Sunday, December 8, 2013

Branding is not a logo.

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.


An oldie, but a goodie, was this logo we did for our local farm stand, Sunfrost Farms. Our thought was so simple: update the classic fruit carton label. Below is our logo and tag line as well as a few mock-ups of business card backs.


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.


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.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

She sings, she tells stories

Our friend Jill Sobule does a show with her friend Julia Sweeney and they wanted a little logo for the show. "Maybe, you know, kind of a Sonny and Cher kinda thing to hang behind us on stage. Or like Flip Wilson, from the 70's." "Sounds fun", we thought. And it was. Here below is a smattering of what we came up with and some commentary to boot:

This is more or less where we started, with a direct knock off of the old Flip Wilson show logo from the 1970's.

Then we combined it with pics of the beautiful duo:

Then we explored the Sonny & Cher show logo arena:

Not sure why, but then we dressed them up as Playboy bunnies. It seemed kind of ironic to present such strong women in that way, and irony is the soul of wit and their show is incredibly witty. So....

Well, none of this work was striking just the right nerve with the duo, so we went a little further out, just to see what was out there. 

I don't think there was any concept whatsoever to this one with the hooves:

We love nougat. (whatever it is)

Getting all Mel Brooks on it:

Going creepy:

None of this found a buyer, so eventually, we decided to try something a little simpler. The letter 'j'. Twice. Looks nice with regular dots over it or with little faces. (as shown here) Jill kinda liked it, Julia had an idea:
What if we made one 'j' thin and one 'j' thicker. Just like the two of them. Perfect.

And that's how the logo for the jill and Julia show was born.

One room schoolhouse

Our friend Rebecca is an amazing teacher and all-around great person and so when she needed a logo for her new school, literally in an old one-room schoolhouse, we co-opted that telegraphic shape and pulled out the pencils for a little game we call "fun with type." And it is so fun. But we couldn't have TOOOO much fun, since she needs to present an air of responsibility and respectability along with the whiff of fun. The old-timey chalkboard seemed perfect for the image of this little rural school.

Monday, October 28, 2013

#4 in a series

More for client of the year, O'Hare+Associates.

Monday, October 21, 2013

#3 in the series

Our award-winning direct mail campaign for O'Hare+Associates!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

#2 in the series for fab client O'Hare+Associates

Featuring the lovely and talented Audrey Rapoport. Scroll down to the next post for the first in this series, "Are you a Creative Director?"

Thursday, September 5, 2013

It's broken!

We here at Woodstock Organic Concepts are proud as can be of our new campaign for client O'Hare + Associates, who just sent out the first ad in our award winning direct mail campaign.
It's here below. Click on it to see it bigger.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"I wanna send out a letter to drum up some business . . . "

Went down to the city the other day to talk to our headhunter, Marie, about drumming up some freelance work. She said "no problem" and then asked if we'd be interested in helping the boss write a letter to send out to prospective clients.

Well, the boss came in, the big cheese, the head honcho, the guy with his name on the door and it turns out he's a most excellent guy and we totally hit it off. In addition, we successfully talked him out of sending a letter and into doing something a little bit more noteworthy.

Our point of view on this is pretty simple: your target audience gets a lot of letters exhorting them to use this service or that and, honestly, their assistants, the people who open the letters, don't even read them. So don't waste a second writing a letter to try to reach and persuade them. Just don't.

Well, the honcho bought our argument and away we went to the drawing board to create an ad that would drum up some business. We pitched him on doing a top to bottom branding of his company, complete with in-house and out-of-house image research, but he just wanted an ad, so that's what we did. A few of them. And some other stuff too.

Now, the client's competition is not just the other recruiting firms, it's also the online job boards and, increasingly, LinkedIn. The job boards are a little impersonal and so is LinkedIn; headhunters, on the other hand, do all of their real business face-to-face. They meet with the clients, they meet with the candidates, they make a match. They are much more like old time matchmakers, while the job sites are akin to online dating sites like or

So with all that in mind, we started our look at their branding with a look at their logo. Here's what it was:

And here's what we wanted it to be: (click on any of the images on this page to view them bigger)

Seems sensible enough. If your major benefit is the human touch and actual face-to-face contact, why not try to include that information in your communications. Starting with your logo.

