Monday, September 7, 2015

Renovation disaster

Every now and again, an old identity element needs a facelift. Sometimes, companies feel their logos are getting worn out and old-looking, like a beat up sofa. At such times, they order a new logo to spruce up the company look and feel. Sometimes, it's successful. Sometimes, it's not so much.

I have seen a bit of this lately, so I thought I'd toss a few of the more famous ones out there and comment on them. I used to do a LOT of logo renovation for local companies. In their case, it wasn't an issue of updating an older, successful logo to a newer one. It was usually updating to a new, professional logo from something that looked remarkably like Aunt Phyllis had drawn it at the family reunion--after sampling considerable quantities of adult beverages. The business owners would usually say something like, "Hey, it seemed like a good logo at the time--at the party--and we promised we'd use it...and I just felt bad because she had gout and all."

I should dig out some of the worst of those. But, until then, here are these...

KFC is all over the news lately not because of its logo but because it did a ham-fisted job of portraying the Colonel in commercials. Don't be disrespectful to an icon! They did a better job with their logo. I like the bold graphical take on the older version. The Colonel looks more friendly and a little less like a creepy neighbor--wider smile, simplified hair swoop, and the addition of the apron makes him seem like an eccentric cook instead of an overdressed oddball. 

The Arby's logo change isn't dramatic and was done for more practical reasons than artistic ones. Granted, the loopy, curved typeface is out of date but it wasn't a deal breaker. In fact, I am not a big fan of the new typeface...why is the serif on the A cropped that way? It's idiosyncratic, but not in a good way. It makes me ask WHY not say WOW. Anyway, smallish point. I think the big thing is that the old logo is rectangular--tall and thin--which, from a design standpoint, is harder to manage and implement than a square logo. Note, too, that the color is more orange than red now. McDonald's did a study years and years ago that found that the color orange increased hunger in many people. It isn't accidental that most countertops and tabletops in fast food restaurants were orange for decades. Now, they are replaced by tans, solid wood, and granite. The food still tastes the same, which is either good or bad depending on who you ask!

The Gap has an iconic, simple logo that looks great on storefronts and on clothes tags. Given its vintage,  you'd expect it to be Helvetica rather than a serifed face. But, I really like the repetition of the mid-height lines. It's perfect. Fast forward a bit and NOW you see the sans serif face you'd have expected years ago, but now in lower case. No improvement with either of those choices. And you see a blue box. Sorta. What it's doing floating there is a mystery. Perhaps it docked with the P. I don't know. No one knew. So Gap folded up the logo and took it away just about instantly. 
I am indifferent to the type change. Honestly, I find myself drawn to old style serifed typefaces, so replacing with something sans serif is not really going to make me happy. But, an elegant sans face well spaced and weighted would be my second favorite. Of course, that wouldn't work with that big symbol. The designer wisely reduced the size of the image to offset the lack of weight in the new face. The old face, despite having a lower x-height, manages to counterbalance the larger, heavier icon better than would the new face. All that said, I still cringe when I look at the icon itself. Am I the only one who sees a G-string through a peephole? Maybe. Sheesh.

After Dave Thomas died, Wendy's made some changes. The two worst changes were changing their fries to something that tastes a bit like salty cardboard and then skimping on their juicy burgers, which now seem a bit more like McDonald's fare. From a logo standpoint, the change is positive. Simpler. A bit more dynamic. It's a nod to the reality that "old fashioned hamburgers" is not really necessary to express in the logo. We all know what Wendy's does. They did their logo well. Not so much my past few visits to the drive-through, though, sadly.

When Starbucks first made this change a few years ago, I was adamantly against it. I have to say that it's kind of grown on me. Like Wendy's, Starbucks is choosing not to say what they make, assuming (rightly) that we all know what they are all about. How can we NOT know since the distance between franchise locations in measured in yards rather than miles. Nevertheless, I have to confess that I rather like old fashioned emblem-type logos. I was never very good at making them, myself, so maybe that's why. This is a one-color logo, so I suspect there was some cost rationale to this aspect of the change. All in all, it's a a draw, at least to me.

