While it may seem like I’m giving the charity sector a short shrift lately, I can’t help but feel that necessary criticisms are either absent or extremely muted on the internet, and when I can’t find what I’m looking for I feel compelled to put it down myself.
So it’s with considerable dismay that I must level a steely complaint at ‘Anthony Nolan’ (now formally, it appears, ‘The Anthony Nolan Trust’). They’ve done what a lot of charities seem to do after a few years – become nervous about their visual identity. And so they’ve paid branding company Johnson Banks to come up with something new. The results are appalling.
Over the course of the last 6 or 7 years I’ve raised a fairly respectable amount for Anthony Nolan and plan to continue doing so in the Virgin London Marathon 2011 – the charity is a unique and critical service for those suffering from leukaemia and other blood and bone marrow diseases. If you’re not aware of the charity, it maintains a large register of potential bone-marrow donors who, having been tissue-typed, sit on a register and may be called upon to donate bone marrow and potentially save a person’s life. This is no small enterprise and they have a growing annual turnover that ranges into tens of millions of pounds.
One slight problem with the register is that it needs better subscription from young men, particularly those from ethnic minorities, and the charity is continuously driving initiatives to increase participation and ultimately provide a life-saving service to those that need it. In terms of its mandate and the work they do, I cannot fault it. The staff I’ve spoken with have all been lovely, friendly people and when I ran the London Marathon for them in 2008 I was humbled by the sincere gratitude and care that was expressed for their runners’ efforts.
With these noble intentions in mind, they’ve decided that a rebranding is the best way to help engage a younger crowd by having a logo that more readily ‘speaks’ to youth. The previous logo, seen here, was criticised for being a little ‘old’, with the flower being a point of confusion against those charities that also use flowers in their logos, and, of course, flowers not being very ‘manly’. The charity provide branded running vests to all of their runners, and while I wasn’t winning any awards for style I was happy to be distinctly identified with the charity in my bright blue vest covered with flowers.
It distresses me to think that people might align their support to a particular charity for reasons as vacuous as the colour and style of the logo. The charity industry is a bit of a marketting game and with so many people wanting your money it’s a hard choice of who to support, but you would really hope that the primary consideration would be the background of the cause and the genuine need for support, rather than something that catches your eye and looks ‘cool’.
But obviously someone thinks this is how to play the game, and the redesign has gone ahead. I have never, ever understood why anyone would pay an expensive company to come up with a new logo. I’ve seen it several times – the University of Manchester paid a huge amount for their dull, dreary, perpendicular logo that is both indistinct and very inflexible on publications, and given I was working in their PR office at the time they were tendering for designs, I can tell you they spent a ridiculous amount of money on it, 5 figure sums not beginning with a ‘1’ or a ‘2’.
There is a very misguided perception that the the more you pay for a design, the more inherant value it must have. Certainly, it’s your only defence against madness, because nobody in their right mind would hand over thousands of pounds for something that a teenager could knock together for £50 in photoshop, right? Sadly not, and you only need to look at the Tiswas abomination of the 2012 Olympic Logo to see how badly this perception is applied. £400,000 to brand the Olympics, and the result is a complete and utter nonsense, being both indistinct and downright ugly. Claims of it’s ‘dynamic’ and ‘fluid’ nature are just words spouted by pretentious nobodies of the media design world striving to convince you that these things have some kind of marketable worth. Efficacy of design is an extremely subjective view and its value is claimed only as a result of the argument from authority fallacy.
My personal view is that logos are almost immaterial. You certainly need one – a small pocket of distinct identity, but the specific content of that doesn’t need to be the subject of an expensive branding exercise. Most logos are awful to look at but are accepted due to their notoriety and omnipresence, which is more a function of the marketing than it is the actual nature of the logo. As long as it’s easy to read and displayed in a consistent manner, people will eventually recognise it. If people recognise your brand but aren’t sure what you do, then your marketing department has more work to do; you can’t rely purely on the logo to get your entire message across for you and hope that’ll be enough.
With these pertinent points in mind, I present the new ‘improved’ Anthony Nolan logo:
- It’s black and white
- It has white lines criss-crossing it.
- It’s BLACK AND WHITE.
This is the extent of the logo although not the complete visual identity. A few stylised variations, and the newly revised Anthony Nolan website, couple this logo with a kind of mottled green background that does absolutely nothing to enhance the central image.
After examining the logo to try to work it out (and already, we have failed, what good logo needs effort to understand?), we can see that the bizarre white lines are connecting pairs of letters together. Why? This is slightly more understood when you see the strapline that accompanies this image is ‘Be a match, save a life’, so we’re seeing some thin ‘matching’ symbolism in there. Of course, just looking at the logo, I’m thinking, a match for what? Save whose life? Is there any particular significance to the specific letters being matched? I have no idea what they’re trying to tell me, and did I mention it’s in black and white? The typeface is oddly presented, with some letters appearing bolder than others, and the whole thing looks a complete mess.
Of course, I’m reminded of the argument I made moments ago about a logo being almost immaterial. In this instance, the emphasis is on the almost. You need some kind of distinction – black and white isn’t that. You need some kind of clarity – a wonky typeface with lines across it doesn’t provide it. The tagline is ambiguous. These flaws are compounded by the comparative distinction and clarity of the logo they’ve left behind.
It was blue, I like blue. It sits nicely with a consistent white typeface. The yellow centre of the flower offers a little colour variation but it remains a neat and tidy, simple message. The strapline says ‘Taking back lives from leukaemia’, which couldn’t be more direct and comprehensible. It’s not a logo that’ll take the world by storm but blow me, it’s a heck of a lot better than the confusing mess they’ve replaced it with.
Why did they do it? And why, having seen the pitiful effort generated by the branding company, why have they adopted it? You could speculate that having agreed to pay a sum of money, they were somehow obligated to follow through and adopt the end result, whatever it may be, on the assurance that it was everything they were looking for.
Early next year I’ll receive my new Anthony Nolan running top in the post, but I worryingly wonder what it’ll look like. Will it be black and white? I hope not – nobody will see me and nobody will know who I’m running for. My best hope is that they go with a green base with large black lettering to give supporters some thin chance of picking out the charity’s runners. Of course, if it was down to me I’d happily revert back to the blue with the flowers – some things are worth more than a faint sense of effeminacy.