Well, the logo idea got dinged, but we still had a couple of fun ad ideas. The best of them highlighted people's ability to exaggerate themselves online, something that is an impossibility in person. For this ad, we created a tri-fold mailing piece that would go out in a branded envelope featuring their new logo. (Still hopeful we could sell it.) When removed from the envelope, the piece showed a person typing their specs onto their laptop. When unfolded once, it showed that the person doing the typing, though literally matching the specs, was actually a very different kind of person. When unfolded again, it showed a bar graph we'd made that highlighted attrition rates amongst employees hired through O'Hare and through other channels.

Here below are the two rough options we created to visually display the quantitative information the client had on attrition: 

Well, this mailer was popular, but not enough so to build a consensus amongst everyone in the office, so it got dinged too and we sent out our one last idea, stolen from a circa 1979 poster that was very popular back in the day:

Created by a student at UVA, Tom Shadyac, the poster was wildly popular and right on the money. Shadyac went on to fame and fortune in Hollywood (more here). And, following in the footsteps of so many other advertising greats, we stole the idea. Got theft? Our version is here below:

Yeah, that's right, we stole a photo of Bradley Cooper, too. Well, we really really liked this idea and so we sent it off to the client. Never heard back. Sent another email asking again how he liked it. Never heard back. So finally, guessing that perhaps he was sick of all the hoop-la, and just wanted his damn letter, we wrote the letter. It turned out nice; here it is:

So we sent it out, our proposal for a one-sheet mailer, and it was something really really close to a letter idea he originally wanted, and when we finally heard from him, he said, "great copy, whoever wrote is a genius, but I like the other idea better." Well, that was music to our ears and so off we went, producing and revising and getting approval signatures and all the fun stuff that goes into actually making an ad. We considered using stock photography and illustration (below) . . . .

. . . . but in the end we decided to cast and shoot it ourselves. Right here in Woodstock. One call to uber-makher Abbe Aronson of Abbe Does It and we had ourselves an amazing photographer, Franco Vogt, and a handsome and perfect model, local luminary and illustrator extraordinaire Jason O'Malley.

And before too long, we had our first, finished and approved ad:

And not too long after that, the client asked for 6 more. As of July 23, only one more is finished starring big time actress Audrey Rapaport:

The next ads in the series will be for representatives of other departments in a typical ad agency.

The client hopes this campaign will help them sign up a few more small to medium sized agencies. While there's no way of knowing for sure how these direct mailers will do, we hope that they'll be successful in engaging the target audience (250 or so ad agency HR folks) and we expect that, at the very least, they'll certainly a lot more successful than a short note on letterhead.

Other details

• The posters are 17 x 11", suitable for hanging on the refrigerator in the common area of each agency.

• Instead of folding, we recommended sending the posters out in 2" diameter mailing tubes, so they'll arrive at their destinations not looking like all the other direct mail.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Feel good food

By and large, we, here at Woodstock Organic Concepts, like to swoop in and come up with the BIG IDEA, thus saving the day and leaving everybody marveling at our creative genius. Once in a while, the client comes up with the big idea, executes it better than we ever could and our main task is to just keep outta the way of progress and figure out how we can take credit. This is one of those stories.

Mary Anne and Richard run Blue Mountain Bistro-to-go and Blue Mountain Catering. It's an upscale catering business and upscale retail store (mostly take-away business) on ever busy route 28 near Woodstock. They're both very creative people with good insights into their business and what it stands for. When we first started working on their branding, they had more good ideas than you could shake a stick at, all of them true to their brand.

But they didn't have a clear focus. There were too many delicious canapés to choose from and so they kept them all.


Turns out they didn't have a mission statement either. So I sent them a questionnaire full of thought-provoking stuff and each of the three of us filled it out for their business and before long, we had a swell mission statement that could be the foundation of creating a strong brand. (see our white paper on mission statements here.) Here's what we came up with:

Sweet, right? Each of them, independently, noted prominently that they wanted to help make the community and the world a better place. Beautiful.