Change can really make positive improvements on a business identity. Or it can destroy it. Any company has to be careful when updating to avoid alienating existing clients. However, should a change happen, it can be powerful and overwhelmingly positive.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Identity Crisis

I just had a call from a long-time client. He has been with us for a few years, knows our philosophies on brand development, and is a former Fortune 100 sales manager. All of that makes his call even less explicable. In short, he should know better

We've worked for a couple of years on establishing his sports training brand. The name and logo are solid. In his market segment, his brand is known, identifiable, and well-respected. He has branched out from the service industry that was his core business into some other consumer products bearing the same logo and identity. They have all been successful, mostly because they piggybacked on the success of the original brand application.

Today, he says he wants to launch a clothing line. The clothing is specialized and would be marketed to the existing market. Instead of using the established brand and identity, he want's to call it simply "B."


"Yes. B."

"Well, that's great, but why?" I asked.

"I just think it would be cool," he replied happily. No, giddily.

"What about the brand you already have? The one that everyone knows?"

"I don't know. I just like 'B'."

I like B, too. It is one of my favorite letters. It is NOT, however, my favorite choice for a clothing line targeted at an existing customer base that identifies with the existing brand. Could it work? Yeah. It could. But, the question isn't whether it will work but rather if it will be a greater success to tie the clothing line to the well-established, well-respected brand that the client has worked years to craft. The customer base would be a simple hand off from one part of the brand family to another. Simple. No mess. No real effort.

The closest equivalent to what he is thinking would be this. Back when Nike made only shoes (yes, they really did make JUST shoes at one point), they thought it would be a good plan to start selling other products, too. Shirts, socks, hats, even lacrosse sticks. Did they start a whole new company called "N" to sell this stuff? Nope. They just stuck their logo on other products. You see the same thing with Remington--guns and hunting clothes. Under Armour--shirts, to start with, now everything you can imagine.

I can see it in a specialized situation. Royal Robbin made durable pants for the mountain climbing community. Great pants, but it's a very small community, indeed. Someone saw the great stuff and bought the company, decided that the cool-looking pants that were designed for climbing the toughest mountains (class 5, category 11) would look equally cool on other daring men and women. He picked the name of the trouser, 5.11, and changed the name of the company to match it. He then targeted a whole NEW market--law enforcement and paramilitary--and now 5.11 is one of the biggest names in the tactical world.

But that's really a horse of a different color. It's chasing a new market--totally different from the original one--with an existing product. It's NOT going after an existing market with a new product.

We could certainly start a new campaign that would launch a new product line. We've done that countless times with good success. And if this were a brand that had nothing to do with the established market, I'd be all for that. It would be pricey, of course, and the client is not known for his deep pockets and huge budgets, so it's not really a smart investment on his part.

It's blog-worthy simply because it is important to get clients to think logically and strategically and NOT get carried away by an idea that has no basis in business. This would be an excellent time to make a pros and cons list before placing all your bets on B. Or any other letter, really.

Split identity

There are several schools of thought with logos and identity work. One school says you should only use your logo in its whole, pure and complete format. That means never dropping it into the background of a design, screened back. No cutting it in half to use it as a design element. And, if you have a cool element in it such as a bird or machine part or face, you can't use that as a stand-alone piece. The other school of thought allows this.

What's the big deal, you ask? Well, the purists say that any use of the logo that is not complete and whole serves to dilute the brand. The idea is that the whole logo reinforces the brand while anything less than all is destructive.

That's idiotic.

If you have a logo that has useful elements in it, USE them! I've used logo bits as the symbol at the end of a story in newsletters. Very effective because it not only stops the story but it visually refers back to the whole logo. Better still, it appears frequently in a publication.

Logo elements can be used to great effect on apparel. The graphical element of a complex logo (i.e. one with a graphical element and typographical elements) can be very effective and compelling. In fact, it can be far more successful than the entire logo. Using just an element can simplify the brand presence and make it far more memorable. Think Nike. In fact, think Nike and pretty much stop there. They've done this better than anyone.

