Category Archives: Branding

Brand the Jewels – How RTJ Stole Hip-Hop’s Crown

How We Got Here

Hip-hop dynasties aren’t supposed to start like this.

A Tribe Called Quest formed between high school classmates. Run-D.M.C. began when two kids from Hollis, Queens recruited Jam Master Jay shortly after starting college. And thanks to “Straight Outta Compton”, even your little sister is now familiar with the origin story of N.W.A.

Since hip hop’s Golden Age, Brooklyn’s El-P (Jaime Meline) was blazing new trails for alternative music by experimenting with dystopian beats and delivering paranoid lyrics with stream-of-consciousness ferocity. While releasing several fantastic albums for himself and others on his Definitive Jux label, El Producto never gained widespread acclaim beyond his underground notoriety.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s Killer Mike (Michael Render) was earning his moniker, murdering on wax with guest appearances on OutKast cuts while scoring a minor radio hit on his debut album in 2003. But similarly, Mike never realized his full potential, dwelling on the “LA Clippers” of record labels with little fanfare.

It wasn’t until a chance introduction in 2011 by Cartoon Network exec Jason DeMarco that Jaime and Mike (then both in their mid-thirties) finally began collaborating on Mike’s masterpiece “R.A.P. Music”. Since then, the duo has formed into the “new Avengers” of rap; a supergroup that has taken the hip hop world by storm with two classic albums and a third on its way for early 2017.

How They Did It

Run the Jewels functions as far greater than the sum of its parts – not only sonically, but also as a brand. Here are some of the things they are doing right that marketers can draw inspiration from.

1. Iconography

The name “Run the Jewels”, inspired by an LL Cool J lyric, perfectly captures the hardcore, take-no-prisoners mentality that Mike and El-P take on when they step in the booth. It’s badass at its surface while respecting old school hip hop culture the way both emcees do.

Taking it a step further, the duo developed a logo which can be easily reproduced by RTJ and fans alike as a hand gesture. It’s literal, instantly memorable, and has been successfully been reproduced with alternating styles of hands since the original version that graced their debut album cover. The teal green zombie hands have already inspired a curated assortment of RTJ merch by Daylight Curfew including sticker packs, a “Love Again” duvet cover, bandanas and countless hoodies.

Their unique style has already inspired some amazing Marvel Comics tributes on covers of Deadpool and Howard the Duck.

2. Creativity

Releasing music for fans to download free online isn’t exactly a new concept, but that’s exactly what Killer Mike and El-P gave to fans for RTJ1 and RTJ2. Nor is it unique to up-sell “bonus packages” to hardcore fans, offering the music in various formats and bundled up with merch. But our fearless heroes took things way further than that… here are just a few highlights of such packages:

* This package inspired a successful Kickstarter campaign, garnering over 2,800 backers and raising over $65,000 (the profit from which was donated to help provide legal support for social activists). And yes, “Meow the Jewels” is real.

More recently, Run the Jewels became one of the first brands to experiment with virtual reality, releasing a video for “Crown” that works with NYT VR.

3. Relevance

If embracing tech’s hottest trend and delivering on a fan-created crowdfunding campaign weren’t enough, Run the Jewels happen to be (arguably) the most socially relevant group in music today.

“Run the Jewels 2” (Pitchfork’s Best Album of 2014) took the dynamic duo to new heights, largely due to their aggressive social commentary on relevant topics. “Early” became an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. “Lie, Cheat, Steal” explores corruption of the 1% (including Donald Sterling). Even the libidinous locker room boasts of “Love Again (Akinyele Back)” deferentially give way to a decidedly feminist third verse that would make even Sasha Fierce blush.

RTJ3 promises to continue this trend, with Mike rapping “Went to war with the Devil and Shaytan / He wore a bad toupee and a spray tan” on lead single “Talk to Me”. Shows in 2016, including Coachella, featured visuals of a demonic Donald Trump, and even their August appearance in Toronto inspired a rousing “fuck Trump” cheer.

Beyond the music, Killer Mike has become a high-profile social activist, whether it’s calling out Bill O’Reilly, speaking out about Ferguson, or talking shop with Bernie Sanders. Harking back to the era when hip hop’s greatest acts like Public Enemy were making political statements with their work, RTJ manages to weave these messages into music that’s also fun enough for a boisterous party.

Very few brands are able to effectively endear themselves with fans by openly supporting social or political causes – too often, it feels forced and inauthentic. However, hip-hop has a deep history of activism, Killer Mike has been rapping about the same topics for years, and the duo manages not to overextend themselves into any territory that feels too contrived.

