Monday, October 7, 2019

The Tortoise and the Hare

The other day, we were hanging out around the water cooler, shooting the breeze and talking about branding, like we like to do, and the conversation turned to metaphors for branding, another thing we like to do, and someone from the typing pool piped up and said that they thought that branding was like Aesop's fables: a seemingly endless trove of tales, each one designed to illustrate a particular point.

They added that good branding is the tale that tells the truth of individual goods or services and that whereas Aesop's fables each have their individual moral (the tortoise and the hare, for example), each brand has their individual deep brand truth. Or brand essence, or brand DNA. Or whatever you wanna all it.

Well, we were liking this simile a lot when our chief, cook, and bottle washer (not to mention head of the typing pool), took it even further. (Background: Recently we had lost a pitch to a local logo mill and when fearless leader asked the once-prospective client if the logo mill was going to be doing any branding for her, she replied: "Oh, yes! They're going to make the logo AND the letterhead AND the website ALL have the SAME look!!" This did NOT make him happy, highlighting, as it did, his evident failure to make the client understand what branding actually is.) ANYWAY . . . he took the metaphor a little further and noted that if the moral of the Aesop's fable is the "brand essence" and the way the tale is told is the "brand personality", then perhaps the title of the tale is the name of the product and the illustrations are the symbolic equivalent of the logo. Each of them individually (and all of them collectively) reinforce the story, but none of them, on their own, is the whole story. Much less, the moral of the story.

Here below is a title of a story and a single illustration from that story. Pretend for a second that you don't already know the tale of the tortoise and the hare and ask yourself: from the title and an illustration (a logo and a look), how much of the story do you really get?

For us, the answer is clear: not enough. From just these two elements, you simply don't get enough information to truly understand the richness of the story that's behind them, and the moral of the story? Completely lost. And THAT'S the moral of THIS story!

Here at Woodstock Organic Concepts, we identify and leverage unique brand stories to help brands succeed in their competitive environments. A name, a URL, a logo and a letterhead are all part of it, as is a unified look and feel that extends to all media and expressions of the brand. But it's the gestalt of it all that can really help clients win the race. And that's where we come in, the tellers of tales and painters of pictures in the interest of our clients' success.

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And now, for your viewing pleasure, take a gander at how Walt Disney told the whole story and painted the whole picture in 1934: "The tortoise and the hare" Animated. Disney. 1934.

If you want even more, check out our story "What is branding? (Or: the lazy KY)"

Sunday, March 3, 2019

NYU's Institute of French Studies

Not too long ago, we got a call to do a poster for NYU's Institute of French Studies for their 40th anniversary programming. Well, it turned out they needed a logo too, so we did a little logo exploratory for them . . .

We started with the NYU logo, the torch inside of a purple square:

Played with that . . .

Played some more . . .

And, at some point, it dawned on us that the letters of their logo spelled out the word "ifs" (which seemed perfect for an organization of historians, who are always looking for fresh ways to make sense of the past) and we looked down that path to see what might be there:

But eventually, as often happens, a doodle on a piece of paper turned into the winning idea:

The red, white and blue of the French flag was quickly scuttled as being too nationalistic, and the natural substitution choice was NYU's purple:

And here below are some of the posters we did, our favorite at the bottom, picturing the French Marianne, symbol of liberty and reason and the Republic and our final logo.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


Well, someone asked about our poster work today and so we spent an inordinate amount of time digging up the posters that we could find (when our external hard drive crashed and burned, it took a whole bunch of our work away forever!!) and are posting some of them here. 

First, the posters featuring feet:

Next, a couple posters featuring kitchen stuff:

A couple for Cocoon Theater:

A few direct mail posters for O'Hare + Associates, advertising recruiters: (the copy is great, really)

A bunch for clients JTD Productions and radioUnleashed:

And a couple for the holidays: 

There are a whole bunch more somewhere, and hopefully not lost forever. We'll add them as we stumble upon them!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What is branding? (Or: the Lazy K Y) (updated!)

What is branding?

Branding is the act of burning a letter-based design onto the side of livestock with a hot iron stamp.

It’s also the creation of an important, intellectual and emotional connection between a product or service and the people who may use it.

