Biggest bit of branding bull of 2009: Aol. ?

Picture 2 Just when I thought 2009 was going to end without a really BIG example of brand bollocks, the troubled internet service provider (ISP) AOL and their design agency Wolf Olins* have saved the day. A big bash at the New York Stock Exhange announced the new brand identity as part of AOL's offical divorce from its catasrophic $160billion 2000 marriage to Time Warner.

[*Wolf Olins are not new to this sort of stuff, having created the bizarre and much-hated brand identity for the 2012 London Olympics,
that I posted on here. A whopping 45,000 people signed an online petition to ditch that one.]

The 1st bit of big news is, wait for it, that AOL has become Aol.

The O and L have gone lower case. And there's a "." at the end.

I know. You couldn't make it up if you tried.

The "blink and you'd miss it" change to the name is accompanied by the 1st ever "invisible brand". The brand name only appears when it is put onto a background. An initial set of images has been produced, and the idea is that consumers and creative types will suggest their own. Apparently this is about the content on AOL (sorry, Aol.) being the big thing.

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Isn't this a bit of a crap idea? Many online bloggers and commentators seem to think so, as shown by the following takes on the Aol. identity:

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Here are my issues with this:

1. It makes the brand invisible
, giving up on it and saying the content is more important than the brand. This is a bland logo not a brand logo. In a way, this a just fate for what is a broken brand and business. AOL’s subscriber base has fallen from 27 million in 2002 to 5.4 million at the end of the 3rd quarter of 2009, according to Times Online.

2. Wolf Olins again over-sell a new logo as a new "brand". Interestingly, on their website Wolf Ollins are now using a term we coined 9 years ago: “brand-led business”. They talk about branding being about big ideas that help inspire and guide change in the whole business, not just the image wrapper. But then they fail to walk this talk by trumpeting new logos as "brands".

3. The new logo appears to have been slapped on.
The other problem with the Aol. re-launch is that the website, at least in the UK, looks very boring and un-inspiring. The new logo sits uncomfortably on a background of scrawl in the top-left of the site. Identity should not just be about the logo, but rather the whole look and feel of the site.
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In conclusion, a new brand identity can be effective as a symbol of change. But the focus should be on the added value for customers from a change in the business, not on the bloody logo. And if you are going to change logo, make it a bold and striking, not invisible like Aol.