4. Connection

In today’s post-iTunes landscape of pervasive streaming and YouTube sensations, it’s clear that artists need to engage with fans to stand out among the endless options. Similarly, the best brands recognize that meaningful connections need to be made in order to establish credibility and foster loyalty.

Killer Mike and El-P both seem to get it, as both artists have been active on Twitter since early 2009. More unusual is their mastery of email marketing. In a perfect example of quid pro quo, RTJ collected email addresses in exchange for free downloads of their first album back in 2013. Most fans forgot all about it for a while until September 2014 when they sent this masterful email thanking their fans and announcing the exclusive preorder packages of RTJ2.

The email-for-download was so successful that it drove a 66% lift in the Run the Jewels email list according to a case study on the MailChimp blog. Their emails aren’t overly frequent, they include relevant (and highly visual) content, and they arrive casually addressed by “Mike and El-P” or “Jaime and Mike”.

Extending their digital reach further, Mike and El-P have found a new home with Apple Music. Their WRTJ show on Beats 1 gave the duo yet another platform to showcase their personalities, share a curated mix of music that inspires them, and (often sarcastically) answer questions submitted by fans via Twitter.

Regardless of how long the RTJ phenomenon lasts, Jaime and Mike have proved their ability to create a brand that sets itself apart in the modern music industry with Run the Jewels. Marketers, take note.

Which artist/group are you most impressed with from a branding perspective? Share in the comments below!


How to Brand – Logo Design with Christopher Cheong

A brand is composed of many elements, all of which are important to the holistic perceptions that people will hold onto. A strong logo is often the primary identifier that helps consumers immediately recognize the values and personality of the brand that marketers work so hard to build.

The word “logo” is derived from the Greek logos (word) and typos (type). Modern logos have evolved to become expressed in many forms, sometimes as graphic representations and sometimes as wordmarks featuring the name of the brand.

Just like ad campaigns, logos can range from confusing and mundane to bold and inspiring. In this post, I chose to interview someone who knows a lot about creating the latter.Christopher Cheong

Christopher Cheong is a rising star within the design community of Toronto; a Graphic Designer at adidas who also produces freelance work for Nickelodeon. In 2010, Chris started Bear Kid, a clothing and lifestyle company featuring original designs of his own creation.

Where did you develop your passion for logo design?

Christopher: Growing up, my parents enrolled me into various sport leagues. I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t the best at all the sports I took part in, but I did have a fascination with all of the team logos on our jerseys. Once I got my footing in creating graphics, I always found myself taking references to sport logos. I think it’s the fact that each team looks so unified; with the way the shapes, colours, and overall theme tie in together to make a cohesive brand. These are the things that drive me to logo design. The challenge of bringing everything a company stands for into one image entices me.

Many people view a logo as the primary visual symbol for a brand. Can you think of some examples of logos that stand out in truly aligning with their brand attributes?

Photo by Charlie Lyons-Pardue
Photo by Charlie Lyons-Pardue

Christopher: One logo that stands out to me would have to be the Philadelphia Flyers logo. Every time I see it I think about how well it was designed. It encompasses the “P”, the wings, and just enough shapes to include the city’s colour scheme of orange and black. Including all of the key elements is the easy part, it’s how you comprise all of the pieces together to make it visually appealing as well. The Philly logo definitely hits the nail on the head on that front as well.

Which logo that you’ve designed are you most proud of, and why?

Bean LinkChristopher: Out of all the logos I’ve designed, it’s hard to choose just one that I feel I’m the most proud of. It’s hard because I feel like every project I complete, I gain more experience to better myself for the next. So naturally I would choose the most recent logo I’ve done. But if I had to choose one, I would choose the logo I developed for a company called Bean Link (which has disbanded recently…but not because of my logo).

The reason why I enjoy this one the most is because I think it not only represents the company really well, but it’s a logo I was hired to do based on my illustration style. Being asked to do work based on your own style is the best because everything just becomes natural for you. It makes the job easier, and much more enjoyable.

Take us through the process of what you go through when you’re asked to design a logo.

Christopher: To start, I research. I look at what other similar companies are doing, and try to go against the grain yet still compete. Seeing what other companies are doing allows me to get the gears started and I can see what to do and what not to do.