So now, mission statement in hand, we proceeded to figure out a brand umbrella under which all of their Bistro to-go communications could exist. They already had advertising and signage and business cards and whatnot on a variety of ideas: "the life of the party", "every day's a celebration", "local ingredients", slow cooked fast food", "Mediterranean cooking style" and "feel good food." Well, it didn't take too much time to see that the biggest, broadest, funnest umbrella under which all of these thoughts could happily exist was "feel good food." All the other stuff seemed more like supporting points; there were so many of them, we put together a little flow chart to keep it straight (we're a company of visual thinkers, don'tcha know):

They had even previously connected the dots between what they do and the concept of "feel good food". From their website: 

FEEL GOOD FOOD – feels good when you BUY IT: because you know that you're buying something that's been hand selected by our chefs, been locally sourced, and handled with years of experience!

FEEL GOOD FOOD - feels good when you EAT IT: because we make everything from scratch, with the freshest herbs and spices, local farm produce when in season, and lots of love!
FEEL GOOD FOOD - feels good when you SHARE IT: because you know that your friends and family will love you for giving them food that really tastes good!

So a communications umbrella was born. (Okay, not really "born", more like picked out of the umbrella rack by the door).  The client loved the idea (it was theirs already anyway) of standing for "feel good food" and saw how it nicely encompassed all their other brand thoughts and they had a bunch of previously committed to magazine ad pages so we started executing immediately. 


Well, the idea on how to express "feel good food" for their take away business came to us right away: virtuosic, hand-made ads and signage drawing on the current craze for chalkboard art. Perfect. The chalk board is a classic fixture of bistros all over the world and it could be used in their store and in their ads and other materials. Beautifully executed chalk boards convey concepts such as "fun" and "home made", "locally crafted" and "friendly" - all of which nicely back up the idea of "feel good food." And when those three words are all over your store and in every communication you send out into the world, that doesn't hurt either. Chalk boards just like you see in so many places around the world, only better. Just like their food: nothing too unusual, just regular stuff done much better.

Our first ad was to promote the grand opening of their new bakery and it looked like this:

And for inside the new bakery, we did an actual chalkboard:

Now, we were feeling pretty fly about the whole thing when our client Mary Anne (who is an awesome artist, too) asked innocently if she could try one. "Sure", we said, well practiced at the art of humoring clients who want to try to do our job for us, "go ahead." And she did this:

Well, it's a funny feeling when you see your usefulness slip right out the door, but that's how we felt. Mary Anne knocked it out of the park. A beautifully masterful execution of our concept and, truth be told, better than we could do. 

Later, the local Jewish congregation was celebrating its Rabbi and she made this for the event:

Well, you know what they say: Give a client a fish, you've fed them for a day, teach a client to fish you've fed them for a lifetime. But if that client just happens to cook fish really really well and you're working on a barter arrangement, then it's not actually such a bad deal. 

Business cards, front and back:

Playing on the idea of the chalk board and writing and giving a nod to the fact that people write on business cards all the time, we used one of Mary Anne's pieces of art on the front of the business card and left space for people to "write something good" on the back. An execution built around a universal truth. Can't beat that.

Other ads and other ideas followed, all of them using the chalkboard to express the idea of feel good food, and we could go on and on about these interesting executional decisions, but the truth is, we're boring ourselves. So we'll save it for another day. Right now, we're gonna go get us some feel good food. Yum.


One of the other  interesting things we did for our wonderful client was to help them put their media ducks in a row. To do this, first we took a look at who their target currently is and who it should be.


Someone who lives a few towns away or across the river is simply not going to come get a panini from Bistro-to-go. So we winnowed it down and recommended to them that their target audience be defined as: people who pass by their store but don't stop in.  And if that's your target and you've got a big sign out front, then you already own the most perfect media for your message. We continue to recommend topical, on-message signage to delight their passers-by and draw them into the idea that Bistro-to-go serves feel good food. Which they do. Much to our delight.


They had been advertising their to-go business in regional publications and on a local, broad-reaching radio station. We moved around their advertising placement so that all of the broad-reaching media were advertising their catering business and so that their Bisto-to-go business was only being advertised in local media. Some of it, really, really local:

Naturally, we had a recommendation for the design of their sign, too. Here below is our rough, rough, quick and dirty recommendation:

So, there's a short recap of our thinking for their to-go business; some day soon, we'll write about the branding and communications ideas we helped them make for their catering business -- separate but related.