But let's stick to the cattle kind of branding for a while, because our pal Jim from Missouri explained it to us not too long ago and it seemed to present a lot of useful parallels for the modern day concept of "consumer" branding. Both leave indelible marks, both require a certain amount of skill to do just right, are easy to do wrong, and can be incredibly useful to protect or create profits.

Behold below an instructional image from the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association "Texas Brand Registration" page on "How to design a brand".

Front and center in this lovely chart we can find the Woodstock Organic Concepts rule #1 for creating a consumer brand: keep it simple. Complication equals confusion and let's not forget the words of the infamous cattleman Oscar Wilde, who said: "to define is to limit". The more we define the brand with needless complexities, the more we have defined it into a narrow corner. Pigeonholed our cow, so to speak. Not a good idea. Simplicity in the branding will allow for complexity in the messaging later, if that's really what we need.

Now let's look at the painting below: "The lazy K Y", by Charles Marion Russell. Look closely and you'll see a brand on the steer. The "K" is on its side so it's called a "lazy K" and the "Y" is to the right or below it so it's read second.  The brand is, as the title of the painting says: the lazy KY.

This brand, the lazy K Y, happens to be a really good brand. Why do you think? Here's what Jim from Missouri told us (his family owns the Lazy KY brand):

Well, for starters, it nicely embodies rule #1: it's simple -- a "K" on its side and a "Y". Not complicated in the least. Secondly, the letters are not easily transformed into different letters by the addition of lines. Here's what we mean . . . take the letter "F" for example, burned onto the side of a hypothetical cow. A cattle rustler could, with the simple addition of a short arced line, transform the "F" into a "P". A branding design flaw. A vulnerability. In the same way, an "I" could be easily turned into a "T" or a "V" into a Lazy "A". (an upside down "A"). Not good at all, but it brings us to . . . 

Branding rule #2: make it ownable for you and not ownable by your competition. Now this is a great rule but there are a lot of ways to do it. One way is to cultivate your brand's honest eccentricities, i.e., what is it that your brand has that your competition does not. Kent cigarettes famous "Micronite filter" from the Mad Men days or Ivory soap's "99 44/100% pure", which is still in use today. No competitive brand can make those claims, as opposed to, say, Nike sportswear company's claim "Just do it." Those 3 words, so well-owned by Nike, could actually have be used by lots of different companies: "Weight watchers . . . Just do it!", your local car wash or bowling alley, and "Trojan" to name a few. It's just not inherently ownable.  BUT!!! Nike has spent a gadjillion dollars connecting those words and the thoughts behind them to their company. And now they really and truly own that sentiment. So that's another way to own it: burn it into people's heads with repetition on a large scale.

But back to the lazy K Y, it's a brand identity that could be put on anything: a cow, a horse, a barn, a ring, a t-shirt, a print ad. It's versatile. Which brings us to branding rule #3: it should work everywhere -- in all media and for every story your company needs to tell. The brand part is the umbrella under which all your communications can comfortably fit. If you're Volvo and you need to introduce consumers to a new car, you can tell them about the engine and the suspension and the chassis and the interior and you can discuss how all those important elements add to the overall safety of the vehicle, that is, you can discuss them all under the umbrella of "safety".

But the branding here goes both ways: the micro feeds the macro and vice versa. The details support the umbrella, which in turn shades the details. It's what we here at Woodstock Organic Concepts have dubbed a "reinforcing branding loop": the details validate the overarching brand idea which validates the details and so on ad infinitum. And ad nauseum, too: it works in all media: print, radio, tv, web, outdoor, etc. WHEN it's executed just right.

Another strength of the lazy K Y brand is that when it's executed, it's not likely to become confusing. Just suppose you're burning that brand onto your cow and you hold the iron in place a little too long or maybe the cow's hide is wet and the lines you intended spread out and fill in in ways you didn't intend. Well, in the case of the KY, those lines are not likely to touch, so they're not likely to be confusing. They radiate out from their centers and are easily recognizable. Which brings us to branding rule #4: make it clear. This will help you to avoid creating confusion in the minds of consumers when things go well and even when things don't. You can probably guess by now why the lazy QO might be confusing. Beware of traps like that.

