A story of design and re-branding

I wanted to write about this project last year after first reading about it on one of my favorite blogs out there (i.e. Scott Hansen’s ISO50). The winter vacation, the Romanian-dishes overload then the post-holiday idleness have contributed to my lack of inspiration – therefore putting a halt to my daily routine. OK, enough with the excuses; down to business.

What we have here is a student’s class assignment to reinvigorate a brand that is “dead, dying or defunct”. His take on a dying brand was a new approach in promoting Playboy magazine by coming up with a total re-branding and re-calibration of its content. What’s interesting to follow is the whole process behind the brainstorming and above all on the selection of this particular brand – which, I agree – most of us, men out there do not actually find it dead at all. But let’s jump to the more detailed, interesting aspects of a designer’s work.

Especially nowadays most of the printed publications suffer from a severe loss of interest from a reader’s perspective and most important, with all the dynamics of the current Web 2.0 movement many of the players out there in the publishing space are losing market share in favor of the online material. So, how do you trigger the readers’ interest and keep them engaged with your content? – here’s one of the major challenges.

Alex, our student here goes on talking a bit about Playboy’s history and how it became nowadays a rather ‘trashy’ magazine, lost among all the ‘MAXIMs’ out there and losing its sophisticated standards the old readers got accustomed with. Something has to be done, so our guy here goes on with his rather drastic approach  in bringing back Playboy’s classiness which, as I followed the steps turned out to be quite a treat.

Their given assignment was to “inject new life into the chosen brand – to reposition it in a way that would save its reputation and provide it with new and continued success“. In doing so, a thorough research had to be made – so reading some facts on brand’s history, plotting out the audience profiles, mapping important dates, brand evolution, practically a deep-dive into the world of the chosen brand. The process would then continue with the brainstorming activity, where the brand’s new “soul” would be revived.

First things first: the content. Back in the ’60s Playboy surprised the public with its libertine attitude towards nudity, promoting it pretty much straight-forward. It was a bold approach at that time and non the less successful. But what was once considered a trend-setter is now just ‘standard operating procedure‘ for most of the magazines out there. So how about a Playboy without nudity? Could it be once again on top with exciting editorial content?

La piece de resistence in this project was the logo. As aknowledged, the first part of the semester was spent drawing sketches, holding brainstorming sessions, presenting concepts to their teacher until the brain ran dry on creativity and the milestone was approaching. Still no logo after a semester. What was the problem? Well, as every designer knows coming up with a logo is no easy task; the centerpiece of every brand identity is its logo; people recognize a brand/company, whatever after first seeing their corporate identity. And in order to make it eye-catchy one has to come up with a simple yet effective idea.

The first concept involved a ‘nerdy bunny’. Imagine a bunny with nerdy glasses and you get the picture. The idea was quickly dismissed until another one came into action: the Bunny was consumed by a superior species. A five hour delay at the airport helped this idea to blossom:

Family and friends came into action and the general consensus was that the bunny’s abrupt end is a bit too violent. The colleagues in the class were satisfied with the idea of the bunny consumed by another animal but still, its cuteness being axed by a rapacious fox was not so appealing. How ’bout getting rid of the goddam bunny and keep something symbolic, like it’s bow tie for instance?

Is there a way to make the fox look a bit friendlier too? Some vintage photos of animals helped render the idea and eventually the sad little bunny was replaced by his bow tie, all-in-all being subtle enough that no one was getting upset for having lost the cute little rodent.

As the project was advancing, the logo didn’t seemed serious enough so other drafts were sketched in the attempt of outlining the idea of chic, progress, change and elegance. I’ll leave the artist speak a bit: “As brand extensions were to be a major part of our book, I worried this logo would look kind of odd on an airplane (for example) that billed itself as sophisticated and classy. At this point, we were almost at mission critical stage — where a logo overhaul was just about out of the question due to the remaining amount of work required. Luckily, and thanks to the encouragement of my teacher, I had a massive amount of sketches backlogged to look through. I found the two below that I thought might provide a nice hybrid direction — keeping all of the concepts (fox, bow tie), while simultaneously injecting a bit more style into the overall look and feel.

At this advanced stage where the coronation of success is getting closer the image gets refined times and again until we’re 98% satisfied with our work. The remaining percentage is the normal amount of uncertainty ensuring our eventual success. One must never be too cocky. And after few more brush strokes here’s the final result:

The final mark is a variation of the original “bunny” symbol. As mentioned, the animal depicted is a fox and you are to deduce that he has “consumed” the old logo and left only the distinctive bow tie hanging from his mouth. This changing of the guard represents the evolution of the brand — not only visually, from a cute and cuddly bunny to a sly and cunning fox — but also in terms of perspective, in that the new animal is more sophisticated and better suited to represent the new priorities of the magazine.

Of course, as humor has always played a role in Playboy’s history, the bow tie hanging from the fox’s mouth conjures this tongue-in-cheek (or tie in mouth) mentality — as well as paying homage to the original iconic symbol. Most importantly, the fox stands proudly; having bested the bunny and established himself as the new symbol for the brand. This confidence and swagger is something that will be pervasive throughout all aspects of the brand.

Now that the visual concept has been outlined, the remaining work is to redefine the magazine’s content – emphasizing the need for more lifestyle, literary content aimed for the intellectual gentleman. A radical approach with a clear goal in mind: letting aside the current trashiness and all the nudity and making way for a stylized magazine still guided by its original tag-line: a way to live your life.

In the 2nd part of this post I’ll bring up the actual printed book and how the product is supposed to look after taking  this brand new concept upfront. All I can say is that if only such great ideas would find their way through the amount of editorial garbage advertised by so many magazines out there, we would definitely find ourselves surrounded by a much healthier mass-media with a higher care for quality vs. quantity & immediate profit. But this is a long debate…

Pictures and comments in italic taken from ISO50 blog. Credit to Alex.

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