Wandering down my suburban street this morning, I noticed a manhole cover, with the initials G.P.O. carved into it.
The General Post Office was the UK communications monopoly. Created by King Charles I in 1660, it remained a fixture of British life until it was abolished a mere 309 years later.
The GPO ceased to exist in 1969. And yet, 44 years later, its brand remains seared on the flesh of the streets.
Most of the GPO manhole covers have survived for over half a century – although many are in severe need of repair. It got me thinking about the permanence of brands.
With all the pivoting, merging, de-merging, logo refreshing, updating of style guides, it’s hard to imagine any modern day brands being brave enough to risk etching their logo into anything more permanent than a laptop sticker.
There are very few companies who have been in existence for over a century – and even fewer which still have the same name. Titans of our industry, such as IBM, have gone through countless name and logo changes.
There’s a very real cost involved with changing a company’s brand – aside from the outrageous fees from “creative consultants” there’s the cost of reprinting stationery, refitting buildings, sewing new uniforms for employees, and retooling production facilities.
For digital brands, there’s still a non-trivial cost associated with replacing logos on websites, updating apps, and the like.
In both cases, you need to re-educate your workforce and customers.
It’s true that the GPO didn’t carve their entire logo into the manhole cover. Whether that is due to technological limitations, or otherwise, I cannot say. But their identity is firmly embossed on the fabric of the streets.
Old logos persist. Old brands stick around in people’s memories long after their corporate owners have discarded them.
It has been over 20 years since the Snickers bar was introduced to the UK, and many people still refer to the chocolate bar by its old name of Marathon.
There’s an awful lot of nonsense talked about branding. The data continually show that older brands dominate charts which measure which brands customers trust.
We live in a world which professes to favour the new, the innovative, the reinvented – yet our actions indicate that we prefer established brands which can draw on a long history of consistency.
There’s a certain arrogance about having your name hewn into the living rock. A belief that you – or your brand – is a permanent, unchanging feature of the world. Next time you’re thinking about changing your logo, or remodelling your brand, imagine how much more powerful it will be to have the same designs and the same brand name reaching out through history.