To review: simple, ownable, versatile and clear. These are the elements of good branding. (As we've identified so far.) Piece of cake. Now let's look at some examples. In the marketing arena, not the livestock arena. Who are the companies that elicit an immediate visceral reaction just when you hear their name or see their logo? -- Apple. Volvo. Nike. Starbucks. Google. To name a few. Not surprisingly these companies, these brands, beyond creating an emotional connection, have backed it up with an intellectual underpinning: smart, safe, striving, delicious, helpful (respectively). This combination of appeal to both emotion and intellect creates the simplest, most versatile, clearest, and most ownable branding.

It's something that every company, big or small, should have to help them communicate most effectively with their clients. It's the difference between generic and premium.  Between "that'll do" and "I've gotta have it". It's the difference between a product and a brand.

Branding, as the landing page of our site puts it, is the speciality of Woodstock Organic Concepts: "helping clients to better understand and leverage their inherent strengths in an increasingly competitive marketplace."

Let us help you create your brand. It's what we do.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Toot, horn, etc.

(originally posted, like a year ago, updated and reposted to include "Metal smash")

Well, we don't usually like to toot our own horn, but being in the horn tooting business and all, and being the horn-tooting professionals that we are, don't'cha know, sometimes it just has to happen. Sure, that "sometimes" may sometimes seem like all the time, but that's just the way it is and if you can't handle the heat, well, get out of our car. Vrooom.

Anyhow, we got a job doing some labels for cd's put out by our professional horn toot sound effect pal, Coll, of C.A. Sound, Inc. He had some ideas that we kinda liked and all was going along well, happily making his ideas sing when, BAM!!, a completely different idea crashed into our skulls.

He's selling canned sound effects, sets of them, each one around a particular theme, so why not make the labels actual labels on actual cans. Get it?! For the canned sound effect? Uh huh, yeah you do. You get it. Well, so did our esteemed client. He loved the idea and so we made a bunch of actual labels and pasted them onto a bunch of actual cans and actually took an actual photo of it. And that's our cd cover. To date, we've done labels for cd sound effects libraries for metal smash, car destruction, house, gore, dog, metal plate and battle crowds. He's got more for us to to and when they're done, we'll post 'em here and honk our horn so you know when to look.

For "Metal smash", we made and affixed the label and then (of course) dented the can.
(We also designed his landing page, from which we stole the above image and which includes some of the favorite copy we ever wrote! You can see it here:

Friday, March 11, 2016

Logo interruptus

Well, we hate it when a job gets put on hold, especially when we're having a lot of fun with it, as we were with this new company called (please don't read ahead) Home Haven. The idea of the company is that if your home is in an order that makes sense, you will be happier and more productive. (You should see our desks here right now. Eee-gads.) We had just sold a logo (last one down) and an animated gif version of it when the whole thing got put on the back burner for one reason or another. And now, on this slow news day here at the salt mine, we're sharing our work. Cause we like it. Enjoy.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

We love doing logos; it's just like play.

We've come to understand something important: we looooove doing logos! So, here is an updated accounting of some of our work that actually seems like play in this arena and a short rant on the topic, to boot!!


More and more people are talking about "branding" these days and it's becoming increasingly apparent that what they're really talking about is a logo. Nothing more. It seems that, for many people, the idea of branding is kinda, well, superficial.

As long-time practitioners of what we used to call "positioning", this misperception irks us. Oh sure, maybe we shouldn't take it so personally, but we do. Which leads us to frequently say (or at least think) "harrumph!" and also leads us to frequently direct people to our most excellent and still-fun company white paper on branding. As we're doing right now: click here to read it.

But we've already written that paper. This one's on a different topic altogether: expressing the brand through the logo.


Oh, we love logos as expressions of a company's brand essence. Some of them are kinda literal in expressing it: think of the puma (symbol of speed and strength) for sportswear company Puma or the running greyhound (symbol of speed) for bus company Greyhound; others are a little more symbolically rich like the apple (symbol of knowledge ever since the garden of Eden) for computer company Apple. Others don't really reflect the brand essence but rather, the brand's name: the red target for big chain store Target, the red cross for the Red Cross, the aforementioned greyhound and the big yellow shell for the oil company named . . . anyone? Bueller? Still others really don't seem to relate to the brand name or the brand essence very much at all: the Nike swoosh, the Mercedes-Benz three pointed star and, say, the bat inside of a circle for Bacardi.

