The More Things Change

Posted May 25, 2016, under Gosh, That's Handy!

You may have heard the expression, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Whether you first heard it from musician Jon Bon Jovi or French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, the phrase’s jaded social commentary isn’t much fun. But that all changes when you apply it to branding.

Take Google Doodles — when the search engine giant modifies its logo to commemorate special events or people.

You can see all of the Google Doodles here.

It’s easy to just think of these as fun, sometimes poignant, variations on a logo. But Google Doodles represent a particular and somewhat rare type of branding strategy. This strategy is known by many names, like “adaptive,” and “fluid.” One guy tried to sound smart by calling it “polymorphic” — we don’t think that one’s going to catch on. But the most common term is “dynamic branding.”

Defining Dynamic

In a nutshell, dynamic branding is when your logo or other brand elements don’t necessarily hold a rigid form, but can be tailored to fit a circumstance, while remaining recognizable as being that brand or logo.

Google’s Doodles always retain the company name (“Google”) or at least the brand colors; often both. But they have the added safety of only appearing on Google’s website, making it unlikely that anyone would confuse the doodles as belonging to anyone else.

The branding of San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum is a great example of modern dynamic design, brought to us by Wolff-Olins, a design firm that really likes this conceit.

A Brief Timeline of Dynamic Branding

While it’s only recently been formalized with a name — in part thanks to technological advances allowing far greater ease of execution — dynamic branding has deep roots.

For example, mascots (or spokescritters) are among the earliest and purest expressions of dynamic branding. Instantly recognizable, spokescritters by their nature occupy different environments and situations in their many appearances. But spokescritters have sort of become a class unto themselves, one that likely as not is independent from other branding a product might have.

An exception is Bibendum, the Michelin Man, the longstanding (first appearance as an official spokescritter: 1898!) spokescritter for Michelin brand tires, who is such a strong part of the company identity that their actual URL is www.michelinman.com.

More than just a spokescritter, Bibendum is their logo and primary branding element.

Moving up to what appear to be the ’30s or ’40s is Hadfields paint.

Each paint variety had their fox in a different pose. This is not quite a spokescritter, but it’s definitely a dynamic branding action, because the fox is recognizable as being theirs, yet is not a static logo form.

A little closer to the present: the long-lived MTV logo (1981-2010).

For a long time, television was the best format for dynamic branding. Particularly for a brand like early-days MTV, which fostered a punk-rock, rebel yell aesthetic very much in line with the music it aired. Few other brands then or since can even approach MTV for sheer variety in making its logo dynamic.

Then, sadly and inexplicably, the channel’s purview changed from music to, of all things, trashy reality television. Reflecting the change came a slight updating of its logo, presumably casting off any last pretense that the “M” stood for “music.”

What does the “M” stand for now? Our vote goes to “mulch.”

Contemporaneous to MTV, but not quite as long-lived, is Nickelodeon’s logo (1984-2009). This one embodies perhaps the simplest and most pliable expression of dynamic branding: The logo itself stays essentially the same, but is positioned against a variety of backgrounds.

The conceit has picked up steam in more recent years; Wolff Olins showed up again when AOL decided to update its branding.

To some, this decision was disastrous, because the branding allowed too much variety: literally anything could go behind the company name and be “legitimate.” This of course led to the Internet throwing AOL’s logo over everything from naked Paris Hilton to rolls of toilet paper.

Today, dynamic logos are gaining in popularity and prominence, even including a U.S. Presidential candidate’s campaign logo.

Art Museums in particular seem to like the freedom and flexibility the strategy allows.

But of all of these, we have to salute MIT Media Lab. Their 2011 logo, created through an algorithm, allowed for 45,000 permutations, some of which you can see here.

The Big Question

At this point, you may be wondering whether you should consider redesigning your own logo to be dynamic, because the above are all so cool.

The answer:

The Office, NBC.com

Dynamic branding really only makes sense for a company that already has “variety” and/or “insouciance” in its DNA. Google and AOL are both Internet portals, and the Internet is variety. Dynamic makes sense for art museums because art can be practically anything. But if you’re a doorknob manufacturer that makes one kind of doorknob, this branding strategy is not the one for you.


No matter what strategy you envision for your brand, you would do well to contact Rigney Graphics, a Pasadena graphic arts company that can help you create an impact with design and marketing solutions for print and web.