Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Too Clever By Half

Posted by metaphorical on 10 October 2008

THE BRANDING
OF A RESTAURANT
POWERHOUSE

When Triarc Companies Inc., the parent company of sandwich chain Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc. acquired Wendy’s International, the move created the third largest fast-food company. The company was renamed as Wendy’s/Arby’s Group and required a new brand identity to embody the innovative spirit of both restaurant brands. The new brand identity also needed to illustrate the collective strength of the organization to its employees, franchisees and shareholders.

Wendy’s and Arby’s merged?

KCSA Strategic Communications worked closely with Wendy’s/Arby’s Group management to define the shared, core brand values of both Wendy’s and Arby’s, and articulate the company’s unique value proposition and intangible qualities that surround the Wendy’s/Arby’s name.

“Value proposition” – heh.

“Intangible qualities” – heh-heh.

“Each company’s brand is a valuable strategic asset,” said Joshua Altman, Managing Director at KCSA. “The challenge in this type of situation is to develop a symbolic, clear new brand language that creates new meaning to audiences without losing the tradition, legacy, and the already important values established by the previously separate entities.”

Tradition? Legacy? This is fast food we’re talking about, right?

The Wendy’s/Arby’s Group brand identity references identifiable visual characteristics from both Wendy’s and Arby’s, structured as a form reflective of the “W” and “A” in Wendy’s/Arby’s Group. The icon and the tagline, “Serving Fresh Ideas Daily”, support Wendy’s/Arby’s Group’s commitment to innovation and high level of quality.

Wendy’s has a new logo?

“The Wendy’s/Arby’s Group brand identity is designed not only as an acronym, but as a spiral continuum, maintaining the idea of continuous, flexible movement forward,” said Margaret Wiatrowski, Creative Director at KCSA. “The overall visual direction remains neutral by introducing entirely new elements to the combined entity, both formalistically and typographically. Symbolically, the two entities are combined through a mutual sense of innovation, authenticity and tradition.”

Innovation? Authenticity? Tradition (again!)? This is fast food we’re talking about, right?

Wendy’s/Arby’s Group unveiled its new brand to key stakeholders the first week of October, 2008.

Oh, it will have a new logo.

To learn more about this project or how we may serve you, please contact Joshua Altman at jaltman@kcsa.com.

Who wouldn’t want to learn more about this “project?

KCSA, a public-relations firms I’ve worked with, is better than this. Is there anything more inauthentic than saying that you have authenticity?

It’s time to return to the words of the master.

Pretentious diction. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basis, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up simple statements and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgments.

Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly even expected to do so by the reader.

– George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”

“Key stakeholders,” “valuable strategic asset,” “overall visual direction,” “formalistically,” “value proposition,” “intangible qualities,” “innovation,” “tradition,” and “legacy” are all words that are used to dress up simple statements, give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgments, and, as the master would be quick to say, are almost completely lacking in meaning.

Since only “key stakeholders” have seen the changes, it’s too soon to say whether this rebranding effort will be a success or a failure. And there’s no denying that brands are important. GM is trying to sell its Hummer brand, and according to today’s N.Y. Times, hopes to get a few billion for it. Since, in a era of $4/gallon gas, no one is buying Hummers (or cars at all; GM’s and Ford’s stocks jumped out the window yesterday, and even Toyota is going the zero-percent financing route), Hummer’s entire value is that it’s a name that is universally recognized (albeit often mocked).

What KCSA needs to remember, though, is that rebranding isn’t a sexy runway show. Rebranding is a little bit of backoffice sketching, and a lot of sweatshop work – cutting, sewing, ironing, fitting, and resewing. It can’t be dressed up with meaningless words. In fact, for a PR agency to talk of value propositions and strategic assets is like the designer showing up at the runway in a bathrobe.

Come on guys, you’re better than this.

2 Responses to “Too Clever By Half”

  1. digglahhh said

    Having recently read through a series of RFPs for PR representation, and then sat through a few in-person presentations, this was a joy to read.

    I have a co-worker who reminds me of you, Meta. He could barely keep a straight face through most of them, and continually asked, “Yeah, but what specifically do you mean by that?” and “what exactly are you going to do, and how are you going to do it?”

    I’m totally gonna email this guy to ask him more about the project though. How can you resist the offer?

    I also like the notion that after all this pedantic jargon about innovation, strategic thinking, and whatever the hollow buzzword du jour may be, the end result is a proposal to just smush the first two letters of the respective companies’ names together. Holy fuck, that’s ingenious. Next thing you know, sports teams from New York will be creating logos for their hats by combining an “N” and a “Y” Truly groundbreaking shit here!

    BTW, I would love to be involved in one of these branding campaigns when sports teams switch uniforms and logos. It seems like they go out of their way to make the dumbest possible decisions. As a huge sports fan, an owner of an ungodly amount of jerseys, hats, etc. and somebody who has some brand management experience, I’m often amazed at how badly most of the choices can be fucked up. Boring design, check. Color scheme that has nothing to with team identity/geographic region, check. Non-existent marketing potential outside of fans of your specific team, check.

  2. ClaireDePlume said

    Read the following with a tongue in your cheek and a smile on your screen… How ingenious that we are invited to become the dubious benefactors of ~sandwich-ology~. Here again is the stuff of “pedantic jargon about innovation, strategic thinking, and whatever the hollow buzzword du jour may be”. All of this crammed between two not so ingenious slices of manna from the gods of Jargon-osophy. We’re being stuffed right out the wazoo with hollow words and meaningless values. What next? Economy hummers and politically correct deconstruction of small countries perhaps?

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