Then I start the brainstorm session; sketching, thinking, and then more sketching. This part for me is the hardest because I feel that my skills don’t start kicking in until I bring into a digital space. Sometimes I can nail a solid concept in the first 3 sketches, and then other times I go to sleep stressed out and think to myself “I’m screwed”.

Once I get over the initial concept hump, it’s pretty smooth sailing for me. I know my way around the software enough that I can clean up the sketch and compose it into a nice, clean, tidy logo that they can use.

Do you have any advice on where people could get started if they wanted to develop a logo design (or redesign) for their brand?

Christopher: One thing for sure that I could suggest to people, that I feel is often overlooked, is to make sure that your logo works in black & white as well as small & large. Too often I see logos that look terrible small, or logos that need to be converted to white/black and no longer looks like the original, coloured version of the logo.

Also, making different variations of the same logo in different aspect ratios will help tremendously. In a world where there are multiple dimensions, it’s key to have a logo/design that works horizontally or vertically.

And lastly, I would have to say make sure you have a reason for a redesign. I see a lot of old companies rebranding themselves, trying to become new and fresh. Sometimes it works, but a lot of the times the redesign ends up sucking all the unique qualities the old, traditional logo had. (Re)Design should have purpose!

Check out more amazing logos and other designs on Christopher’s portfolio:

Ad Spotlight – Facebook Gets Friendly

Impersonal. Cold. Uncaring. Creepy.

These negative connotations of Facebook are quickly forgotten with one viewing of The Social Network‘s new brand anthem.

In concert with their in-house agency, The Factory, Facebook has rolled out their first wide-scale brand campaign since their widely-mocked (and highly pretentious) “Chairs” spot by “Birdman” director Alejandro Iñárritu and Wieden + Kennedy. With an improved approach, it appears that Facebook is learning from not only its plethora of consumer data, but from past missteps in advertising.

Three separate 60-second ads were produced, each weaving together a story with the common theme of friendship at the heart of it. As written by Tim Nudd of Adweek, “the writing is poetic and – maybe most critically – humble”. The characters appear authentic, with an air of hip quirkiness and diversity rarely seen from such a mainstream brand. The soft piano renditions of pop songs inspire nostalgia while complementing the optimistic, thankful tone of the visuals and script.

The executions for all three spots are stellar, so make sure to check out “Girl Friends” and “Friend Request” if you “liked” the video above. Of course, a common theme woven throughout the scripts is the Facebook-coined lexicon of “friend”, “likes”, and “shared”. The tone is so well finessed that this adds a deeper real-life meaning to the terms, rather than coming across as forced.

Which one of these brands do you want to be friends with? (hint - Justin Bieber isn't endorsing it).
Which one of these brands do you want to be friends with? (Hint – Justin Bieber isn’t endorsing it).


The campaign is tied together with this integrated message being communicated in a simple, approachable way with out-of-home advertising featuring realistic friends. While these don’t seem like much when removed of context, they support the overall campaign with scale to reach Facebook’s broad audience. These billboards and posters aren’t limited to just the “Friends” messaging though – Facebook’s initiative also enjoys the spotlight.

Transit poster for

While the message is somewhat different for the layer of this campaign, it combines with the other efforts to make Facebook seem like a genuine, human organization. Look no further than the individual stories Mr. Zuckerberg’s company is highlighting, like Lian and his record store in Jakarta. Lian’s story (among others) make a strong point that a more accessible Internet for all makes for a better world, and the microsite flows seamlessly (no matter what device it is viewed on).

Of course, Facebook benefits quite selfishly from a larger base of worldwide internet users as it expands their potential consumer market. And yes, those “friends” in their advertising are almost certainly paid actors and models. But in a competitive tech world, this campaign helps Facebook stay as a brand that people will gladly interact with.

Does Facebook’s new campaign get the “thumbs up”, or are you searching for a “dislike” button?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Behind the Launch – Rickard’s Lederhosen


Anyone who has spent time in Waterloo, Ontario realizes the cultural significance of Oktoberfest. That’s because the annual Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest is the second-largest such festival in the world, next to the main event in Munich, Germany.

While at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, I was fortunate enough to meet a fellow marketing enthusiast in Jodi Jahnke. Now an Assistant Marketing Manager at Molson Coors, Jodi recently launched a brand new wunderkind of beer just for Oktoberfest: Rickard’s Lederhosen.

Photo courtesy of Rickard's
Rickard’s is bringing their expertise in seasonal variants to the celebration of Oktoberfest with the new Lederhosen.

