Archive for ‘Branding’ Category

Re-branding, Re-naming, and Re-thinking the Whole Thing!

Posted by Robert Weitz on July 12, 2011 4:05 PM

Let’s begin with the image of a barefoot cobbler. Our last re-brand/re-think/refresh was over 7 years ago! In cyber years, 7 years equals: 2 years of heroism, publication and intense traffic, 2 years of “wow nice site!” and 3 years of excuses!


Well, after a couple years of overdrive where we put all of our extra energy trying to help our clients deal with the realities of the financial downturn, we have finally turned our attention to our own needs. We designed a new website (to be launched soon) that looks great on any device or browser, and we have to the joy of everyone around FS, renamed and refocused our blog!

Our old name PROUN 21, while exciting to me, is hard to pronounce, spell, and when we explain what it means, people remain even more perplexed, lost and uninterested.

Here is a perfect case of a name chosen by a company head (me), that is close to his (my) heart, but says nothing to my readers!!! PROUN 21 is what I call a brand pooper, or a brand choice that was a total failure from the get-go.

So all the why the self-flagellation?

I am a brand-maker. I see companies do this all the time, and it is my job to explain that when it comes to names, logos or language of any kind, the most important thing is that it’s easy to remember and it’s meaningful to your specific audience or market—not what is meaningful to the CEO.

That doesn’t mean that the two don’t align, and in fact, some CEOs are so enlightened and in tune with their customers that they know exactly what they want and how they want it. (See Apple, Google, Amazon and Zappos)

But visionary leaders of the world be warned: There are a handful of companies that have leaders that truly understand their customers. The rest of us had better listen when our fellow workers, partners, and friends can’t pronounce or figure out the name we chose for our pet projects! I, for one, have seen the error of my ways and am ready to accept humble pie and rename this blog to The Brand Wash!!!

Is it easy to remember? Yes. Meaningful? Absolutely!

Defining or discussing brand is like discussing the idea of family. There is an idea of something we call family, but that concept is something that is very different, depending on many factors.

The Brand Wash will be a place where we point out, discuss or chortle about things that relate to brands and branding with some art, architecture, and design ideas randomly thrown in to the mix as we notice them and find them interesting or provocative.

A Sign of Change – SunAmerica Wipes the AIG From Its Face!

Posted by Robert Weitz on May 5, 2009 10:48 AM

More changes in our neighborhood! The AIG SunAmerica sign that looked so very temporary to brand designers like ourselves has come down! The change has come, and now the tacky temporary sign that represented billions and billions of dollars is down. So, what’s next?

AIG SunAmerica

As we watch old established structures crumble, we inevitably wonder: What’s going to fill the void? The jokes have been flying around our studio—what three letters should take its place? IOU? PIG?

If you have any ideas, let us know and we’ll use our digital magic to add our favorite to a future post!

AIG SunAmerica – The brand identity tells the story

Posted by Robert Weitz on March 12, 2009 1:28 PM

I have learned all of my best lessons on the meaning and importance of “brand” from my clients. One of our earliest clients, Mike Katz, CEO of ICE Inc., and I were cruising around the Santa Monica Promenade one day looking for something “unusual” to snack on.

The two of us have spent hundreds of hours cruising around looking for snacks since the time we met traveling in Europe. Mike is particularly great at this pursuit since his early career included having opened, managed and cooked in some of San Francisco’s finest restaurants.

Snacking with Mike usually starts with the hunt and rarely ends in disappointment. The reason is that, between the two of us, we have a great sense of what is good, and how that manifests itself in the look and feel, the smell and the general vibe of the restaurant.

As we started winding down a few of the hidden little side streets that flow into the more touristy Promenade, we noticed an Egyptian restaurant. Our immediate reaction was “Wow, Egyptian food!” Within seconds, however, Mike was shaking his head. “Look at the sign,” he said sadly, “it’s crooked and dirty… I can only imagine how filthy the kitchen is if that’s how they keep their sign.”

AIG SunAmerica

When SunAmerica merged with AIG in 1998, somebody scabbed a lightbox-style sign (think laundry, fast food and used cars) onto the SunAmerica building in Century City, which is visible from my studio. The original SunAmerica logo and sign is well-crafted and suited to the modern tower they are bolted to. I always thought that the AIG part was a temporary fix, since the sign is dull, oftentimes looks dirty, is in a different style, and not even attached on the same plane.