For us here at Woodstock Organic Concepts, however, the logos we like best actually have a meaningful connection to their brand's deliverables, if not the exact brand essence. Take a look through this random sampling of logos below and name the company they represent and what that company does.

Really, apart from that shell and the DHL logo, they all relate pretty closely to the goods or services they stand for.

So. So much for the classics made by other people. Some of them big famous hotshots. (We love that Westinghouse logo by Paul Rand and others, including Charles Eames.) What about the Woodstock Organic Concepts classics?

Well, there are some, and you're about to see them. Mostly, we do logos as part of an overall branding job, but sometimes we get a gig where the client understands their brand, already has a brand identity and simply wants a logo to express it. So, without further ado, here are are a few of our favorite logos from over the years and a short explanatory text (we'll try to keep it short, really we will) connecting the logo to the brand idea. Enjoy.

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The Woodstock Public Library was a great gig, we helped them identify what they should stand for: access. The client wanted an iconic logo to express that thought and we gave them this:

Here's the logo with the tag line:

For the entire library branding case study, including a lot on logo development, click here.


Another of our favorite logos is for a company that helps buildings to become more green. We visually showed the transformation from dirty to clean by using color stripes that ran from black to white and muddy to pastel. Again, it's fairly iconic and ownable.


Next up is a logo we did for singer/songwriter and all-around amazingly creative super star Jill Sobule. She wanted to start a record company where the profits would be in the hands of the artists, not the management. Naturally, we called her a communist, which nicely reinforced one of her ideas for the label's name: Pinko records. Naturally, we thought of the Chinese flag, with one big star and a red background. In this case, we made the star out of a vinyl record, had an actual flag made up, ran it up the hill on a windy day and shot a photo of it. Bam! Instant logo. Jill has the flag now and trots it out for various events.

Jill also needed a logo for her traveling show with SNL alum Julia Sweeney, a mini case study of that logo can be read here, and the finished product is here below:


The logo below was done for a company that restores old tube amplifiers, stereo components. They specialize in MacIntosh amplifiers. We were messing around with the sound waves of oscilloscopes (a tool of his trade) and realized that the waves, if looked at just right made the letters of the company name, VVA, as well as representing the science behind the scene of the company's work.


We did a couple of swell logos for a pair of energy companies, here are the selected logo and the runner up just underneath for both bluefuel and gyr:


For travel and destination photographers, Preston Schlebusch, citizens of the world that they are, we decided they needed their own flag:

But not just a photoshopped flag created from their images, oh no, they needed an actual 3d physical object flag for them to take with them as they travel all over the world shooting their jobs. And so that's what we made 'em. 

Here are some of the pics so far...


One of our very favorite branding case-studies is for a nationally syndicated radio program, radioUnleashed. (read it here.) The logo that came out of the brand exploratory continues to delight and the tag line ain't half bad either.


For a new chain of Greek restaurants, here are some of the remaining contenders after a couple of rounds of a major logo exploratory. (Which will give a good glimpse into how we work!) (Kovo means "to slice" in Greek.)


For the 501(c)3 youth organization, we did a complete rebranding. It's now called Culture Connect and the new logo is this: 


Another hand-drawn logo for another music business, a small record label in NYC that was putting out funky and fun music:

For the 1/2 a percent for AIDS charity meme:

For our friend the reflexologist, kinda explaining the concept of what she does. (We love the fingerprint in the shape of a brain.)

For a now defunct organization that helped kids by helping them make movies and short films. You can also see a fine example of our original concept: the "dynamic tag line":

Patches for the Farber Brothers' sailboat for hire, Ophira. They already had the Farber brothers emblem.

For the green candidate who was not seen as the green candidate: (read the case study here.)

For two organizations that help those exposed to toxic dust during the 9/11 clean up:

For Samuel's, the best coffee in Rhinebeck, this little 'king of coffee' logo was designed to be used in conjunction with the pre-existing Samuel's logo (which we always wanted to update):

And finally, for our own little fun company, we use a fresh logo whenever we come up with one, but that little light bulb is really our fave for expressing our brand personality: fun, creative, unusual. Just what you want in an ad agency.

There you go. A little logo round up showing hopefully, how logos can really be a strong way to express a brand essence and brand personality. Logos are important tool in the big branding tool box. But they're certainly not the only tool. So please, from now on, remember: branding is not a logo . . . but a logo should definitely be branding.