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lower case branding & visual identity

Posted in Branding

Just so you know, it about pushed me over the edge to have a blog post title with no capitalization. Not even one letter. In other words, all minuscules, no majuscules. It doesn’t seem right – to me anyway, as a trademark type.

Just like the first letter in the first word of a sentence must be a capital letter, so must be the first letter of each substantive word in a title, so must be the first letter of a proper noun, and so must be at least the first letter of any brand name, or so I once thought.

Hello, adidas, at&t, intel, and citibank, among others:

   

As you may have inferred from a prior post of mine on the adidas brand (there, I did it), I’m having a hard time accepting the apparent trend toward lower case brand names and visual identities.

Make no mistake, this trend appears to be gaining steam, as evidenced by the numerous "before and after" re-brand comparisons found on UnderConsideration’s Brand New blog over the past year or so, including girl scouts, jcpenney, sears, arn, postnl, airtel, spilgames, coinstar, pur, virgin atlantic, travel channel, nickelodeon, pwc, meredith, hub, astraltcbytechnicolor, cometxfinity, belk, mapquest, and:

Although I’d like to invite and actually welcome the far more professional wisdom of our trusted visual identity brethren and other learned branding and marketing types, until then, I’m guessing this trend has at least something to do with wanting to position a brand as being friendlier, less stiff and formal, more accessible, kinder, and gentler, etc. Perhaps a visual identity more likely to create a stronger emotional bond and connection between the brand and its consumers?

   

Perhaps the trend is explained by the visual equivalent of what I previously wrote about in Exposing Two-Faced Brands, the trend toward brand name truncation, and what Susan and I wrote together about in a second article about Exposing Two Faced Brands. Basically, The Shack has more emotional potential than Radio Shack, and The Hut is more connecting than Pizza Hut, and Chuck is more personable than Charles Schwab

Having said that, it is worth noting that some visual identity changes and re-branding efforts appear to have accomplished a friendlier approach by moving from all cap type styles to leading cap styles, but they don’t go all the way to an all lower case style:

And, for what ever reason, a few appear to be heading back in the opposite direction from their lower case roots:

What if the following brands were to migrate from an all capital letter visual identity to an all lower case format?

    

Some might be concerned about having an all lower case visual identity encourage genericide. As you may recall, Kleenex has engaged in consumer education advertising to discourage genericide. And, I suspect this campaign was inspired by the famous Xerox campaign to avoid genericide: "When you use ‘xerox’ the way you use ‘aspirin,’ we get a headache."

Indeed, all lower case news and media references are often relied upon by litigation adversaries hoping to prove the generic nature of their opponent’s federally-registered trademark.

To the extent this is a valid concern, was the Xerox brand’s movement to an all lower-case style a wise one?

What are your thoughts on this all-lower-case visual identity and branding trend?

UPDATE:

  

             

  • http://www.twitter.com/DebbieLaskeyMBA Debbie Laskey, MBA

    Interesting post, Steve. I agree that a possible reason behind lower case branding and visual titles may be to make the brands and their companies appear more friendly, but I am not sure that this strategy works. Consider how all capital letters look in Band-Aid’s and Jello’s logos – they look friendly to me. Perhaps, the lower case vs. capital letter debate really depends on the company behind the brands and the product or service being branded.

  • chris

    My first thought is that “SAXX” is NOT a good name for an underwear company! Just saying….

  • http://www.identityworks.com Tony Spaeth

    Steve, let’s agree that names and logos (even when they are wordmarks) are different, for good reasons. Names in logo form are really pictures, not words, and it’s perfectly okay to lower-case them; indeed it’s one way to say “this is our logo, not just our name.” In text, however, first-letter capitalization says “this is a name, not just a word.
    Companies like addidas, bpost and smart GMBH pretend to be special at our expense; and while they inconvenience the rest of us, they also trivialize themselves. More on this at http://www.identityworks.com/forum/identity-strategy/how-not-to-punctuate-corporate-names/#more-405

  • Steve Baird

    Tony, great comment, thanks for sharing — and thanks for the link to your prior writing on the subject, it is right on point.
    Debbie, thanks for your sharing your insights too. I’m not sure I done writing about this subject, we’ll see.
    Chris, thanks for the does of levity . . .

  • http://www.linkedin.com/pub/msa-gaxo/1a/a37/94a Msa Gaxo

    This should be discouraged because a trade mark should be used in a manner that distinguishes it from other common words, eg, in capital letters. The aim should always be to maintain its distinctiveness. Incorrect use increases the chances of a mark losing distinctiveness.

  • Martha Engel

    Interesting article, with great examples.
    I think the strategy is what’s more visually appealing? Depending on the font and word, all lower case or all capital letters allows for an evenness to the height of the word mark. The technical term for this is unfortunately escaping me right now. Constant body height?
    As shown particularly in your comparative examples, it is visually more appealing for the letters to all be the same height. For example, xerox vs. Xerox. If you look at some of the examples where you compared two versions of the same mark, the differences are first and foremost a font choice, rather than a change in caps style.
    To Msa Gaxo’s point, yes trademarks should be distinguishable from other common words. In text, they certainly should use some capital letters. The examples provided in the article use the word mark in lower case letters with a design element.

  • Cim

    I’m glad someone is writing about this trend. I don’t like it.
    I find it to generally be disingenuous and insulting to not only good taste but also the average consumer’s intelligence. It comes across as if the organization is trying to appear at my level, down low where the little guy is, not way up high where the indifferent faceless corporate giant lives.
    Our actual experiences with corporations such as Citibank, Pepsi and Wal-Mart are not at our level. They are not personal because the entity is an organization. They are not light and care-free as the lower case letters suggest. They are conglomerates in the business of making money with typically inflexible policies, procedures and practices.
    I remember the old Citibank logo and loved it. It was all caps, slightly italicized and meant business. It properly portrayed that this was a huge banking concern with credentials. A serious bank with a serious logo! This new thing they have suggests something of a light blue sky with fluffy clouds on a spring day. At least with the old identity, there was no posturing on what the business was really about.
    A business or a product can not be my friend like a real person could be. The relationship between a business and its customer should be considered with a degree of formality. Capitalization is how we convey formality in the written word in the English language.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/pub/joseph-dreitler/7/b81/363 Josephn Dreitler

    I guess my point is that at & t is not likely to ever again be such a monopoly to worry about genericide. Few brands are lucky enough to face that problem. I think it takes a lot more than using lower case to put a mark in jeopardy. Just not that many brands are unique and have a monopoly in market share. I have probably spent too much time with brand managers over the years :)

  • http://www.brandculturetalk.com Paul Burke

    Interesting post – wonder if anyone’s researched how different age groups, genders, cultures, etc. react to different types of letters?

  • http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/alfredo-violante/4/448/239 Alfredo Violante

    Great issue. As far as logo is concerned though I would break it down in sectors. For example in fashion you find the majority of brands use upper-cases, with some exceptions like Roberto Cavalli.
    More interesting was last decade widespread of lower-case use in taglines, titles and slogans. This is now changing. The latest trend for communication seems to be upper-case condensed text. See Nike to mention one.
    I put it down to social trends. Times are difficult and design is becoming more solid, minimal and severe.