Then take a look at Starbucks.

Even Dodge Ram is a well known element...

But it's not just the big companies that can benefit from this kind of thing. Take a look at some smaller company logos. Some have local and some have national or even international reach. All are unafraid to use elements to make their graphical point.

In an era in which graphical flexibility is crucial to effectively navigating the myriad venues in which a logo might appear, it is a huge, huge, HUGE handicap to be hamstrung by the constricting rules of overly confining logo guidelines. I've worked in corporate settings with communications directors (it's always communications directors, for some reason) who are married so tightly to the logo guidelines that they can't break away from them. They act as though the logo guidelines were written in stone atop a stormy mountaintop and handed to The Administration (i.e. the communications directors themselves) by the gods. 

In truth, logo guidelines are written by people who are less designers than they are administrators themselves as a way to exert control over any new bursts of creativity that might happen in the organization. It's a remarkable duality: the creative guy makes a logo, jots down some rules, then tells other creatives that they can't be creative after that point. Granted, there can be a big difference between a good design and a well-intended but horrible design. But, that's where common sense and a good eye comes into play. You can't legislate good  taste, but you can encourage creativity.

Be creative. Break your own borders and design rules. You will find new ones that lie just out of view. That is lively, interesting and reactive design. And that's much more fun and effective than a stuffy rule book.

Blast off to identity

When you think of a product or business launch, you don't usually think of an actual launch. But, sometimes that is exactly what you might have...

We have a client who wanted a strong logo for his sports program. The name is Ballistic Lacrosse. Great name. Ballistic is a good name for a lacrosse team because the word itself conjures up so many interesting images and concepts, from trajectory to arcs to launch to attack. Plus, the word ball is hidden in there, too, which can't hurt!

The organization is a lacrosse program with several teams under the overall Ballistic banner. Each team is named after a missile. Missiles. Rockets. Blast off. You can see the brainstorming session starting already, right?

Sports logos are their own special part of the logo biz. They have to stand up to a LOT of use (and often abuse) and can appear almost anywhere. In addition to the typical marketing materials, a sports logo has to look great on jerseys and helmets, car magnets and stickers. It's a tall order but, honestly, of all logos they are the most fun to do and among the most satisfying because of the enormous range of applications. As a designer, there is nothing more exciting than seeing your work live and in person, so sports teams are particularly good for that.

So, this is what we made:

It's proven to be very popular and successful. The colors work well in the Florida environment--blue and green are commonly identified with the Sunshine State. At the same time, they avoid any association with any of the big Florida college or pro teams. 

Plus it has a plenty of fun factor. A shark-toothed missile. A blast of smoke. A great name. Kids love it. Adults think it's cool. It looks great on clothing. It was a blast (ha ha) to do!

What it does NOT do is incorporate a lacrosse stick into the design. That's not an accident. Look at most lacrosse team logos and you find the hopelessly hackneyed crossed sticks. The worst cases are clunky silhouettes crossed like swords over the team name. We wanted to avoid this at all costs. The client, however, is the kind of guy who likes nothing more than to follow what he sees as tradition. Tradition is often just a visual habit. And it's good to break a habit.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Nightmare Client