So it’s obvious that Canada has many beer drinkers with some serious Oktoberfest spirit. How did your team identify the market opportunity for this product launch?

Jodi: Simply put, Rickard’s is a brand run by people that just really love beer. We use all of our seasonal variants to share that love of beer with others, and that is generally how all of our seasonal variants are born. In the case of Rickard’s Lederhosen, we recognized that there really is no bigger occasion celebrating the love of beer than Oktoberfest and felt that honouring those celebrations with a new brew was a great way to bring a little bit of the amazing that is Oktoberfest to more people all across Canada.

How long have you been working on this project, and what were some of the major steps of the process?

Jodi: The whole process was just over a year in the making. Getting to a final liquid I’d say was the hardest part as we wanted to make sure we got it right and did the Marzen style of beers justice. We also wanted to honour the look and feel of true Oktoberfest celebrations through our packaging, and worked closely with our AOR to do just that. Of course, there were countless other steps that required the help of my amazing co workers, but those were the most fun parts of the process.

Molson Coors is a brewing behemoth. Was there ever any doubt about which brand in the portfolio was the right fit for a new Oktoberfest beer?

Jodi: The great thing about working for a company like Molson Coors is that Rickard’s has the ability to create and innovate on our own. That’s not to say that we don’t all work together, but the Oktoberfest idea was born out of Rickard’s, not out of a larger Molson Coors strategy. We really are just people who really love beer and want to share that love of beer with others through cool new seasonal variants.

Developing packaging to fully capture the spirit of Oktoberfest was a key challenge, says Jahnke
Developing packaging to fully capture the spirit of Oktoberfest was an important part of the process, according to Jahnke

What was the single biggest challenge preparing this launch? How did you overcome it?

Jodi: Honestly, it was probably doing the style of beer justice. We wanted to get it right, and I’m so proud of our brewers for doing just that.

Ok, so you’ve got a new brand on the market with a limited shelf life. How do you activate this with a marketing campaign to get it in Canadian beer drinkers’ hands?

Jodi: Our campaign focuses mostly on getting Rickard’s Lederhosen into the hands of our drinkers through Oktoberfest events such as KW Oktoberfest, or the Harvest Haus out in BC. We have a lot of faith in this beer, and are confident that if you try it, you’ll fall in love just as we did.

Final question – how would you recommend someone best enjoy Rickard’s Lederhosen this Oktoberfest?

Jodi: The beer geek in me wants to tell you to pour it into a beer glass, and serve it at around 7 degrees to get the most out of the flavour profile. However, the reality is that Rickard’s Lederhosen is best enjoyed with great friends and any others that want to share in our celebration and appreciation of beer. I’ve also heard wearing actual Lederhosen also enhances the experience. PROST!


Are there any other seasonal opportunities that savvy marketers should be capitalizing on? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Marketing Players of the Week – Fall Kickoff Edition

Welcome to fall 2014, folks! While it’s sad to see yet another summer slip away, this August may have been one of the worst months in history (of Twitter), so it’s a good time to look forward with some optimism.

Without further adieu, here are your Marketing Players of the Week:

Land Rover 

In marketing circles, conventional thinking around contests has long been focused on two key incentives to drive entry: cash and trips. Land Rover is taking this to a new stratosphere with a truly stellar prize – a trip into space. Space!

To promote their new 2015 Discover Sport launch, the brand is rolling out a “Galactic Discovery” contest empowering consumers to submit a 30-second video or still image capturing the “spirit of adventure”. The grand prize is a trip to space for the winner and three friends.

This video by agency The Brooklyn Brothers communicates the grand scale and emotional power of the contest, which can be entered at Land Rover is partnering with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which will host the lucky winners and use a fleet of Land Rover vehicles at Spaceport America, along with a collaboration in STEM education for youth.

While the ad could arguably focus more on Land Rover’s product, it effectively drives to the contest and has already generated over one million views in the first day on YouTube. Ultimately, it’s an opportunity for Land Rover to further align their brand with the concept of exploration and adventure.


Hidden-camera videos are becoming more and more cliché in modern marketing, especially those irksome videos seeking to go viral. PepsiCo, however, managed to pull off even more hidden camera magic on the heels of their Jeff Gordon Test Drive videos for Pepsi Max.

In a series of 8 short videos released on YouTube in August, everyday convenience store customers are turned away when they try to purchase bottles of Gatorade. The cashier, played by Rob Belushi (son of Jim), delivers deadpan explanations that customers must first earn their Gatorade by exercising. Or, as the tagline succinctly states “Sweat It To Get It“.

