Posts Tagged ‘Branding’

The Truth about the Truth

Posted by Robert Weitz on July 14, 2014 8:00 AM

Brand experts tout authenticity, great story telling and the importance of staying true to your brand’s promise. How do we accomplish being authentic in a commercial environment that is crowded with conflicting promises and ephemeral truths? Manufacturers all promise impeccable quality, politicians promise lofty attainments, and food companies promise gratification. But all of our tastes are different and we’re all moved by different cultural symbols, style and media. We all have our own truths when it comes to our emotions, and emotions drive brands.


Brand strategists and marketers address this issue by focusing on well-defined market segments. To a marketer, “the truth” is defined by the tastes and values of your customers. A brand should be a cultural leader, and for the first time brands are hearing from their community 24 hours a day, everyday. The best brands create a kind of Jobsian “reality distortion field” that sets the tone for a culture formed by the tastes of  your community. Each brand creates an argument for their own existence, and if they can get a buy-in from their community, the whole formula works.

Objective truth is a fleeting butterfly influenced by a point of view, state of mind and predisposition. The truths of branding are consensual, collaborative and community-based. In highly competitive or exclusive markets, brand leaders need to clearly communicate their value, while working with their customers to define the relative truths of the marketplace.

Startups Need Brands Too!

Posted by Robert Weitz on June 4, 2014 9:58 AM

As a partner at Fahrenheit Studio, I have worked with a number of companies who are in transition. Most of our clients have been around and are looking to improve how they are perceived. They’re interested in boosting sales or making their company more attractive to a prospective partner, investor or buyer. Startups today, on the other hand, often shun branding as an ancillary expense reserved only for the well-funded or profitable ventures.

In today’s “shark tank” environment, startups are vying for investment capital, recognition and credibility in crowded, muddy waters. But if they all use the same sales pitch, $300 logos and website templates, it becomes a blur to their audience or potential investors. Your idea might be revolutionary, but if you aren’t noticed and you don’t seem any different from other entrepreneurs, why should anyone care?


Galileo Galilei is commonly credited for inventing the telescope, but he did not. Ever heard of Hans Lipperhey? He did invent the telescope, but Galileo was a great orator and went in front of the Venetian senate to explain how the telescope could be used to connect with incoming trade ships and be used by the navy for defense. Galileo told the telescope’s story and showed everyone how it was relevant.

If you want to be noticed, you will have to tell a story and project an image that stands out and resonates with your market or potential investors. Branding offers startups an edge that will help you get noticed and convince people that you have credibility and that you’re an important and valuable venture.

Brands That Try Harder

Posted by Robert Weitz on January 28, 2013 3:48 PM

Just as the perfect marketing system can illuminate brands that are worthy of your trust, they can also convince you to buy something that is not trustworthy.

The snazzy slogans, white-cloaked scientific experts, and the phony “proof” that elevated brands into the upper spheres of our trust no longer works, and listing irrelevant benefits doesn’t fool anyone in the post-Google information age.

Red Bull Bus

We are more sophisticated. If someone tells us that Wonder Bread “Builds Bodies in 12 Ways”, most of us know that other breads build bodies in millions of ways and the tagline is meaningless. There are so many brands, and such a limited range of language that is compliant and appropriate for advertisers to use that listing benefits or trashing your competitors is for the most part completely ineffective.

So how does a brand wow and capture the hearts of consumers when their products have iffy or negative value? Sure, energy drinks, cigarettes, and junk food have their benefits and provide us with a jolt or momentary satisfaction, but the main thing we get out of buying into one of these brands is a sense of belonging. That is why companies that make addictive consumables put so much muscle into brand building.

Red Bull Bus




Red Bull, Coke, Pepsi all promise belonging. They build a lavish culture that makes you feel part of something huge. Massive trucks, hot sexy people, memorable music and characters along with celebrity connections can be had by simply buying a 6-pack of bubbly black sugar water and caffeine. There is a good body of evidence to be considered that links excessive consumption of sugary caffeine drinks to a plethora of health issues including obesity. It’s ironic that while the brands promise belonging when you consume lots of their beverage, you will most likely become fat and be marginalized.

Not that this kind of branding is completely negative—it provides an intricate, elaborate, and imaginative cultural backdrop for musical talent, artists and bus painters (and might even help provide some culture where there would be none). But do we want Red Bull, Coke, and Pepsi telling our kids they need to drink sugar water to be part of something? And do we want that something to be bad for their health?

So – Where Do We Begin?

Posted by Robert Weitz on May 29, 2012 9:45 AM

The two questions that haunts every human endeavor is “Where do I begin?” and “Where do I end?” When do I choose to disrupt and impose my will on a situation, and when do I back off and let nature take its course? The boundaries constraining beginnings and endings, while sometimes very clear, can more often be a source of great pain and dissention.

I had a beautiful moment some years back when I ran into a brilliant, self-doubting environmental reconstruction professional. I wanted to visit the Seven Sacred Pools at the end of the Hana Highway on Maui. Dylan and I braved violent weather like they hadn’t seen in 27 years that included hail and washed-out roads. We arrived at the Seven Sacred Pools at 9am.