So, what happened with the nightmare client from the last blog? Well, I didn’t really know the answer to that until today. A telling point, however, is the fact that we hadn’t included his projects in our traffic planning session yesterday! So, as my old sergeant used to say to felons before being cuffed, “Come on, man, you know what time it is...” And I did. 
Nightmare clients come in all shapes and sizes, but they tend to have a few characteristics that should serve as red flags. Most of the time, you can spot them a mile off. Sometimes, they sneak up on you and turn into nightmares just when you think you are in for sweet dreams. Here are a few nightmare client red flags to watch for:
  • he/she is new to his business (restaurants...stay away from new restaurant owners...or get paid up front)
  • he/she has been in the same business for decades but the business is stalled or declinging - let’s face it, this guy is likely burned out and is going through the motions of saving his’s like EMS doing CPR on the obviously dead whose family is standing about shrieking...
  • he/she professes to be “an expert in marketing” but doesn’t have time - then what DO you have time for? If I make a suggestion, will you shrug it off because you are an expert anyway? And, when you get a bill, will you say, “I already KNOW all that you told me to do, so why am I paying so much for it?” Okay, you will get this response. Guaranteed.
  • he/she teaches marketing in any level of education -  I had two clients who were deans of schools of business in two different universities...they both gave me the same answer when asked why they didn’t just get their marketing professors to do their marketing...”If I wanted to teach someone about marketing, I’d call them. I want someone to do marketing, so I called you.”
  • he/she mentions family members who are in the business - I promise you, they will take over the account shortly
  • he/she is family, a friend, or a coworker--or related to any of these - don’t mix business and, well, anything, unless you want a swirling vortex of pain
  • he wanted to find a way to “make it work without spending a lot of time on it.” That’s a little like throwing a gourmet dinner without the bother of, say, actual cooking.
None of these should be confused with the potentially great clients out there. Some are just too busy to get their marketing house in order. they have ideas but aren’t sure how to execute them. They need help and are willing to learn from you and do their part. Many business owners put their marketing on the back burner. It is not coincidental that my marketing consulting biz is called “BackBurner Marketing.” Many smart, hardworking, dedicated businesspeople just can’t seem to get to their marketing because there are so many other things to do. Ideally, the bulk of this would be sales, order fulfillment, or manufacturing. They know they can do better but need help to get there. 

Those clients are golden. They can bring you lots of long-term business and lots of positive referrals. And you will feel good about helping them. 
In the case of our most recent Nightmare Client, I should tell you he teaches marketing in a high school, declares himself to be an expert in the field, has been in the same business for over twenty years (and it’s failing miserably), and I used to work with his wife. I know. Don’t say it.
Now, I have to add that, just after the second round of logos, I tried to quit the client. I emailed him and quit. He called me on the phone and I quite again. The then, somehow, talked me into staying on the job. I know, I know. Don’t say it. The relationship was, unquestionably, irretrievably broken, but, like many old married people, I stuck it out just because it existed! 
