Authenticity is one of the most powerful concepts in humanistic psychology, determining justice, certainty, trust, and naturalness. No doubt that it has also been common in the branding world for quite some time as many brands seek to radiate authenticity by being open, genuine, and professing specific values. However, do all efforts pay off if brands try to communicate their authentic qualities without historical evidence? Is authenticity possible without the historical actuality of a brand?
Recognition of the legacy
Let’s take the example of Kodak. Today, the brand is back to its old logo, created by Peter J. Oestreich in 1971. The icon has been in use for over 35 years and has become an absolute icon. No matter where you would be, you could recognize the yellow-red Kodak sign from afar. However, there was a complete change in 2006, when the brand identity became more minimal and modern. And it was a mistake – Kodak lost its original image by becoming more digital, i.e., more similar to competitors.
First to notice this adverse move was the American girls’ duo Work-Order. They recreated the 1971 Kodak iconic brand language by turning the brand into a more functional look for today’s world.
Kodak CMO Steven Overman once commented on that brand move that the design update had not returned Kodak’s iconic identity; it had not even disappeared. Simple logic was followed: not to hide but instead give the deeply memorable logo a new lease of life that reflected the company’s image and identity. According to Steven Overman, culturally, the company had not deviated from its old brand path externally and internally. Albeit, the design was. It tried to adapt to the rules and trends dictated by the times but had sacrificed its main strength – historicity. Work-Order, thankfully, identified this mistake and suggested the direction that would respond to the challenges posed to the design function but preserve the historical legacy.
Another really fresh branding case happened recently by Jones Knowles Ritchie for Burger King. We can see the same path when all the competitors focused on modernizing interiors and making the brand digital. The heritage of the real American burger joint was forgotten forever. The creative team noticed it and delivered the most iconic rebrand of 2021.
Rebranding Cold War brand
But not every time everything is so simple. I want to share something from my personal experience.
A few years ago, andstudio had to renew the brand of Inkaras sneakers. And the analysis of this Kodak case was contributory for my team when working on this local project. For the rebrand, of course, we did not forget the brand story. The rubber shoe factory was established between the First and Second World Wars, later it started to produce rubber sports shoes and was associated with the Kaunas football club – Inkaras. When the war came, the company was inactive, and later, when the Soviet occupation began, it was rebuilt to provide sneakers to the entire Soviet Union in the heat of the Cold War. After Lithuania regained its independence, the market was flooded with Western sports shoes, and eventually, the factory’s products were pushed out of the market. The technology of the sneakers has not changed: they were not very high quality and were associated with the past and deprivation. However, they stuck in the people’s memory that even the Western brand Converse was called their Lithuanian copy Inkariukai. Therefore, even the Z generation, which did not even see and wear these sneakers, still called all rubber sneakers a common word – Inkariukai (eng. anchors).
Old world versus new world
In 2018, this brand was bought and renewed. Back then, we (andstudio) were put on a task to formulate a new strategy and identity for the company. We immediately realized that it is not worth restoring the old brand directly because it does not stimulate sentiment in the younger generation. Moreover, the elderly have a very strong nostalgia as Inkaras were the only sneakers they could have, but they regret the quality and comfort. Therefore, our main defined direction was the synthesis between the old and the new so that the foundations of the brand would be authentic and the facade new.
A few years after the rebrand, I can say that we really succeeded. The younger generation is beginning to understand and separate Converse from Inkaras. The elderly are engaging and sharing nostalgic memories from the past; thus, they all develop the brand together. In the Post Soviet world, it is a great luxury to have authenticity based on history, but due to historical twists and subtleties, this powerful weapon needs to be handled with great care and tact.
Learning from the history
For modern brands, I would suggest learning from history, often not following trends. Frequently changing marketing strategies and the desire to mature lead to mistakes – most of the brands now are super green, world-changing saints, and the next day boom – they are mixed up in scandals. A great deal of strength and authenticity comes from integrity with small surprises. Not the other way around.