Enlisting NFL superstars Peyton Manning and Cam Newton to further add to the “virability” factor certainly doesn’t hurt, but it’s the concept that really delivers. In an article by Tim Nudd of Adweek, TBWA/Chiat/Day‘s ECD Brent Anderson stated that “the intent was to create something that might cause someone who reaches for a Gatorade to think, ‘Hold up … have I earned this?'”.

The brand and agency team have certainly earned their YouTube views in two short weeks – four of the eight videos already have surpassed one million views.

While it’s obvious that these interactions are staged, they are realistic enough to avoid appearing corny. Bonus points for PepsiCo adding gratuitous product placement for several of their other brands in the background in what must be their dream convenience store concept.

IKEA Singapore

With Apple‘s big announcement of the iPhone 6 and (presumably) the iWatch coming on September 9th, it seems like everyone is talking about the latest in mobile technology. So for IKEA, always quirky and irreverent in tone, this is perfect timing for some good old fashioned humour.

In a parody style video closely resembling the most pretentious of tech introductions, a Swedish “tech guru” unveils the latest in technology – the 2015 IKEA Catalogue. Touting specs such as “328 hi-definition pages” and “eternal battery life”, the video is also accompanied with an animated microsite.

It’s harmless, self-deprecating fun for a low-tech retailer that would usually get lost in the noise around this time of year. With some previous outstanding out-of-home ads for their past catalogues, I look forward to seeing how the brand further brings this concept to life across other media platforms.

Pinterest executives probably won’t need to hold their breath, but IKEA’s 2015 Catalogue could be the Next Big Thing for home furnishing inspiration. Behold, the power of the bookbook™!

 What’s been on your radar lately in the advertising world? If you’ve seen a noteworthy campaign, please share it in the comments!

Marketing Players of the Week – Brand Mythology Edition

At the essence of any strong brand is its mythology; the story – partly real and partly perceived – of how it came to be and the characters that shaped its history.

Seth Godin wrote about “brand as mythology” back in 2006, and it has deservedly been embraced as gospel among much of the marketing collective. This week we look at three established brands taking this ideology to heart as they have all recently launched campaigns with brand mythology at the forefront.

Tilley Endurables

Forgive the pun, but Tilley has been hanging its unmistakable hat on an aging community of loyal consumers built over many years. Long overdue for a refresh to appeal to a new generation, the outdoor clothing manufacturer turned to Cundari for a revival.

The 2014 campaign, launching with a YouTube pre-roll video and fresh new ecommerce website,  is the first brand refresh in the Canadian company’s entire history, according to a Marketing Magazine article by Sarah Barmak. The campaign targets a “younger 35–60 demographic without forgetting its older base”.

In “Searching For Don”, a rugged-yet-classy adventurer on a cross-country journey to retrieve a lost treasure. It’s a soulful :90 spot that feels decidedly unbranded, with the protagonist forgoing the classic hat in favour of a subdued flat cap. Also worth noting is the original folk song, which fits perfectly with the plot for this short.

It’s a triumph for the brand to rally against the concept of ‘adventure’, associating their outdoors apparel with the tantalizing prospect of exotic travel and self discovery. Expect to see more from Tilley as they look to make a big splash this summer with their revitalized brand image.

Bacardi Canada

Another brand with strong, historical roots is Bacardi, although their marketing had recently devolved into associations with nightclubs and partying in tropical destinations. Rather than blending in with competing international rum manufacturers, the global Bacardi team is now reinforcing the strength of their brand mythology.

The new “Untameable Since 1862” campaign effectively communicates not only the legacy left by the Bacardi family, but the conflicts that strengthened the brand’s character along the way. With an integrated, flashy website design that deeply outlines the heritage from Cuba, along with a newly launched :60 spot, Bacardi is defining a much more meaningful identity for Canadian millennial men.

This stunning visual creative work for “Procession” by BETC London (produced globally) is being broadcast at Cineplex theatres and will also extend to TV. There are also billboards, using the hashtag #TruePassion, which reflect the integrated message.

In a Marketing Magazine article by Kristin Laird, Nadine Iaccoca (Brand Director, Rums) shared that the Canadian campaign will focus largely on events. While the brand will undoubtably have a strong representation during Caribana, Bacardi will also host a three-day Cuban festival this July in Toronto’s Distillery District. No official word if Kardinal Offishall will be making any cameo appearances, but you can sign me up!


