowest common denominator.”

We all get with the fact that 50 to 80% of startups will fail within their first 18 months of existence. Starting a new business is a risky adventure and owners need to be very careful about their spending and sometimes, it is true that the risk factor is so high that it simply doesn’t worth a $2,000 to $5,000 investment. However, it is important to point out that creating a good logo requires substantial effort and should cost more than lunch money. It involves research, competitive analysis, creative brainstorming, sketches, and finalization based on the client’s and their customers’ feedback.

Even if some people will bring up the fact that Carolyn Davidson in 1971charged only $35 to design the famous Nike swoosh, it is important to acknowledge that she was a student and her hourly rate was $2 (meaning that it took her 17 hours to design something as simple as a Swoosh). The Swoosh as simple as it looks is very meaningful. It represents the wing in the famous statue of the Greek Goddess of victory, Nike and has become one of the most recognized symbols in the world today. Thanks to Carolyn’s research and sketching time.

Still skeptic? Check out this interview Steve Jobs gave about Paul Rand, who charged Steve $100,000 for his NEXT newborn company identity in 1993 http://www.paul-rand.com/video_stevejobs_interview.shtml. Remember that there's a reason why Brad Pitt costs more than Chuck Norris (No offense to anyone).

Bottom line is, when you see an online company based in Sri Lanka that promises six logo designs and unlimited revisions, just know that it is too good to be true. As Jim, the author of the experiment wrote: “…promising six logo designs, unlimited revisions, and a 1-3 day turnaround. Who needs messy things like research, insight, or even a modicum of information about my business, when I can have unlimited revisions? I quickly gave them my information, credit card number, social security number, and bank account routing number, and we were off to the races.” Even though the project was a decoy, one year later; the fake Cheeses Of Nazareth Company is still waiting for the right identity. I rest my case.

See the full yearlong experiment: http://www.160over90.com/blog/2009/02/17/the-50-dollar-logo-experiment/

David Morin B.V.A.
Brand Artist

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Ultimate reward

Whatever we are graphic or web designer, I fondly believe that nothing comes closer from heaven than when a client tells you that you did such a great job that he cannot decide on a design and he will test both skins you created for his web strategy. Well, that situation happened to me not too long ago as I was invited to submit UI designs with different look & Feel to revamp an online corporation.

The client, Companies Incorporated is a very successful and trusted provider of business filing, incorporating, LLC and corporation formation services, as they are the Corporation Company Rated #1 in Customer Satisfaction.

Companies Incorporated always believed in branding, but never invested the time or resources required, to develop a brand that matched their aspirations. As the competition was growing bigger stronger in their field though, Companies Incorporated eventually felt the need to visually revamp brand to visually reposition them back at the top, were it belong, and keep their ranking in the market.

I decided to test three different approaches, one needed to be dropped as it was too dark which, from a legal point of view send the wrong message as the new age of business is based on transparency.

Submitted Designs
The two other designs where built around the idea of transparency and simplicity. Therefore I used big images, featuring an obvious and warm human presence. The layout is built on a white background with iPhone's like icons to ease and improve user's experience. Some minor tweaks later, the two new skins were ready to be tested.

Approved Designs
David Morin B.V.A.
Brand Artist

Monday, February 9, 2009

Cash4Gold rocks! That advertising snobs like it or not.

All right, everybody has his favorites but wait. As stated in another post, I always end up fighting with friends on who’s the big winner and big looser because I always question the effectiveness first. Last weekend, during the equivalent of the Cannes’ Lions, we witnessed something unique which makes it probably the most interesting Super Bowl ever for advertising.

First of all, America is getting through one of the worst economic situation since the great depression (actually, we’re half way there with a real unemployment rate that is somewhere around 15%). Because of that situation NBC had hard time to sell all its spots (I remember 5 days before the event, I was reading on Adage.com that NBC still had good spots available… something never seen before), we already knew right there that they would be forced to accept some weak spots to fill the gaps. That extreme measure taken from NBC led to the biggest controversy the next day; “What the hell was Cash4Gold with freakin Ed McMahon doing in Super Bowl XLIII?”

While people are still arguing trying to figure out the winner of Super Bowl XLIII (‘cause apparently someone shouldn’t qualify), whatever they like it or not… the winner is Cash4Gold. Big time!

You know, that whole situation reminds me of summer 1999…. Ahhhhhhhh! Campus life, parties, girls AND probably the summer of the most anticipated blockbusters as The Matrix came out as well as Start Wars Phantom Menace, Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me and of Course Blair Witch Project. I remember going back to class at the end of August and one of my teachers asked “What’s been to your opinion the biggest blockbuster of the summer?” I can still hear people yelling “Star Wars!”, “Matrix!”, “Austin!” and finally our teacher said it was “Blair Witch Project”. Yes, that nauseous filmed low-budget horror movie that fooled a few people with a narrative presented as a documentary piece.

Well, it appeared like he was right. The nauseous piece of crap as we liked to call it back then, only cost an initial investment by the three filmmakers of about $35,000, and is to this day (thanks to the marketing geniuses at Artisan, suggesting that the movie was real event) one of the most successful independent film ever shot with a gross $248 million.

In many ways, the story we just witness with Cash4Gold is very similar to the Blair Witch Project phenomenon. Cash4Gold’s long time agency partner Euro RSCG Edge designed a campaign using (by accident) a rhetoric figure called anomaly. You may find rhetoric figures in the content of the ad, in the elements in the image (such as example bellow), in the use of the canvas or in this situation an anomaly in the pool of announcers (just as the Blair Witch Project in the pool of blockbusters) and it became most probably this year’s highest ratio of ROI to production. It was on everybody’s lips on Monday morning.

My own palmares of favorites however are Monster.com and Hulu as grand winners, and if we take a look at direct response commercials (which I believe are the future of advertising in this economy) is by far Denny’s with his free breakfast offer which generated a landslide of follow-up publicity across the country and got millions of people coming by car, bus, light rail and on foot to sample their food. Denny's CEO Nelson Marchioli estimated the company gave away 2 million breakfasts but if the promotion helps the company lift its lagging sales, it could be $15 million well spent.

I know a lot of people in the industry such as advertising observer Bob Garfield which stated earlier this week: “The truly scary thing is that …with the financial structures of advertising in a state of collapse, if creativity is so beside-the-point, then what is the point?” see it as a disgrace and being threatening for the industry. But being one of its survivors, I have to say that advertising has a taste of snobbery and when I read things like this, it confirms that today’s creatives are too often more interested in their own gratification than the client’s interest. For me, that’s the scary part as I witnessed a few horror stories in my career to back it up and it’s the subject of my post of January 3rd. That controversy in the industry is a great reality check and a well deserved slap in the face.

David Morin B.V.A.
Brand Artist