Rick Barrack, chief creative officer of CBX Strategic Branding, sent us this piece, in which he muses on the major consumer brands that catch our eyes this time of year.
It’s just about that time again. My excitement at the fact that Punxsutawney Phil, the undisputed king of the prognosticating groundhogs, did NOT see his shadow last week (which as we’ve collectively convinced ourselves means Spring draws nigh!) was tempered somewhat by the fast approaching task of having to once again, rack my brain to find the perfect Valentine’s Day gift.
I have a pretty illustrious track record of splendid Valentine’s Day gift (if I say so myself. My wife might disagree. But she’d be wrong) so setting such a high standard means my margin for error diminishes significantly every year. And as I am sitting staring at the eight open windows on my computer’s desktop, desperately trying to get ideas, inspirations, celestial epiphanies as to what to buy my wife this year, I was struck by the following realizations. I was outraged, actually—and they weren’t realizations, they were questions. Namely:
What’s with the red? Everything I’m seeing is red. Why does everything HAVE to be red? When did red become the official color of Valentine’s Day? We all sort of accept it as a matter of cultural fiat but who made that decision?
And what about the heart thing?
St. Valentine’s Day, historically speaking, started off with no sentimental or romantic elements whatsoever. In fact the Valentines—there were a couple—were martyrs who were killed by Roman emperors. Not exactly an occasion you remember through the giving of chocolates, is it? Where did the heart-shaped jewelry come in? The flowers? For God’s sakes, the chocolate-covered strawberries in a heart-shaped box?!
So, why are we held hostage by those specific gift items, from heart-shaped jewelry to flowers?
And this got me thinking as I was scrolling furiously: the whole held-hostage-by-gifts thing wouldn’t be so bad if the biggest (and honestly, the most practical) brands in Valentine-dom weren’t so, well, cheesy. Insipid. Dated. Antiquated. Dull. Here are my thoughts on just a few:
Russell Stover They’ve been around since 1923, the year the actual Russell Stover founded the company. (Little known fact: Russell Stover also created the name Eskimo Pie.) And it shows because their branding would have looked totally appropriate on “Little House on the Prairie.” They’re also the foremost purveyor of the red, heart-shaped box of chocolates, which I find so utterly devoid of charm. Can the company stand for anything besides chocolate on Valentine’s Day? It’s a fairly limited piece of the pie they’re going for, and a refresh of their stale brand identity would seem to be in order, certainly if they want to appeal to a younger, more traveled and design-savvy audience.
Hallmark When I think of Valentine’s Day cards. I think of Hallmark. Millions of people do. This is good. It’s a giant company that strives to help people express what’s in their hearts on A1-size cardstock (Hallmark even owns Crayola). Terrific brand value there—but would it kill them to modernize their identity a little bit? The company is 100 years old. The logo has remained virtually unchanged since the 1950s. Can we do something about the crown?
FTD This company is so old, the original FTD acronym stood for Florists’ Telegraph Delivery. And the vaguely Silver Surfer-ish winged-foot-and-hatted eunuch clutching the bouquet of flowers as if he’s about to whip them at you like a discus? That’s Mercury Man (Hermes Man if you prefer the Greek version). He’s the Roman god of commerce and invention and was chosen as the company logo in 1914! FTD sorely needs to update that logo and think about a far more relevant contemporary iconography and overall brand identity.
And I can think of a couple different ways to start.
One, since FTD delivers many things other than flowers nowadays. How about changing the meaning of the acronym from its current Florists’ Transworld Delivery (huh?) to Favorite Things Delivered? Because that’s what you do on V-Day isn’t it? You want to get your sweetheart’s (new) favorite thing delivered with unfailing timeliness.
Two, Mercury Man has to go. He simply has to. There’s a whole new generation of Valentine’s Day consumers out there, and they will not respond to a Roman god in a hard hat with wings. The winged element is strong, memorable, has romantic undertones (Cupid himself has wings!) and should be made a primary element. Ease and expediency thus also becoming anchoring brand attributes.
Valentine’s Day is a treasured commemoration that has persevered as a part of Western culture for many centuries, but we can all surely agree that the brands most closely associated with it don’t have to look like they’ve remained unchanged for as long. With a little tweak here, a rejuvenation there, the above brands can easily make Valentine’s Day as stylish, modern and exciting as well, my wife.