I’ll be the first to acknowledge that Ray-Ban has been dominating the sunglasses industry for several years now, with trendy product design, content marketing, and innovative web solutions such as their virtual mirror. But Oakley is a formidable competitor, and has the deep pockets required to battle back as the crucial summer season begins.

Launching a new campaign focused on their innovative technology and – again – company mythology; Oakley has scored a crucial win by fully defining their niche positioning.  A highly lucrative, desirable niche, to their credit.

It doesn’t focus on travel, fashion, or sex appeal – “Disruptive by Design” is deeply rooted in Oakley’s convergence between form and function in sports eyewear. With a nearly 4-minute YouTube video (“A Story of Disruption”) narrated by the inspiring Kevin Spacey himself, the brand details its history of disruptive technologies that have been developed since 1975.

Its effectiveness is weighed down by an over-reliance on marketing speak and borderline pretentiousness, which may partly explain why it has been viewed under 100,000 times in its first week. But the content succeeds in leaving the viewer with a clear picture of the brand’s unique strengths, and perhaps a better understanding on how much Oakley has impacted since the company’s inception.

Oakley’s CEO Colin Baden is still searching for an agency of record, and desperately needs to cut ties with alleged murderer Oscar Pistorius, but “Disruptive by Design” is a step in the right direction for a brand that must continue moving forward.

Has there been a brand mythology that has resonated with you as not only a consumer but as an evangelist? Leave your example in the comments.

Marketing Players of the Week – Back to the Future Edition

This week sees two iconic brands making plays to bring back some old magic – one more successfully than the other – and another brand joining in on the rebranding bandwagon with no apparent strategy.

In the spirit of Dr. Emmett Brown, let’s hop in the DeLorean and head “Back to the Future” with a couple brands trying to revisit their glory days of old…


“Happiness is a Warm Gun” – John Lennon

We all have our definitions of what happiness means. McDonald’s, similar to Coca-Cola, wisely focuses on the concept of happiness in much of their marketing; allowing a focus on lifestyle positioning and associating their brand with the most positive of emotions. Along with employing a decidedly happy clown mascot in Ronald McDonald, the QSR has been offering Happy Meals to kids since 1979.

Well, the representation of “Happy” depicted by McDonald’s Latin America happens to conjure up some contrasting feelings across the rest of the world – at least the Twitterverse. McDonald’s unveiled a global rollout of their new Happy Meal mascot, the aptly named “Happy”, via a tweet on Monday.

Twitter was ablaze with upset fans, many of whom claimed that the new character was “creepy” and something out of a nightmare. It’s hard to disagree – with a CGI face, bulding eyes atop its head, and a monsterous set of teeth, it looks more like a parody of kids’ mascots than a new development for the year 2014. Perhaps it’s due to cultural differences, but even if this succeeded in Latin America, it’s difficult to imagine the public warming up to this mascot north of the Mexican border.

I’m a big fan of McDonald’s marketing as of late, and it was relieving to see that they responded quickly with a tweet on Tuesday showing that they don’t take themselves too seriously with this latest effort.


A leader in Canadian photography retail, Blacks felt it was necessary to dramatically rebrand. You’d think that keeping a black logo would be a no-brainer for a company named Blacks, but the new branding prominently incorporates the colour teal. An article by Kristin Laird of Marketing Magazine reveals that this rebranding is part of a dramatic rethinking of the entire business, including a new website, mobile app, and overhaul of the existing store design.

While the logo is more modern and clean, and the colour teal stands out against competitor Henry’s retro orange, it’s a strange choice to use a serif font with an otherwise forward-thinking design. Strangely enough the teal is almost exactly the same shade as another retailer found in Canadian malls – DAVIDsTEA.

You can check out the beta site for Blacks and decide for yourself if the rebranding is a success. Meanwhile, their existing site remains loyal to the original (black) logo, albeit  with gratuitous splashes of teal – perhaps to ease the transition for loyal consumers.

Charlotte Hornets

Speaking of teal…

In NBA fan circles,  the Charlotte Hornets were the epitome of early ’90s cool. Attitude-laden players such as Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues, Rex Chapman, and Glen Rice helped put the city of Charlotte on the league map as the expansion team gained the hearts of many. With a teal-and-purple colour scheme, pinstripe jerseys, and Johnson’s ‘Grandmama’, the team was as fun as a Fresh Prince re-run.

