Creating a new brand identity is not an easy feat, especially if that identity is made to represent an entire country, its culture and traditions. Australia’s latest rebranded national identity, which breaks from iconic symbols like that of the kangaroo, has sparked a lot of controversy. Some say this has resulted in the loss of the a true identity, while others are not sure what it’s supposed to replace. To help shed light on this confusion, Transform asked six brand agencies operating in Australia for their insight. SomeOne’s Creative Director, Tom Dabner was part of the conversation.
Originally published on 9th July, by Transform Magazine.
Upon typing the phrase ‘new Australia identity’ into a search engine, the arguments on Twitter and in newspaper comment sections told me that there is some confusion about what this new logo will replace.
It turns out that this is intended as the replacement for the little-known ‘Australia Unlimited’ overseas trade and investment brand (previously symbolised by a ‘two boomerangs’ logo), rather than for the long running, highly recognised and much-loved ‘Australia Made’ kangaroo logo, which is set to remain Australia’s trusted trademark for export products. Good news too, because that one is an iconic expression of everything the world sees Australia to be: a vast land of open spaces, friendly people, great food, high energy, sun, sea, surf, wildlife and more…
Yet this new ‘golden wattle’ logo is still intended as a trade emblem, so I sense that deep within the marketing department of Australian government, the thinking went something like this:
“Guys – Australia’s industrial exports have expanded – from agriculture into services, high tech and beyond. So our logo needs to change too!”
Indeed, as the tectonic plates of the world order continue to shift, and Australia finds itself in the middle of growing tensions between the West and its largest trade partner, I have sympathy with the Australia Unlimited team’s urgency to make a clean, swift break from any symbols of the nation (whether outdated or not) – to portray itself as a Global Citizen. So I can see why some might have thought it was time that the ‘two boomerangs’ were retired.
But as a result, the identity has gone from looking like a citizen of somewhere to looking like one of anywhere. A country of origin of global note, choosing to hide its origins. I say this as this new mark, intended to look like a dandelion head (surely not a uniquely Aussie icon?) does not – to me at least – connote any sense of place. My Australian friend Wayne, a veteran ad creative from Perth, puts it well: “Australia is blessed with so much that is unique about it, but the trouble is, people there forget that what is familiar to them, is fascinating to other people around the world”.
“Why gold? I can only speculate: The sun is golden, and gold’s chemical symbol is ‘AU’, the same letters as found in ‘Australia’. Which has a Gold Coast. Hence the slightly unnecessary ‘AU’ mark. A mark that also, with remarkably bad timing, looks like a gilded rendering of the coronavirus. This has not gone un-noticed by the ‘armchair quarterbacks’ online. So in its bid to mean more things to more people, this new identity has achieved the remarkable feat of diluting valuable ‘Australian’ brand equity while invoking a few negative associations instead. $10m well spent! At least the noise will die down – as people normally quickly get used to any new logo in the end.”
The actual design of the mark is nicely crafted at least, and the green word mark is in keeping with the national identity. So if this were the Logo Olympics judging panel; instead of a Gold, I’d give it a Bronze.
Australia’s new brand has missed the chance to reinvigorate and reinvent some iconic Ken Cato Kangas in favour of some insipid Coronavirus-looking wattles. To me this is less about disliking the design and more about the lament over scoring a significant strategic own goal. Like it or not Australia is defined by the kangaroo, as much as my home country of Canada is defined by the maple leaf, the UK the Union Jack, and New Zealand, the silver fern.
There is not only meaning and memorability in these symbols, but centuries of history. They have all doubled down on their symbolism to identify everything from national carriers to exported services, and utilise a very simple brand architecture. The only golden rules those who designed the new Australian brand should have followed are: less brands always means better brands, and that amplifying the attribution of a simple symbol is the best way to build clear county codes in a world cluttered with visual noise. There is certainly no ‘less is more’ philosophy in Australia’s new brand and nothing simple about a cluster of wattle branches which don’t translate into clear country codes.
Anything you do with country brand attracts lots of focus and usually criticism, for two main reasons: (1) disconnect between how Australians want to be seen and how target audiences identify us in brand terms, (2) misunderstanding of the role of brand vs marketing.
The goal to “grow beyond clichés about big nature and laconic characters” often leads us to gravitate to symbols we recognise but others don’t. The logo does not do the job of building new meaning into our brand. It’s there to be a distinctive, recognisable brand code – a cognitive shortcut to positive associations. New meaning is the job of campaigns, experiences, content and visible actions. New meaning will accumulate over time.
