Design

Standing Out or Blending In: The Branding Dilemma

If the essence of branding is all about crafting a unique identity then why are some brands deciding to go ‘bland’?

Historically trademarks and logos have always been used to ensure consumers can clearly identify the source of goods or services and easily distinguish those offerings from others. This can further establish a sense of brand loyalty as consumers will often continue their dedication to purchasing distinct brand’s products or services that they recognise.

In 2021 Kantar discovered that a distinct brand identity increased brand saliency by 52% and further had the ability to double a company’s growth.

But if individual, bespoke branding has been statistically proven to increase brand resonance and consumer engagement then why are certain brands disregarding their unique brand identities to blend into a sea of dull, drab designs? And why has the frequency of this phenomenon evolved into a trend notoriously known as ‘blanding’?

What is ‘blanding’?

 

For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘blanding’ within the context of branding, highlights how various brands are becoming overly similar or generic in their visual identity and messaging. However, this phenomenon is often criticised, with creatives and design agencies like Cubicle Ninjas stating that “Blanding is the antithesis of branding. It’s the process of creating generic brand identities that follow repetitive trends in the name of modernity, but at the expense of authenticity and differentiation among brands.”

Ruled by the idea that “less is more,” blanding is often visually embodied by sans serif fonts, clean lines, a limited colour palette and overall very simplified designs.

It has even taken over some of the world’s most iconic brands. Several major fashion brands such as Burberry, Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga have simplified their logos over the recent years, abandoning their unique brand identities and replacing them with modern, minimal logo designs.

Why do brands decide to go ‘bland’?

 

The Influence Of Algorithms

Companies might conduct market research and imitate successful competitors, thinking that certain visual elements contribute to success in the market. In the era of algorithms, aligning with similar brands has become a branding strategy as it may help reach audiences through social media.

 

Fear of Standing Out

Blanding removes all visual associations and therefore can be seen as very neutral. Some brands might be hesitant to have a bold, distinct identity, fearing that a unique identity could alienate consumers. As a result, they opt for a safer, more generic approach.

 

Function First Approach

There is also a functional reason for blanding. Bold, high-contrast colours and a sans-serif type work well across multi media as they are legible at both large and small scales and on both print and digital platforms. Simplicity is also something that is encouraged in UX design as it helps streamline the online user experience. However, Base Design partner Thierry Brunfaut argues that “just because simplicity is the easiest way to accommodate diverse platforms, doesn’t mean it’s the best. Omnichannel branding is a tremendous design challenge that should make companies more creative, not less.”

 

The implications of ‘blanding’

Loss of brand identity

If brands start to lose their individual identity, they are in danger of becoming similar to other brands. This could result in many consumers finding it challenging to distinguish between products or services, potentially leading to confusion and decision-making difficulties.

These early implications of blanding can be traced back to Tropicana’s 2009 rebrand, where they decided to rebrand their packaging for the North American Market. In-line with the contemporary concept of ‘blanding’ they decided to streamline their logo in favour of a contemporary font face and generic stock imagery.

Marion Andrivet, Founder of The Branding Journal describes how “The majority of loyal Tropicana customers rejected and criticized the new look” as many thought the new orange juice cartons looked like a generic store brand or a cheap knock-off of Tropicana itself. This resulted in their sales dropping by 20% and the backlash was so severe that Tropicana had to revert to their original design.

This early example clearly evidences how blanding can diminish the consumer’s ability to differentiate and choose between brands, potentially causing large declines in sales.

Competitive disadvantage

Memorable brands often have unique characteristics that make them stand out in consumers’ minds. Blanding diminishes these distinctive features, making it harder for consumers to remember and recall a particular brand when making purchasing decisions.

Strong and distinct brands additionally also build emotional connections with consumers through a unique brand story, values, or personality. Blanding can dilute these emotional connections, resulting in consumers struggling to form strong, meaningful relationships with generic brands.

 

Impact on innovation

Blanding can inhibit creativity and innovation within an industry, as brands may be hesitant to deviate from established norms. Brands that focus too much on conforming to industry trends or generic strategies may neglect innovation which is often a key driver for staying ahead in competitive markets. This may lead to brands missing valuable opportunities to attract customers with new and innovative visual messages.

Why brands should start having an ‘anti-bland’ ideology

Pushing the creative boundaries when undertaking a branding project can be scary, but it’s important to remember that bland branding can be just as detrimental to your company’s success. Karen Maxwell from Flux Branding Studio echos this idea by stating that “Real brands have taste. Sour, sweet, or spicy, they’re anything but bland.”

As this insight outlines, it is therefore crucial for brands to invest in creativity and focus on developing a unique identity that resonates with their target audience. This involves understanding their core values, positioning, key messages, personality, tone of voice and USPs. This differentiation not only helps brands stand out in the market but also contributes to building a more memorable and lasting connection with consumers, ultimately helping to build brand recognition and loyalty.

Additional Imagery/Sources

Canvas 8

Edge Agency

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