Things changed in North Carolina as the Hornets were moved to New Orleans and a new expansion was granted to the city of Charlotte in 20014: the Bobcats. A pedestrian name by sports standards was compounded by the fact that many believed the team was named to stroke the ego of its owner, Robert (Bob) Johnson.

After several forgettable seasons of obscurity, the team was purchased by Michael Jordan himself.  In 2013 he submitted an application to change the name back to the Hornets and “bring the buzz back” to the city sorely lacking any. Here we are in Charlotte’s offseason (after being swept 4-0 by the Heat), and the official announcement was made on Tuesday along with a big unveil of the new logo.

The decision has been met by plenty of fanfare and generally positive responses, as the logo is a new school reimagining of the original branding. It’s a much tougher, less cartoony hornet than the original, with sharp edges and a few nods to the original design elements – notably the return to the teal and purple colour scheme.

While they’ll need more than a rebranding to regain relevance on the basketball court, this serves its purpose for a fresh start to the franchise under Jordan’s reign, and an opportunity to win back their original fans in the city of Charlotte.

Do you have any thoughts on what constitutes a successful rebrand? Is “Happy” preventing you from sleeping at night? Leave a note in the comments!

Marketing Players of the Week – Lint Free Edition

Without further adieu, here’s an overdue edition of ‘Marketing Players of the Week’, with the best of the best from Toronto to the rest of the world.

Bounce Canada

Nothing Was the Same. It all started with a seemingly-innocuous act of personal care by Drake at Game 2 of the Raptors vs. Nets series in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Drake was caught on film lint-rolling his pants while courtside at the game.

This bewildering act quickly became an internet meme, as a fan tweeted this photo below of a Raptors x OVO branded lint roller:

Quick to react, the marketing heads at P&G Canada responded by creating limited edition Bounce lint rollers to be distributed during the next home game (Game 5).

This was accompanied by an outrageous amount of organic activity on social media, along with an in-arena advertising buy at the Air Canada Centre. The giveaways themselves were extremely popular – I was in attendance and overheard several Raptors/Drake fans asking for lint rollers instead of the Swiffer dusters that P&G was already giving out to all fans.

Bounce Lint Roller Advertising at Air Canada Centre
Helping keep Raptors & OVO fans lint-free since ’14.

While the sheer ridiculousness of this lint roller mania is difficult to digest, it was impressive that Bounce was able to parlay this into some excitement for an otherwise boring product. Within a span of 8 days between Games 2 and 5, they were able to respond quickly to take advantage of a highly-relevant pop culture meme.

Nova Scotia

In other Toronto news, we have a case of “there’s always a bigger fish”. Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada has been advertising for some time with billboard ads along the Gardiner Expressway as drivers approach downtown Toronto from the west. One such ad touts “Sharks Spotted 6 km Ahead” with a menacing visual of a shark.

Aquarium Billboards by the Gardiner
Duelling billboards on the drive into Toronto. Apologies for the tough-to-read photo.

Recognizing an opportunity, the marketers in charge of promoting tourism for the province of Nova Scotia decided to flex their competitive muscles by renting the billboard adjacent to Ripley’s. Their ad reads “Our Aquarium is 7,600 km Long”. Paired with the copy is a visual of a massive whale’s fluke, just to reinforce their “ours is bigger” boast.

Coca-Cola Singapore

Drones have long been associated with 1984-style dystopian authority and violence, and Coke in Singapore wanted to change this association. The soda behemoth partnered with Ogilvy & Mather on this project, “Happiness From the Skies”, which aimed to flip the perception of drones on its head.

Using heli-drones to deliver cans of Coke to migrant construction workers in high-rise towers, the brand was successful in aligning this project with their global mission of spreading happiness. Not only was this execution a high-tech case study and positive action, but they amped up the cute factor by including messages from ordinary Singaporeans on each can of Coca-Cola.

As explored in a great article of AdAge by Angela Doland, Coca-Cola is globally recognizing more opportunities to look at the “cultural role our brands can play, rather than ‘what’s the commercial message our brands can deliver?'”. With a number of massive wins under its collective belt, Coke is truly finding ways to open happiness in its marketing executions.


Did you get caught in lint-roller pandemonium? Are you a fan of brands one-upping each other with nearby billboards? Let me know in the comments!

Brand Spotlight – jetBlue Rises Above

Calm. Nice. Fresh. Stylish.

Those are four of the last words anyone would ever use to describe their typical airline experiences. Yet with jetBlue Airways, these are among the brand attributes.

