Brand New Thinking?

There’s a recent article on the Research Fortnight website describing UKRI’s, ahem, radical and daring new branding campaign, which apparently incorporates a Tetris-esque intermeshing of the logos of the Research Councils, as demonstrated in the video embedded below…

Reaction to the rebrand has not been overly enthusiastic.

A helpful 73 page document available from the UKRI website details just how, why, and where the brands should be used and includes such gems of the marketing genre as:

“Our design elements are not contained but are expressive, larger than life and breaking out of the confines.”

“Our design is all about how we come together to influence change, where the design idea expresses the impact that we create. Our design assets are combined to create a bold and colourful look and feel, that evokes the gravitas of the organisation but is always dynamic and modern.”


The Emperor’s New Clothes character of the worst excesses of branding and marketing has, of course, long irked many an academic — and I’m certainly no exception — but it’s worth noting that even those in the industry have pilloried the “pretentiousness … and, in some cases, the sheer ridiculousness of...Brand Bollocks.

I recognise, of course, that marketing and branding certainly have a role to play in any venture that needs to connect with an audience, demographic, or following (see How To Win Friends and Influence People and Mutual Respect and Teamwork are Vital). But the type of blather above on “design assets” is just empty verbiage  that, despite the claims to be bold, innovative and fresh, highlights the paucity of original thinking.

Sophie Inge, the author of the piece, contacted me last week for my thoughts on UKRI’s rebranding and included some of the rant below in her Research Fortnight article.

It’s the sheer lack of originality and “boilerplate” aspect of all of this nonsense that’s so irritating. And, yet, on p.6 of the branding document we have: “We’re prepared to do things differently”.

They’ve changed the logo. That’s it. And they’re written a load of accompanying `inspirational’ bumpf to attempt to justify the £90K spent on something that looks rather like an upper-end GCSE Art/Design Technology project. That’s not doing things differently. That’s exactly what every other brand-obsessed company does.

Our brand values are collaboration, integrity, innovation and excellence” (from p6 of the branding guidelines.) Well, it’s not as if too many other companies/ organisations/ institutions have exactly those values. “Excellence”, for one, is thin on the ground.

Marketers might well pour a lot of effort into their designs, but customers – and who, exactly, are the customers/the market in this case? – actually mostly couldn’t care less. I don’t want to “engage” with a brand, or have a “relationship” with it, or be loyal to it. And I’m certainly not alone in this.

Although I appreciate the importance of some aspects of marketing, this type of rebranding exercise does worse than leave me cold. It influences me negatively about the company/institution/organisation because it’s so ephemeral, self-referential, and ultimately pointless (because we can be sure that a couple of years down the line, another rebrand is going to happen…)