We were the only visitors around, and a guy who looked like Willie Nelson in a park ranger’s outfit approached us. After some chatting that got serious and deep quick, he offered to take us to see the Seven Sacred Pools. About halfway down the trail, we realized that he needed someone to philosophize with and was relieved to have bright people to unload his woes. He was responsible for the oversight of the restoration of the Seven Sacred Pools. He had been since his service in Vietnam, and had received a PhD in biology, specializing in environmental reconstruction. What was getting him was “Where do I begin?” and “Where do I end?”.

He explained that while the Seven Sacred Pools was, in his opinion, a great success, he pointed to other projects he directed that caused ruination. These included protecting an endangered local deer that eventually defoliated a large swath because they no longer had the right mix of predation and survival. He saw the Seven Sacred Pools as a metaphor for a question that will have to be asked all over the planet. During the initial survey of the pre-existing conditions, they found out that the immigrant Polynesians had altered the Pools, and that those interlopers had planted a lot of the current foliage some 400 years earlier. So, what should they be restoring the Pools back to?

With brands, this gets wildly complex—Where do I begin? Where do I end? I have done brands for startups, makeovers for established brands, and brand extensions for new products and services. Today’s brands are often complex, multilayered and interdependent, so change is expensive.

Communication systems, social networking and advertising are getting more powerful, and companies are finding that they have to adjust their entire branding program to accommodate a technology that has quickly dominated their sector. If there’s a platform like Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook or Twitter that has been adopted by most users in your industry, you may be forced to adapt your entire way of expressing your brand so that you look best on that platform.

Your logo identity, the story that you tell, and the image you choose to represent your company may not be right for the kind of media that’s in the marketplace. While it looked great in print, it may be horrible for new media applications. Also, your technical back-end might be old and poorly integrated. A brand that wants to exude confidence and trustworthiness must be consistent at every touch.

As we all know, there are situations where we can do a few minor adjustments and greatly improve a forest, a home or a brand. But there are also situations where getting rid of the old and ushering in a revolution makes sense. Most situations require a careful mixture of destroying and building. Patching will often result in loss of brand equity, while careful crafting and planning are what it takes to create a healthy brand and keep it alive.

A Brand is a Very Emotional Thing

Posted by Robert Weitz on November 17, 2011 8:15 AM

Logos are a very important part of building a living brand. They are too easy to do for beginners, and too difficult for masters! They are completely misunderstood by most people, and they have the power to drive countries to war, inspire immense humanity or great irony. Put the wrong 2 symbols together and one might become so offended that they take physical action to remedy the situation!

So much emotion and storytelling can be packed into a logo that just by seeing it, we are willing to trust our lives, fortunes or happiness when they are present. Some logo symbols like the red cross are so powerful that they allow a vehicle to enter a hot war zone and not be blown to pieces. What is it about these singular symbols that evoke such emotion, and commands such attention, that it will sometimes weigh more than a life or a country’s well-being?

First let’s talk about form, and then let’s talk about how the owner of the symbol sees it, and how the user sees the same symbol. If they align you have success, if they don’t you have symbols that are meaningless, convey the wrong things, or out and out lie! Having designed many, many corporate and personal logo identities, I have seen the thought process people try to go through and all of the potentially bad moves and silly assumptions. So here are some of my observations:

  1. The back-story means little or nothing to the consumer/user.
  2. The most important thing is that the logo is clear, easy to understand, and looks good in every media it will appear in/on.
  3. Forget about the owner’s favorite colors, fonts, animals, or that he/she likes turnip shapes. What is important is that the brand and logo identity touches and connects with the intended audience.

There are back-stories to the symbols we anoint to stand for our ideas, but they are either post-rationalizations or often opaque to the everyday follower or customer. The weakest logo designs try to tell the story directly, while the most powerful stand for great stories.

They allow us to condense our understanding of  a story into a tiny compressed form. That’s why these symbols and logos are so powerful. Symbols and logo identities that try to explicitly tell a story can work, but the story is rarely evident or interesting to the user. The symbol is an efficient, compact way of storing the feeling people have about you in general. So, when companies like Toyota have reputation failures, the symbol that stood for safety and reliability becomes sadly ironic, and all that story works against them.

I’ll leave you with a sobering thought: If we mix any of the above logos and symbols in an insensitive way, we could evoke emotions that would drive people to kill and destroy, or at least sue or prosecute. Conversely, the right combination of symbols or logos could result in peace and reconciliation, or great commercial success. In future postings, I will go into some of my ideas about the power, mystery, humanity and usefulness of logo identities and how they work, don’t work, or act silly and spoil everything!


Fahrenheit Studio Launches New Site

Posted by Robert Weitz on August 18, 2011 3:49 PM

In 1996, one year after Dylan Tran & I started Fahrenheit Studio, we designed our first website for Inscape for a game called Ravage. At the time, most websites had blue type, no pictures, and certainly no animation! Ravage, on the other hand, used 3D imagery, had some well-placed animation, and felt more like an environment than a spreadsheet.

