Heritage branding. A great opportunity for charities.

January 31 2017 - Mark Phillips

Here’s my prediction for charity brands over the next few years.

They will go back to their roots.

They will revert to their old logos and names.

The ones they used in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

They might be slightly tweaked, refreshed or produced in a “more dynamic” palette a few shades away from the original, but they will be to all intents and purposes, the old logos.

And it’s not hard to see why.

Commercial brands and even ad agencies are embracing the “hunger for authenticity” amongst consumers by reverting to original names and graphics.

JWT, for example, reverted to J. Walter Thompson in 2014 on the 150th anniversary of their opening because of the desire to reignite the “values and the soul” of the agency.

Few of us can have missed the explosion of Co-op shops on our high streets. It could be seen as a surprise considering the difficulties that the organisation has faced in recent years, having been beset by scandal and financial difficulties.

But the Co-operative Group has turned itself around and the reintroduction of the 1960s brand has been central to this process. As Lewis Mikolay from the Co-op’s agency, North recently explained

“We’ve been astonished by the positive reactions this logo has received in research groups. In older generations it evokes nostalgic memories of local shops and divi stamps whilst to younger generations it suggests a modern brand of the future, ready to live and breathe in the digital world.”

And they aren’t alone. Kodak, NatWest Bank, DC Entertainment (the comics, cartoons and films), MasterCard and Kellogg’s are among the many corporations that have taken a leaf out of the history books with their brands and merchandise.

Alongside this we’ve seen successful Kickstarter campaigns for the re-issue of brand guidelines. The reprint of the New York Subway guide generated over $800,000 and the NASA’s graphic standards manual from 1974 raised almost $1 million. NASA responded by offering a free PDF of their guide that branding geeks can download here.

So as well as being welcomed by consumers, it’s also becoming fashionable among young designers to look back in time and learn from the old masters. To my mind, it won’t be long before some bright branding agency starts pushing charities back to their original heartland with a return to a look that will forge a deep emotional connection with their long-term and most loyal donors.

There are many arguments for it. Not least the need to turn back the clock to a period long before the recent fundraising crisis when the word ‘charity’ tended to be axiomatically related to trust. It might also help undo some of the damage caused by what has passed for branding strategy over the last few years – an approach that has simply served to push a wedge between charities and donors. This is of particular importance now charities are changing their focus from churn and burn to engagement strategies that generate higher value gifts and all-important legacies.

If you don’t believe me, next time you meet up with some of your longest standing donors, hand them copies of old publications or advertisements or even photographs from long-forgotten projects and watch their reaction. Ask them to talk about what they recall from that time and share the reasons why they first started supporting you. You’ll get a great lesson in the power of emotion in storytelling.

The fact is, consumers (and donors) relate to a brand based on their personal experience of it, not simply through messages pushed at them. Anything we can do to remind a donor of the feelings they had when they first started supporting a cause can reconnect them not only to the charity but to their younger selves and the values they once did – and still do – hold dear.