We had a fairly regular pattern of communication. Typically, it went from us calling or emailing him asking if he had reviewed the latest round of identity materials. The answer was usually YES, but he had to talk to us about colors, typeface, and the inevitable rehashing of how his old logo worked so well in the mid-‘80s. Then, almost mercifully, there was nothing.
The lack of response tells you something is up. It could be that a) the business is booming and he is killing himself to finish some major projects (not likely since he called you because the opposite was happening), b) the business is not happening at ALL and he is floundering even more than before (strongly possible), or c) he found another artist/marketing firm/cousin/buddy to help him with the task at hand. It is my experience that, in the case of c) the newfound help is never a professional. So, I can’t cuss out my colleagues for stealing my client (indeed, most of them would be cussing ME out for taking him in the first place). 
In this case, it was the buddy. The most recent email read like this: “Hey, we are going a different direction. My buddy is giving me HIS website and we are going to use that. But we want to get the logo finished up so we can use it. By the way, can we get some of our deposit back?” 
HUH? Your buddy has a spare website lying around? Is the buddy giving up his livelihood so that you can usurp his website? And how the heck does it so conveniently mesh with your new direction? 
What it really means is that the client decided he really can’t take suggestions from outsiders and wants to make every decision on his own. The "buddy" is probably a do-it-yourself Web template that cost $99. Since it’s now summer, and the high school teaching gig is on hiatus, he has some time on his hands to pull the marketing off the back burner, fire up something up front, and git ‘er done. 
Go for it. As for the money back...I am thinking NO.
What does this all mean for someone in our field? Well, after a couple of decades working client- and agency-side, I’ve seen a fair number of difficult clients. “Difficult” is not a synonym for “bad.” In fact, it can be quite the opposite. Some tough clients are perfectionists or are driven by an innate sense of where they want to go. They push the creative team to new levels of excellenc--provided both sides of the equation have mutual respect for each other. The other type is like the client in this story: wants to do marketing because the business is failing, but in the end wants to do business the way he has been for years. Clearly, these conditions cannot coexist. 
From a business standpoint, a difficult client costs more in time and effort for the designer or marketing firm. If you are on a strictly hourly basis, the client will argue every minute on your invoice and demand discounts. If the agency established a one-price fee for services to be rendered, this can lead to endless revisions and hand-holding that eats up un-billable clock time and unfairly empowers the client. This can lead to a relationship that look more like a playground bully picking on the nerdy kid (not that all us designers were the nerdy kids, but...). 
Occasionally, the client and designer just don’t see eye to eye on styles. That’s fixable. Typically, the designer puts on a new design hat and conjures a new idea out of the magical place that those ideas spawn. That is, after all, his job. It is what all designers want to do. However, the desire for change has to be on both sides of the graphical river. 
Over the years, I’ve come to understand that there is a time for any professional to quit. Whether you are a football player, designer, or shop owner, there is a point at which you’re really not in the game anymore and you are going through the motions. When the safest place to go to modernize your company is by going back nearly thirty years it may be a sign that it’s time to pack it in. And, as a design or marketing professional, it might be okay to just let that happen.
Or bill up front. worked back in the ‘80s...