The colour blue, in design theory, symbolizes peace & harmony and connotes feelings of relaxation. The company uses the colour blue in over 8 patterned examples, as shown in their Branding Guidelines below:

Photo Credit: jetBlue
Photo Credit: JetBlue


Their :60 “Flying Shouldn’t Ruffle Your Feathers” spot is brilliantly executed. While it doesn’t feature the hallmark blue as prominently, the ad succeeds by imagining a pigeon as a “frequent flyer”. It equates his drab, pedestrian experiences in the city with those all too familiar with long-suffering travellers.

While the pigeon-as-protagonist gag and extended metaphor are clever by themselves, the true excellence of this spot is how it brings the tagline to life. “Air on the Side of Humanity” is revealed in the final ten seconds of the spot, superimposed over the obviously non-human pigeon. If he isn’t satisfied with his pigeon-like city existence, why should we stand for lousy airline customer service?

The tagline draws roots from powerful idioms “err on the side of caution” and “to err is human”. As a believer in this line’s power as both a tagline and company mantra, I hope jetBlue continues to make use of it.

According to a blog post on their Brand Design team, jetBlue strives to “create an experience” for their customers, in hopes that every touchpoint in the user experience will be “friendly, consistent, and memorable“.

Have you had a customer experience with jetBlue that you’d like to share, or an opinion on their branding? Share in the comments!

Startup Branding in 4 Easy Steps

Want to be an instant billionaire? Startups are as hot as cornball machines right now, and the IPO game is bubbling exploding for new businesses! Now is the time to take advantage by creating your very own tech startup!

Don’t have a viable business idea? It’s ok, venture capitalists love taking gambles! Not sure you can handle running a business? Fear not, just fake it until you make it!

Now that you’ve got that settled, it’s time to get to it! Here’s how to brand your startup in 4 easy steps:

Step 1: Name Your Startup

First, pick a name of an animal, colour,  or place. Does it need to relate at all to the essence of your business? Of course not, don’t be naive! Let’s go with Possum for illustrative purposes – the more obscure and quirky, the better!

Photo by C Simmons / CC BY
This little guy looks deserving of an enterprise named after him, doesn’t he? Photo by C Simmons / CC BY

Second, you’ll need to add another word. Either pick another noun (for instance, a shape!) or let grammar inspire you by choosing a suffix. Why don’t we use Block, but misspelled as  Blok – bonus points for removing extra letters and sounding more European!

Putting them together, we have PossumBlok – note that these are combined to one compound word. The first letter of the second word remains capitalized, but of course this will all change when our new brand receives the logo treatment.

Note: if you urgently need to issue your IPO and don’t have time to choose two arbitrary words, try BuzzFeed’s Startup Name Generator. Pure gold.

Step 2: Choose Your Colours

Since we didn’t choose a colour as part of the compound word in our example above, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Blue Iris
A winning font

Paying no mind to our industry, positioning, or brand name, let’s choose a cheerful Pantone with a  pretentious name. How about Blue Iris 18-3943 (the 2008 Pantone Colour of the Year!); “a mix of blue and purple that suggests dependability and magic”? Splendid.

Step 3: Get ‘Fontsy’

If you’re serious about building the hottest startup on the block, the next step is picking a casual-yet-whimsical font.

Make sure to test both fancy-sounding placeholders and business buzzwords
Make sure to test both fancy-sounding placeholders and business buzzwords

Serif fonts are automatically ruled out – this is the 21st Century after all, not Olde England – so let’s find a sans-serif font. Voltaire seems to be oozing with the sense of self-assured swagger perfect for our brand.

Step 4: Design a Logo

The secret to designing the perfect startup logo is to always make it more simple. Italian designer Roberto Manzari feels that even Twitter’s blue bird logo is too complex, and released a proposal reducing it to geometric shapes.

Our shiny new logo
Our shiny new logo!

We simply take a quirky Blue Iris rectangle and adding circles to represent a possum’s nose and beady eyes, and “voila”, an icon is born!

Using our Voiltaire font, we can add the brand name (all lowercase, of course), and add some italics to emphasize how clever and cheeky we are for using a compound word.

And that’s it! All that’s left is finding some angel investors and filing for an IPO, and you can be a Silicon Valley gazillionaire just like Mark Zuckerberg!

Disclaimer: this post was written as a satire on some of the branding clichés I’ve noticed with startup companies, and is not intended to offend or bear resemblance to any existing real brands. For an actual, non-ironic guide for naming a company, check out 16 Tips for Picking the Perfect Startup Name on Mashable.