Branding a Revolution

I've been in the world of marketing and branding for 20 years and I still carefully monitor the meridian between what's brandable and what's not. The whole notion of rendering something as a "living business asset" (to use the branding firm, Interbrand's definition) needs to be approached carefully so we don't make commodities out of things that shouldn't be commodified. Some things should remain outside the realm of the free market. So, in my opinion, you shouldn't try to brand your wedding or your house of worship.

Which raises the question: can you brand a social movement? It's partially happened with brand names like the Green Revolution in Iran and the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine (not to mention the Arab Spring). But those largely stopped at brand names and banners. Now one academic is taking it further: Kacey Wong, an artist and assistant professor at Polytechnic University in Hong Kong, put out a call for submissions to find a logo for Hong Kong's peaceful demonstrations of 2014; He watched as the youth of Hong Kong took to the streets to protest China's attempts to control their elections in 2017 and wondered about what a logo mark for the sit-in would look like. He's put together a gallery of the submissions on his Facebook page, and it's an interesting rumination on what makes a good brand.

In creating a logo mark, we do a great deal of research into the client or the product - everything from key competitors to customer interviews to establishing the visual brandscape. Arguably the greatest logo designer in history, Saul Bass, did a prodigious amount of work before he sat down to design the greatest logos of the Mad Men era, including AT&T and United Airlines.

But what's the end game? A logo ultimately has to meet a lot of tests (consistency, relevance, differentiation) but the biggest one may be authenticity. It needs to feel honest, like it radiates the soul of the brand.

So how did the Hong Kong designers do? Let's take a look at the ones we liked:

Some of the logos were simple but made a classic rookie error: They cribbed from corporate brand marks. The one below looks like a little too much like the logo for Travelers Insurance:

This variation cleverly inserts the peace sign as the umbrella handle, which adds a little more resonance but, like the former, seems to flatten the contours of the movement. They are simply too clean and untroubled:

This entry evokes the scale of the movement but the logo lock at the bottom is like a full stop; it adds finitude which doesn't feel right for a demonstration that's still unfurling (tens of thousands of protesters remain on the streets):

More than a few used the famous French Romantic image of Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix but that feels bloated and worse, disingenuous. Hong Kong is not 1789 Paris and these protesters are not storming the Bastille; they are idealistic, peaceful, nonviolent protesters in the finest tradition of Gandhian nonviolence. It's inauthentic:

This one very nicely evokes the Hong Kong flag but it also doesn't pass the test because the tone feels wrong. Protests and mass demonstrations aren't whimsical and free-floating; they are focused and purposeful:

This one felt fresh because the brand colors are different, better evoking the nocturnal photographs of the movement that have been beamed around the world. We can feel the heat and tungsten lighting of the nighttime Admiralty and Mong Kok districts of Hong Kong here:

And finally, we come to our favorite. A stunning piece of design that does what the best logos do: it crystallizes its subject entirely but it adds registers that affects us at a gut level-- shapes or colors that do something beyond the semantics of the icon. Firstly, the umbrella has been rendered like an Asian emoji which feels right for an East Asian revolution that's been spread by mobile devices. But the umbrella can also be seen as a Picasso-like face. And then, we have a single raindrop/tear that creates its iconic power. It evokes the thousands who've stood in thunderstorms and, more movingly, the pieta of watching your government commit an act of betrayal. This is an extraordinary piece of design by a young student at the Polytechnic University who calls himself ArRa Tang on Facebook. This is one that even Saul Bass would have been proud of:

Tell us your favorites.