Changing the logo can trigger re-appraisal. But if the new mark can make immediate sense, then you’re building on your asset. This new brand does not.
“We are blessed with more internationally recognised visual assets that just about any other country. From the shape of the continent, to the roo, the koala, the Sydney Opera House and Indigenous visual culture, we have assets that can become brand codes quickly, because they already are. The roo is the best symbol for the brandmark job. And it can be re-expressed in a sophisticated way to trigger re-appraisal while maintaining recognition. Qantas does it well.”
The big job to be done is simplifying and aligning the brand architecture. In my view, there is one brand, several categories within which we compete (eg tourism, export, investment, talent), and innumerable sales pitches. A joined-up approach to branding will leverage established positive sentiment towards Australia, delivering a more unified and efficient approach across the diverse range of marketing challenges. This new brandmark continues the fragmentation.
Not being Australian myself, perhaps I shouldn’t be permitted too strong an opinion on the logo’s cultural and “pan-indigenous” relevance, the golden wattle feels like an appropriate symbol — it’s inherently Australian and breaks free of the kangaroo cliché the world has come to expect — yet I can’t help but feel the execution was considered, yet left lacking in craft, which is a real shame.
Reading the accompanying rationale and back story for how they (Clemenger BBDO) landed where they did; it’s a commendable approach. Partnering with Balarinji, an aboriginal–owned agency, to help conceptualise and create the brand makes sense and is a great step for our industry in representing the diversity of creatives in Australia. However, if a logo requires a 300 word accompanying spiel to get it’s many ‘symbolisms’ across, it’s not really doing it’s job.
It’s so easy to lay–into design work you didn’t do, we’re all guilty of it and nobody likes being on the receiving end — which this piece of work is if you read the global press. I’m not here to add fuel to that fire. But I will say, with so much incredible creative talent and a raft of globally respected brand agencies in Australia, it’s sad to see a project like this suffer from misguided committee steering. Especially as many of the ‘Advisory Council’ come from such strong Australian brands; Qantas, Telstra, Atlassian, Australia Post, Aesop…
With such experience to back this new look, it is disappointing that a brand representing Australia does not capture the dedication that has been poured into creating it.
Kangaroos. The map of Australia. The Nation’s Flag. The Southern Cross. Boomerangs. The same symbols of Australia can get tiring – and clearly Australia’s most influential leaders (and the 16,000 people in research) thought so too.
This brand is the informed hard work of hundreds of people and we should respect these efforts. A supportive and optimistic approach may be the better way forward for this discussion rather than just simply pointing fingers. If the goal was to create a truly “unifying nation brand”, one that would “shift perceptions of our nation”, I would argue that no logo can do that – so it’s pointless to focus on this alone.
With the amount of research and stakeholders involved, and the fear of doing something wrong, you do invariably end up in a safe space. It’s not about whether this is good or not, but more about why it is what it is, and the process that has led to this outcome. And wouldn’t it be great if our larger identity went deeper and we truly owned our history and First Nations heritage? That would be a true reflection of the ‘Only in Australia’ strategy. We only have to look at New Zealand to understand the power of a collective approach to nation branding. The silver fern has great significance to the Māori people, and references to it pervade every corner of NZ culture. It’s not a logo applied – it’s a true unifying idea that permeates into everything. Perhaps this design could be the start of a similar movement here in Australia?
Keeping work fresh whilst making an impact and working through complexities within the Government sector can be challenging—speaking from first hand experience.
Branding work related to a community let alone your country attracts a lot of scrutiny, attention and criticism often due to the disconnect between the real target audience and the community it represents.
What we have (and purely down to bad timing) is a mark that triggers anxiety within a market that we want people to feel confident in. This abstract wattle visual looks very similar to the now infamous Corona Virus symbol seen under a microscope and further it could also trigger people with trypophobia—an intense, irrational fear of small holes and clusters of circles and bumps, such as those in a honeycomb, lotus flower or bubble bath. The sense of disconnect is further emphasised by using a taller condensed font for the ‘AU’ cluster and another broader font for the Australia wordmark. When placed side-by-side these two typography elements feel unrelated.
A logo on its own does not do the job of storytelling and creating an experience, it is the application and engagement of the branding that channels this. Unfortunately from what I have seen of the new branding it doesn’t offer the opportunities that a logo should which is to create a unique and memorable mark that will represent Australia’s identity and create an opportunity for a platform.
That said, at the moment, I feel like this is a missed opportunity.