Many, many websites and brands later, we are still leading the way with the 4th generation launch of our own website at

Each generation from 1996-2004 seemed to grow in format size, richness, animation, and sound. But this time, something has changed. It has neither gotten larger or smaller—it can now be any size you want it to be. Thanks to HTML5 and responsive design, it’s one site that adapts to any device. Got an iPhone, iPad, desktop, laptop, or large screen TV? It all fits.

Please check out the new website and let us know what you think.

Tagging – Two Cultures Scribble Their Hopes + Wishes

Posted by Robert Weitz on August 9, 2011 1:06 PM

I popped downtown to take one more look at MOCA’s “Art In The Streets” show before it closed. It seemed that every artist, tagger, curioista and his sister decided to catch a final last minute look at the exquisitely scrawled installations by the master taggers turned sophisticated artists of the early 80′s.

Scrawling on walls, hanging scribbles and banners in the landscape goes back to the beginning of recorded history. In fact, the first scribble marked the beginning of recorded history! We do it carefully, we do it wistfully, we do it in anger (“Eat the rich” and “Down with Gaddafi”), and we express our hopes and aspirations.

So, I was delighted to bump into another expression of our instinct to scribble—Tanabata, also known as the “star festival,” was being celebrated in Little Tokyo (LA), and I had to walk through the main plaza to get to MOCA.

Hanging on specific trees were notes expressing people’s wishes: Wishes for jobs, wishes for things, and wishes for health, love and happiness. Some were obviously written by children and they evoked the same impulse to scrawl and scribble that the ancient cave paintings and our lovely street art does!

Godd Is In The Dettails – Kunming Retailer Trashes Apple Brand

Posted by Robert Weitz on July 21, 2011 10:33 PM

I could not resist the urge to discuss this story in BirdAbroad’s blog. BirdAbroad takes us to an “Apple Store” in Kunming, China, that is a fake!

Apple Store

The reason I could not resist is that comparing the real Apple brand to the fake Apple brand is a great way to demonstrate the importance of things like quality control, consistency, honesty and legitimacy in the making of a great world-renowned brand. The reason we brand merchandise and services is that we either want to clue people to the quality of our products or, in this case, deceive people about the quality and trustworthiness of fakes! Wanna buy a Rolex cheap? Or is this an authentic Gucci handbag replica?

The problem is that the real Apple, Rolex or Gucci makes a promise and keeps it, while the fake is a lie and cannot live up to the high standard of people who really care about their long-term relationship with customers. The real Apple store cares about quality control, consistency, integrity and honesty because they want to keep you involved with their brand for life, while the fake Apple store wants your money and is willing to fake an entire brand to get it. The reason this is such an interesting job of fakery is that it is like the joke: A con man goes into a store in a remote rural part of the U.S. and tries to pass some $18 bill. The clerk in the store agrees to break his $18 bill, asking him if he wants three $6 or two $9!

While there are so many blatant errors in the counterfeit Apple Store, the glaring examples underline many of the mistakes companies make in the design, execution and oversight of their brands:

  • A brand promise that is impossible to fulfill.
  • Inconsistent graphics, colors and material choices.
  • Poor execution: graphic no-nos abound to the designer. The public will just sense the place is a little crappier and less organized and beautiful.
  • Horrible quality control: Spelling (obviously not a dealbreaker in China), look and feel, peeling paint, wanky staircases are so not Apple!!!
  • Fraud and trademark infringement: While this is obvious, we have witnessed a devil-may-care attitude in marketing that results in brand confusion, search engine ambiguity and lawsuits.

The Apple, Rolex and Gucci brands are what they are because of a fanatical effort that goes into every aspect of their company and the way they present themselves. While Apple, Rolex and Gucci are the real thing, this fake Apple Store is a “paper tiger.” It has stripes and a tail, but you can stick your hand right through it.

Carmageddon – Conjuring Hell Works

Posted by Robert Weitz on July 17, 2011 4:37 PM

On July 15, 2011, Los Angeles avoided a nightmare of urban congestion, scaring the hell out of the local residents by resurrecting a classic brand that, among other things, conjures an image of the city in a state of automotive hell. The Carmageddon brand seems to have originated with a video game.

Carmageddon is the first of a series of graphically violent vehicular combat video games produced by Stainless Games, published by Interplay and SCi. It was inspired by the 1975 cult classic movie Death Race 2000.” – Wikipedia

Of course, many of us have never heard of this gruesome, post-apocalyptic crash fantasia, but the name itself is ominous and spot on. Any one of us can easily imagine traffic meltdowns on a biblical scale given a minor cataclysm or stoppage anywhere along L.A.’s vast freeway system. Certainly I can imagine utter chaos if, in fact, there were no rules or regulations governing our roads and highways.

By conjuring up an image of absolute hell, the foreboding name Carmageddon may have been enough to inspire Los Angelenos to stay home, or if they couldn’t handle not driving, get out of town. The result was that Los Angeles was a heavenly place to be – light traffic, less noise, less pollution and the weather was so mellow that most of us forgot about hell or traffic and just chilled!

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.