Flying the flag (post 2 of 2)

22 April 2008 at 5:36 pm Leave a comment

Jake Goretzki writes:

In the first half of this post, I wrote about flags as brands with an army and navy – but still in need of relaunching or repositioning from time to time. When they do work, relaunches are marvellously transformatory. Imagine Canada with this blazer badge of a flag (below) – unbelievably, this survived until 1965. It seems to convey the notion of Canada as some kind of British backwater. How could it ever have stood out? The Maple leaf on the other hand is ownable, differentiated and unifying. That said, of course, Quebec might beg to differ – anyone for a rebrand?

Canada Pre-1965

Canada Post-1965

Unlike Canada, New Zealand still wrestles today with brand differentiation issues. At the moment the current New Zealand flag (below) looks a bit like Australia (further below) in disguise, so it’s not surprising that there’s a movement to rebrand it, both differentiating it from Australia and referencing the indigenous population – something the current flag doesn’t capture. Naturally, it’s a controversial subject and still unresolved, but one senses that the consumer context and the brand has already shifted quite a long way in this direction. The ‘All Blacks’ aren’t ‘All Red, White and Blues’ for a reason. To the neutral observer, differentiation beckons.

Current New Zealand

Proposal for a new New Zealand flag


For an example of repositioning meanwhile, look no further than the Irish tricolour, which evolved from the green, white and gold of nineteenth century nationalism

to today’s green-white-orange. The orange is widely seen as a reference to the House of Orange (and hence to Protestants): a neat conciliatory gesture, but rather like McClean’s toothpaste’s short-lived attempt to go upmarket with its packaging, or DFS’s claim to being ‘designer’, has struggled to reach its target. The brand isn’t there yet. In fact, Cote d’Ivoire might yet be closer.

20th-Century Ireland

19th-Century Ireland

Cote D’Ivoire

Flag branding disasters? Well, it’s an apocryphal case, but the Iraqi flag in recent years might be an example. The never-flown Governing Council flag was interpreted by some observers (ones with – shall we say – rather idiosyncratic world views) as referencing the Israeli flag – yes, you heard it. In reality, the ultimately repositioned new Iraqi flag found a solution in a subtle revision of calligraphy (the earlier version was widely believed to feature Saddam Hussein’s handwriting). Small design development, powerful symbolic statement. They also jettisoned their stars – these ones symbolised the shortlived United Arab Republic.

Iraq 2008

Iraq – Saddam era

Iraq – Governing Council

Lastly, a moment to savour what was once the world’s most abysmal flag: that of Rwanda until 2001. An example of branding and communication so inept that it used to remind me of ubiquitous straplines one would see in newly-capitalist Russia claiming that any product was ‘The Best in the World’. Of homework finished on the school bus.

Rwanda 1962-2001

The good news? A new brand was launched in 2001, authoritative, optimistic and even managing to evoke a feeling of a place and terrain. They’ve had the consultants in!

Rwanda 2001-

Entry filed under: brands, design, marketing, media.

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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