Without any due diligence or knowing anything about the company, I could tell you that something was not right. Here is a sign that tops off a tower that can be seen for miles around, and it screams impermanence, shoddy branding and lack of interest in public perception.

The sign speaks eons about a corporate culture more interested in opulent internal incentive programs, exotic investments and executive payouts than a long-term relationship with their customers and shareholders. Why spend a couple of thousand dollars on a sign that tells everyone that our company plans to be around for a while and is proud to be an established business with long-term objectives?

If the brand is a herald that represents the attitude and standing of a company, AIG SunAmerica’s tacky, ill-conceived sign teaches us a lot about their attitude, culture and how much they care about what the public thinks.

MUJI Invades America

Posted by Dylan Tran on February 9, 2009 2:16 PM

It’s ironic that in brand-obsessed Japan, one of the most popular brands is MUJI (short for Mujirushi Ryohin). What began in Tokyo over 25 years ago as a simple concept to create “no-brand quality products,” has now transformed into a global empire with over hundreds of stores in Asia and Europe.

Up until now, MUJI products, which include stationery, housewares, clothing, and toiletries, were only available in the U.S. through select museum stores such as the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. But in the last year, MUJI has finally invaded America, opening three retail stores in NY (SoHo, Times Square, Chelsea) with plans for many more locations nationwide.

I’m excited about this because MUJI products have long epitomized modern simplicity and functionality. MUJI pays attention to the smallest of details for the most basic of necessities. Take this aluminum card case, for example, which is elegant and minimalist in its design. The lines are sleek and clean; the materials are beautiful and lightweight. And it works amazingly well.

MUJI card case

Notice there’s no MUJI logo on the product? You won’t find it on any of their 7,000 items. That’s because the genius of MUJI is that the design is the brand. The aesthetic is so unique you won’t have trouble identifying any of their products.

MUJI has also set themselves apart by simplifying the packaging. Most items come in a plain plastic wrap to let you see what you get. There’s no printing, just the price sticker. And they’ve streamlined the manufacturing process in other ways as well, reducing waste and improving efficiency. They use earth-friendly natural and recycled materials in their products. Check out these foldable cardboard speakers, for instance.

MUJI speakers

All of these smart strategies have helped to keep MUJI’s prices low and affordable, and to garner them a devoted legion of fans worldwide. By emphasizing innovative design and high quality as the standard for their “no-brand,” they’ve managed to distinguish their products in a crowded marketplace. And that’s something we can all learn from.

FashionProp – One Revolutionary Style That Fits All

Posted by Robert Weitz on January 14, 2009 3:12 PM

There’s a great article by Eric Wilson in NYT Fashion & Style: Consumers of the World Unite. Saks Fifth Avenue apparently hired the brilliant Shepard Fairey (of Obama poster fame) to design their spring marketing campaign. Read the NYT article for an in-depth background, but what interests me is the complicated story this campaign really tells.

In the 21st century, we have tremendous direct access to information and media that covers territory both deep and wide. For instance, when I was an architecture student, the term Russian Constructivism was barely popping its head up in journals like Oppositions or Skyline, and you could sometimes find a book on the subject in the back of a used bookstore.

We share Shepard Fairey’s love of the Constructivist design language, and are awed by his deft handling of this easy-to-blow compositional style. But let’s take a step back from its compositional excellence and graphic power and talk about its cultural significance.


The visual language Fairey is paying homage to was that of Russian artist Aleksander Mikhailovich Rodchenko. The group of artists that Rodchenko was associated with, the Suprematists and later the Constructivists, sought to create a radically new art for the Russian Revolution.

OK, this was not about raising your fist up high for better stitching on Prada bags. Russia was in the midst of tremendous social upheaval, war and starvation. The mechanisms of state and culture had to be re-invented to help save everyone from chaos and disillusion. The Constructivists set out to educate miserably poor, war-torn, illiterate peasants about socialism and the Russian Revolution…so they would feel more comfortable about sacrificing all their worldly possessions and moving to a Siberian hog farm.

