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Is backwards the way forwards for business?


The pandemic has got Aussies feeling sentimental about the past.  Is it a bold choice for businesses to play to our fondness for nostalgia in uncertain times?  Creative director Martin Hopkins mulls it over…

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2021, 365,480 new businesses were registered. That’s 365, 480 new brand identities to be created. 

As anyone who has attempted to start a new business will tell you, landing an identity is hard. Not just from the perspective of suitability and likability but also availability. The need for logos to work better in digital channels has made originality and distinctiveness even harder. 

So how on earth are the next 365,480 businesses going to come up with unique and original identities? 

One bold trend we’re seeing is brands looking backwards and tapping into nostalgia. 

The impact of the pandemic is no doubt a driving force behind this as people look back fondly on life before Covid, a time that felt safer and more enjoyable.

This nostalgia is coming to life in visual identities that are adopting more vivid colours, expressive serif typefaces and ’70s-inspired illustrations. Heck, flares are even back in style.

Brands that are playing to our fondness for the past include Visa. The credit card company recently refreshed its identity by bringing back the brown (now yellow) and blue twin stripe from its old design.  

Similarly, Burger King (Hungry Jacks to us) ditched its overly artificial fast-food cues. Instead, the burger chain dusted off a much more wholesome and fun ‘70s identity.

In 2020, Caltex Australia brought back its iconic Ampol brand. The logo and branding had been retired more than 25 years ago.

So, should your brand get on board with this trend? 

If you’re an established brand, you might be tempted to go digging through your archives for forgotten assets. Before you do, think about why it was dropped in the first place. Did it have negative connotations, become a victim of new trends or ill-informed decision-making? 

Owning a set of unique visual elements is becoming harder and brands need to rethink managing visual identities to balance relevance and ownership. 

By its very public nature, FMCG brands are generally very good at constantly evolving to stay fresh yet distinctly familiar. On the other hand, B2B brands seem to go through major statement transformations with every new CEO.

There’s absolutely a need to keep your brand identity fresh, relevant and fit for purpose. But brands have to be careful and purposeful in what is ditched or revived. You never know when you might need something again and if you let go of a valuable asset, someone else may adopt it. Likewise if you’re contemplating bringing an asset back to life, think long and hard about its purpose. Scope for longevity before going ahead.

For new brands looking to borrow from the past, focus on the spirit of the times as well as the visual characteristics. 

Visual identities of the ‘70s, for example, took more risk. Craft was embraced as was variation as the brands experimented with emerging technologies. 

A desire to stand out 

The desire to stand out and be different was a reaction against the preceding era of the Modernist “International” style defined by a less-is-more ethos, simple sans serif typefaces, strict grid systems and a preference for the descriptive nature of photography over the imaginative and expressive qualities of illustration. 

It sounds a bit like digital best practice. It’s no wonder we’re seeing a resurgence for the twisting, melting and distorted aesthetics of the psychedelic ‘70s. 

By looking back as well as forward, you have a unique opportunity to stand out from the hundreds of thousands of new businesses that are coming in the next 12 months. 

And after that soul searching, if you do decide to borrow from the past, you’ll be in good company. After all, in the words of Picasso (then adopted by Steve Jobs), “Good artists copy, great artists steal”.

Martin Hopkins is the Principals creative director in Sydney.

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