To quote Wally Olins, “Changes in branding are not commissioned on the basis of a whim. There’s always a reason.” The driving force behind a rebranding venture could include any combination of triggers. Changes in fashion, reputation, competition, culture, technology, business structure, business direction. In this series of blog posts we’re looking at examples of corporate branding past and present, and casting a critical eye over how and why these brands have evolved.

 

What was once a single discount store in rural Arkansas is now described as the world’s leading public corporation; Walmart. As the company has developed their offering to preserve their leading position in the retail world, the branding has morphed accordingly, resulting in a collection of logo designs.

 

Imagine a time when it was acceptable for a brand to have no logo at all – to be faceless, so to speak. Well, this was the world Walmart was born into in 1962. It wasn’t until 1964 when Walmart first acquired a visual identity, with this “Frontier Folk Logo” design. The folksy “All-American” theme spoke to the rural audience (and those suburbanites looking back to a hazy rural past), evoking feelings of familiarity, trust and comfort. Very Wild, Wild West.

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The design was already past its sell by date in 1981 when it underwent a dramatic transformation.  As the business grew so did the audience and there was a clear need for rebranding. The company had to let go of the rural roots as the superstore infiltrated suburban America. The type-based logo was neutralised, stripping down to a simpler brown font (the colour used when trying to convey reliability). The safe design, whilst mundane, suited to the no-nonsense/no-frills brand whilst fitting into the bold aesthetics of the period.

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By the nineties, Walmart was a national giant and the rebranding of 1991 saw the reintroduction of the patriotic identity. A 5-point star replaced the hyphen as a visual anchor, and the murky brown became a deep-blue. Bold yet basic, the logo was true to the straight talking, un-glamorised brand and as reliable and trustworthy as old glory itself.

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By 2008 Walmart is still a household name, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Mountains of negative press, endless labor union battles and noisy employee uproar had tainted the brand with a less than favourable reputation.  As part of an attempt to abolish their negative image Walmart approached Lippincott, the international branding and design agency, with the challenge of reinventing the brand and introducing a revamped
visual identity.

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Walmart wants to be associated with the following characteristics: caring, real, innovative, straightforward and positive. They aim to move away from their cold, heartless quantity-over-quality reputation.

 

Various elements of this latest logo design do visualise this. For example, the lowercase lettering and Myriad Pro font hint at approachability and friendliness. The blue colouring, in a lighter hue than seen previously, is softer and also more approachable. The stale star is replaced by the more dynamic “iconic spark” (graphical shorthand for “Hey here’s something, pretty smart. Think about it” according to the Walmart guys).

 

However, here’s my issue with the new logo: Walmart have gone from one extreme to another. It’s said that the brand is going through an identity crisis and the rebranding attempt seems to be evidence of this. The light, bouncy, family-friendly (generic) styling might be more contemporary but is it really true to the brand itself? Employees, shareholders, suppliers and even customers might disagree! If the face of the brand isn’t matched by the in-store experience, we are left wondering how long it will be before Walmart resort to another brand revamp.

 

Sources

Wally Olins: The Brand Handbook

http://corporate.walmart.com/our-story/history/walmart-logo-timeline

http://www.walmartempowerswomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/walmart_brand_guidelines.pdf