As a logo developer, it is a rarity to run into a client who just can’t accept ANY new logo design. We have one. At those times, I always question myself...Is it me? Am I any GOOD at this anymore? 
I don’t look at it as self-doubt. I think of it as self-assessment. There is nothing worse than watching, say, an aging NFL player get monkey-stomped in the backfield because he really should have hung up his cleats a couple of seasons ago. Likewise, I’ve seen designers in the same state. Sometimes, the artistic ability gets a little too banged up and all that’s left is a Hail Mary pass.
About a decade ago, I was in a particularly painful dog-and-pony show while working client-side in a university. The ad agency that was pitching us showed us work that can only be described as Unintentional Retro. It’s not that the agency was technically inept (well, save for the fact that, in the early 2000s, they were still doing mechanicals and REAL paste-up work sans was a bit of a shocker) as much as the creative was a couple of decades past its freshness date. It would have been excellent work for the University of Frankie Goes to Hollywood or Duran College. 
All this is understandable. Every artist, writer, athlete, marriage--I dunno, whatever--has its prime. And then it goes past its prime. I recall reading deeply saddening accounts of Hemingway wondering why A Moveable Feast wasn’t as powerful as For Whom The Bell Tolls. He just couldn’t get it going again. 
What is NOT understandable--or, more accurately, what I never considered possible--is that CLIENTS can suffer from the same out-of-date-ness as designers. When I first moved to the relatively small town in which they were building the new university at which I worked as Media Director, I was told that my design style was “too upscale” and “too Big City” for the market. I had come from Buffalo, a place with 14 colleges and universities and a thriving advertising community that often worked between New York and Toronto. The talent pool was deep and competition was fierce. Before that, I was in Greensboro, North Carolina, another city that had more than its fair share of higher education and design programs. Add to that, a bustling economy fueled by old standards of furniture, textiles and tobacco and nouveau tech in the form of computers, telecom, and software kept the design styles fresh and relevant. 
But, this place, Southwest Florida, had only a small, lackluster community college without any appreciable design program (if any). Design standards here seemed to be swimming in the stylistic backwaters of 1980s. I mention Cooper Black a lot as the standard ‘80s logo typeface. I am fairly sure this is where Cooper Black flew in the winters to escape the snow. And it liked it so much it stayed. 
Our current clients wanted a logo renovation that would invigorate their floundering event entertainment company. Sales had flagged in the past few years, in part due to apathy on their part but also because they hadn’t updated their look since the company was founded in the mid-1980s. Since then, lots of competition had come to this once sleepy town, all of them with new ideas and contemporary approaches to identity and doing business.
So, after our usual in-depth discussion of where the client is now, what they want, what they like and dislike in a logo, and what their primary focus was for their business direction, we went to work on a series of roughs that were, we thought, pretty darned good. As we had discussed, the designs explored a conceptual direction slightly different from where the company is today. Graphically, they were contemporary and energetic, colorful and capable of hitting their competition across the jaw for the knockout. 
The client hated them. 
Okay, this happens. Back to the drawing board after another long discussion of what they wanted. This time, we really dug deep and put in way too many hours given the flat fee we charge for logos. And I have to say,  came up with possibly the best group of logo designs of my career. 
And the client didn’t like ANY of them.
At this point, as a designer, you know you are up against it. It’s not that the client’s opinion hurts your feelings--you lose that bruisy ego the first year of design school--but rather it’s the fact that you really can’t easily come up with another whole set of ideas! The best recourse is to talk to the client, hash out what he really dislikes about what you’ve done, and pull anything else out of him that might give you some idea where to go. Then slog out more designs. 
In this case, the client said, “I have my old logo and I really love it. Can’t we just kind of adapt it to the new company name?” The client’s serendipitous pride was evident in his voice. “It was just...terrific.” In this case, the old logo-- originally “designed” in about 1984--consisted of a silhouette of a teal-colored man, arms and legs extending from a rectangular torso like teal lightening bolts. Beneath it was the old company name in, yes, Cooper Black. It looked like something from a very early video game. Teal Man. 
It wasn’t so much that it was a horrible piece of artwork--it undeniably was today and, I am certain, it would have been considered ugly even back in the day when John Hughes reigned supreme at the box office. The real problem was that the client truly felt that it was probably the pinnacle achievement of the graphic arts. All that “modern and new looking” stuff I put together really just wasn’t going to compete. 
This is a graphical Rubicon, and someone has to cross it. In a perfect world, the client will come around eventually, dive in and dog-paddle to the more modern side of the river. However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, the positive good feelings of remembered success overpowers the reality of the current situation (i.e. the company was floundering, their look was dated and unappealing, and their share of the market pie had dwindled to nearly nothing). The whole purpose of a new logo, after all, was to help steer the company into a new era of good results. 
The underlying truth is that designers--good ones--aren’t simply commercial artists, they are guides to new ideas and ways of seeing a business. That’s not to say a designer is a marketer (that’s one of my pet professional peeves), but a designer can help set the look and feel of a marketing initiative. The first marketers were psychologists, after all, and art itself is an exploration of human perception and the representation of reality via an abstraction. (All art is an abstraction of reality, even “realism,” which is one artist’s view of what looks “real.”) The art of design and advertising is not in the actual ART but in how to represent the almost organic complexity of a company in a small, fairly simple symbol. It’s a tough job, in many ways as compact and precise as poetry, but as experimental as science. 
(So, what happened with this client? That’s the next blog...)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Great Branding Disaster

