A little while ago, I wrote about my current class assignment to reinvigorate a brand that is “dead, dying or defunct”. As we are nearing the semester’s end next month, I thought it would be a good time to begin describing the process of this project. The final deliverable is a book, in which we describe the history of our chosen brand (and why it’s time for a update), outline the new identity guidelines (visual standards manuals, usage considerations etc), and show potential extensions (mock ups of storefronts, products, etc). For this process post I’ll describe my brand choice and eventual logo development.
(project permalink on my site)
When I wrote the first article, I was considering No Fear as my primary option. With such a versatile name, I figured I could take the brand in a number of different directions. However, as much fun as it would have been to revisit the dominant clothing of my middle school years (along with LA Lights), I was concerned that the project would not really extend anywhere beyond a basic brand overhaul (new logo, visuals, products, etc). I saw little opportunity for humor or much conceptual work, and I opted to move in a different direction.
I decided to rebrand Playboy — a brand that many might say is arguably not dead, dying or defunct. Like many magazines, they actually are “dying” (financially), but for my project I focused on the decay of the overall perception of the brand. The graph below displays how I feel the brand has progressed in a more abstract fashion. Basically, these days, I would say most people would be embarrassed to say they read Playboy. A baseless assumption perhaps, but when was the last time you saw someone reading Playboy in public?
To keep up with the increasing trashiness of the American Men’s magazine, Playboy has been forced to reposition itself as “one of the boys” as it were, and is now indistinguishable from the Maxim’s of the world. Rather than hold on to the sophisticated standards of their early years, Playboy has come to embrace its unfortunately crude place in the magazine world. This evolution (rather, devolution) is tragic and the original soul of the brand has been lost. Maybe not “dead, dying or defunct”, but Playboy has certainly lost something along the way. I saw an opportunity to bring some of the original classiness and sophistication back with a drastic repositioning…
The 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. To do this, we were required to research the history of our brand in depth; plotting out audience profiles, constructing mood boards, mapping important dates and brand evolution, determining market opportunities — basically a full immersion in the world of our brand. After this process was complete, we were able to begin our brainstorming surrounding the new “soul” of our brand.
For me, the new soul was largely based on the old soul (or at least what I, having not been alive to see it, perceived to have been the old soul). Playboy was once regarded as a sophisticated and classy magazine for the modern gentleman. It attracted all of the best writers and was a beacon of style and culture; truly with a finger on the pulse of American society at the time. I latched onto the joke you often here “I read Playboy for the articles”. These days, this statement always gets a laugh because of its assumed falseness — it would be absurd to imagine that a large percentage of the current Playboy audience “reads” it anymore. (Of course, I know some people read it, but I am taking certain assumptions to the extreme for the sake of the exercise).
I imagined a Playboy comprised solely of articles, devoid of nudity (or images of any kind) — something that people would have no choice but to read. In the same way it was regarded as progressive and irreverent in the past, so too could it be now, with an effective and drastic restructuring. Strangely enough, the boundaries Playboy pushed back in the 60’s have now come to be relatively standard operating procedure for men’s magazines. A drastic change, such as eliminating nude spreads altogether, would be one of the ways Playboy could once again be on the forefront exciting editorial content.
The centerpiece of the project is considered to be the logo. We spend most of the first part of the semester doing logo development and it is a very intense process. I’ve mentioned before that sketching is not my forte and I had a really difficult time initially coming up with any viable ideas. My first direction involved what I was calling the “nerdy bunny”. I liked how graphic and simple it was, but it didn’t really get me very excited. Like most first ideas, this one was ejected into the stratosphere.
After a number of disappointing rounds of sketching and critiques I got really frustrated. This happens every semester and each time I pout around for a few minutes and then think of something exciting (to me at the time) amidst my sulking. My idea this time involved a fox, or some more sophisticated animal, eating the bunny. Most likely a manifestation of my frustration, this idea sounded funny to me and that was enough to at least sketch a little and see where it could go. A five hour delay at the airport aided this process significantly.
I was at home at the time and showed these sketches to my family. The general consensus of the Cornell household was that they were “too violent” and I was asked “how could I do that do the cute little bunny”. Valid points. In class the logos were met with the same hesitations — people liked the concept (of another animal logo eating the old animal logo), but were distracted by the sad little bunny. I decided to get rid of the actual bunny and replace him with something — maybe his iconic bow tie, but I wasn’t sure.
In addition to ditching the dead bunny, I wanted to make the fox more friendly. I looked at a lot of vintage animal illustrations and began trying to render something that might conjure this retro feel and also maintain the concept of the fox eating the bunny. I replaced the sad little bunny with his bow tie and this seemed to work. It was subtle enough that no one was getting upset about the loss of the bunny. I worked on this direction for a really long time and eventually landed on something I was really happy with. What you see below was *the logo* for my project for at least a couple of weeks. (As you can see, the tagline reads “Playboy Children’s”. After I ditched this logo, it reinserted it into the end of the project as the logo for the Children’s line of Playboy products, to be described in a later post.)
As I moved forward, the logo didn’t feel serious enough. It looked exactly how I wanted it to look, but I was having trouble imagining it being versatile across many applications. 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.
These sketches were refined and refined (and refined) to the point of complete absurdity. I spent most of the time trying to make sure the the animal read as a fox and not some sort of odd dog. I think I probably drew thousands of foxes during this process. The shape of his head changed the most over the course of the development. The eventual result of this process is below.
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.
The new brand will strip away all of the trashiness and cheapness that has come to infect the pages of the current Playboy. With this logo guiding the visual conceptualizing, the goal of the rebranding will be to bring back the class and sophistication of Playboy’s early years. In some cases, this will be done in a drastic fashion; for example, the magazine will not longer feature naked women, rather, it will become solely a literary magazine for the intellectually oriented gentleman. In the end, the product will be a lifestyle — or perhaps more appropriately — a perspective. A way to live your life, according to Playboy. This is outlined in the final book and I’ll post up some pictures and production notes when I get it back from the binder.
The assignment is due in one month, and due to an assortment of crazy production deadlines, my book design was done last week. It is a large 11″x17″ portrait sized book, and will be bound in leather. It will be ready in two weeks. Given that I will have a fair amount of extra time to flesh out some extra part of this project, I am currently brainstorming ideas for something crazy and exciting that I can add onto the final deliverable. Currently, the most promising ideas involve video, but I think it might also be interesting to do some form of super large format infographic poster. We’ll see, for now I’m just happy to be done with the logo and the book.