Are Brands Really Turning Into Blands?
We can measure whether today’s trademarks and logos all look alike. But criticism of sameness has always dominated the discourse.
In recent years, a number of observers of the commercial landscape have commented on an increasing sameness across the world of brand design. James Edmondson’s 2018 “Everybody fall in line” tweet pointed out the tendency of tech giants to adopt similar vanilla sans-serif logotypes. Thierry Brunfaut and Tom Greenwood decried the rise of “blanding,” in which “an army of clones wears a uniform of brand camouflage.” And last year, Ben Schott dinged “blands” for “slavishly obeying an identikit formula of business model, look and feel, and tone of voice.”
Do these perceptions of blandness reflect a reality in today’s branding, or are they just a few anecdotes pointing in the same direction? Analyzing data from the United States Patent and Trademark Office can help get a look at the bigger picture.
Employing the Herfindahl Index to measure the relative use of abstract logo design elements (shapes, lines, swooshes, and other assorted squiggles) in American trademarks can allow us to see how much concentration (sameness) there is in that population of logos. As the graph above illustrates, this measure has been rising since the 1980s, meaning that, yes, there is relatively less graphic diversity in our logos, and more sameness and, perhaps, blandness.
So it may be that the criticisms of today’s brands as bland are warranted. But such complaints carry with them the implication that things were better in the past. And when we take a further step back to look back at how brand design has been perceived over the years, it becomes clear that there never really were any “good old days.” Consider:
- Branding guru Wally Olins declared in 2006, “There’s a dreadful sameness about so much of the work that is emerging, especially for bigger corporations. Twenty years ago, design work was fresher, more original, more interesting — in a word, more creative.”