I originally titled this “The Great Logo Disaster” because that is how the story started. However, as the story unfolded (unravelled?) it became clear that the logo was only the starting point for a line of mistakes that ultimately might be costly.
We are working on a political campaign (by “we,” I mean BackBurner Marketing, my creative marketing consulting company) here in Florida. We were brought on to handle the candidate’s image marketing issues--logo/signage/website development, message/platform structuring and development, public and media relations, copywriting for op-eds, speeches, etc. Before we came on scene, this was all handled ad hoc by a group of well-meaning volunteers who have a lot of energy and enthusiasm but virtually no experience in real-world marketing, and certainly not in the  kind of concentrated branding that is an election campaign. 
A political campaign is really brand development on steroids. The market lifespan is very short, the product development period is even shorter. As a marketer, you have to quickly evaluate your candidate--a.k.a. the product--and develop a positioning strategy vis-a-vis the other candidates and the issues the voters care about (a.k.a. the marketplace). 
While there are a lot of nuances that are unique to political campaigns, the truth is that campaign marketing is really not all that different from any other kind of product marketing. You are selling the embodiment of the job in the form of a person. In effect, you are selling a metaphor: Joe Politician is the very picture of the perfect Councilman. 
We got in the game late. It is kind of like being hired to coach a football team just before mid-season with only a few players able to take the field. You can try, but it’s an uphill battle. But, we jumped in and developed a decent campaign logo, backed by a lot of visual psychology and symbolism. Next, we hammered out a slogan that resonated with the campaign staff, the candidate and brought good reactions from audiences. We designed business cards, flyers, handouts, door hangers, signage, and a website. We redefined some of the candidate’s platform to align him better with the large and powerful senior citizen’s bloc (it is Florida, remember). All was going well...right?
Well, no. There was some in-fighting among the inner circle of volunteers as to who would be the campaign manager. As a consulting company, we stayed out of it, but cautioned the candidate that it was critical that there be management of his image materials so that his “brand” would grow in stature and become as much of a household name as possible before the primary. We offered to manage this aspect of the campaign but didn’t want to handle the volunteers and events since that was already under the purview of several of the battling factions. 
The great elevator dropping feeling came when someone emailed that campaign signage was ready for pickup. “Huh?” we said back in the office. No one remembered sending the sign design to the printer, and the roughs that had been approved were kind of low-res for that sort of application. After a few emails, it was learned that the sign design was actually NOT the approved design but one that was a home-spun back-of-napkin doodle that was in use when we came on the scene. Two-thousand signs will dot the local landscape, all with the wrong colors, wrong typeface, wrong logo, wrong EVERYTHING! They will contrast with the website, door hangers, business cards...well, you get the idea. 
“Oh, crap,” we said. 
Worse still, another email arrived just as we figured out the sign disaster. The two giant vinyl-clad busses that the campaign had been donated were out on the streets with yet ANOTHER logo and signage design. 
“Oh, crap,” we said again. That was our slogan for the day.
And here is where anyone in marketing and advertising sees all the nightmares from his past crawl out from under the bed. As in any organization, a campaign is a mish-mash of personalities and agendas. If you’ve ever worked in or with a large corporation (or, worse still, a major university), you know that not only are there a hundred opinions on how to do things but there are also active coalitions of persons determined to destroy the work you’ve done in favor of their own anecdotally-proven superior ideas. It’s an old story. 
This is why, as consultants, we do our best to get our clients to allow us to MANAGE their identities. Let us handle the cards, the signage, the website, and then we will give you a guidebook as to how to use the logo. Pretty simple in concept, but, as we all know, once the controlling body is out of view all hell breaks loose and suddenly the logo changes colors, appears upside down and backwards on stationary, and a new mascot appears that looks remarkably like someone in one of the evil coalitions hand-drawn doodle that was rejected months earlier. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
So, how did this happen in our story? It turns out that the original design for the logo that was rejected was created by a local sign company. The vehicles that were donated for publicity were given by the brother of the sign guy. The sign guy decided to stick his own logo design on the busses despite there being a new and approved version in use.
What does it mean? I don’t know yet. In the best case, the voters will see a bunch of different signs and logos and remember the candidates name and, on election day, will go to the polls and vote the way they should (in our opinion, that is). Realistically, that’s not how it will play out. Those of us who have been in the identity biz for a while know that confusion in identity can lead to aversion by the buyer (voter, in this scenario). He or she will go for the product (candidate) with the strongest image, the most powerful brand identity. All our work will be for nothing. Sure, the candidate has a really good website and logo and stationary, but the overall image is damaged. Irreparably, as it happens, since the campaign cycle is so short. 
We can only hope that the slogan (which is not on the bus or signs, by the way) and the great op-eds and speeches will galvanize the voters into voting for our guy. He’s a great person, we think, and far more qualified for the job than his opponents. Sadly, the lack of a firm, hands-on control center for image-related issues allows less qualified candidates to use the very tools we are hired to implement--branding, identity marketing, consistency of message--to convince a not-so-discriminating public that quality is determined by image. 
But, to be honest, that’s what we sell, too, so I can’t really complain. In the end, the concepts we talk about prove to be true. I just wish I could talk about the major screw-up on the OTHER side of the fence...