As an interesting aside, the visual language of the Constructivists is a great example of a “media” look and feel growing out of the technology and funds available. With an audience that could not read, the Constructivists’ media of choice was graphic posters. Also, certain inexpensive inks and papers were chosen for their costs. Rest assured that the Soviet department stores of Rodchenko’s post-revolutionary Russia looked nothing like Saks Fifth Avenue. The “I Want” of Rodchenko’s time would’ve been something like: I want a half a bowl of half-frozen Kasha and two left-footed army boots so I can make it through the winter without starving or getting frostbite.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the work – but when I saw it, I had severe “irony pains.” The narrative is somehow askew…there’s this lady shaking her fist demanding the goods Saks Fifth Avenue offers…and she looks proletarian (if you will) and pissed off… or may just be cold-hearted. There is a sign that says “Arm Yourself,” which is softened by a cutesy: “With a Slouchy Bag.”


So, what’s the message here? Something in the narrative is amiss. By the way, I also wonder about the socio-political sensitivity since a large number of luxury shoppers last year came from abroad looking for bargains. Does your brand benefit from a narrative calling for a vigilant armed response to the lack of cashmere in our lives?

I mean there are great parallels between our time period and the early part of the 20th century and I’m fine with co-opting the language and drastically altering the meaning, but the end result is dripping with irony in the face of a deepening recession and decline in luxury retail sales.

All Your ‘Blands’ Belong To Us

Posted by Dylan Tran on January 10, 2009 11:15 AM

Bucksstar Coffee? Pizza Huh? No, your eyes are not fooling you: it’s the new Chinese shopping center in Nanjing featuring all fake brands.

Other brand imposters (or what I like to call “blands”) include McDnoald’s and Adidos. Un-brand-conscious shoppers may have a hard time knowing which to put on their feet and which to put in their mouths.

Seriously, though, the mall has predictably caused quite an outrage, not only amongst intellectual property rights owners, but also shoppers who feel they’ve been ripped off.

Read more about the controversy here.


Tools for Living – New Store Opening

Posted by Robert Weitz on January 2, 2009 1:07 PM

Much of the rhetoric of the early modern movement centered around better ways to do things through technology. California architect Richard Neutra designed the Lovell House, Le Corbusier made films showing him and his friends exercising on their roof gardens and everyone proclaimed modernism to be slicker, more healthy and more convenient than the old, dusty, dark houses of yore.

The term “Modern Living” came to mean clean, sophisticated and bourgeois – conjuring a scene from a vintage Julius Shulman photograph of a Los Angeles-cantilevered home filled with Knoll furnishings and long elegant fashion models.

FS really admires the Scandinavian designers who took the concept of modern living to the nth degree, designing an infinite variety of everyday objects using a singular modern vocabulary of high craft, utility and simple elegant geometries.

While the theorists and designers of the early 20th century fantasized that “everyman” would embrace modern, industrial design, “everyman” never could quite put a Barcelona chair in their rumpus room or festoon the dining room with a vintage Saarinen. Modern designs done in steel, glass and plastic are most cost effective when mass produced since the set up cost is quite prohibitive.

It’s no wonder that modern design appealed to the corporate, wealthy bohemians who live in John Lautner homes in Bel Air. In fact, prior to Design Within Reach’s arrival in 1999 it was hard for “everyman and everywoman” to walk out on the street and buy a fine piece of early 20th century furniture.

DWR has done an amazing job of combining au courant mass marketing and edu-evangelizing to invigorate a new market for modern furniture, and as a side effect, they have helped revive a tremendous interest in modern design and architecture.

FS jumped at the opportunity to visit the LA roll out and opening to DWR’s new line of “Tools for Living” recently. They served champagne and chocolates; a lot of serious but tipsy art/design mavens paraded around, and I got the impression that there was delight in the air. The delight got thicker when the 98-year-old architectural photographer Julius Shulman appeared to sign his new TASCHEN-published books.

schulman at tools for living

The aesthetic of the collection is all over the place. And they all seemed to fit in a MOMA store kind of merchandizing. It was kind of strange to see the drippingly elegant Cedar Sake Set that was reminiscent of both Shaker and Japanese craft genius in the same collection as the clunky, funky Louise Nevelson-esque Can Opener, but somehow both share a visual literacy and intelligence that behooves a 21st century gift store.

tools for living

Tools for Living is a really good smart move for DWR in the face of economic downturn because they will be able to spread their brand and sensibility around without have to close a sale on say, a $3000 credenza. It’s a great way for modern fetishists to pick up a little something that will hold them down until they are ready to go for a Corbusier Chaise Longue!