Why did STV’s expensive 1985 rebrand fall out of favour so quickly?

This week saw tributes to Martin Lambie-Nairn – the man behind many famous TV graphics. The original Channel 4 blocks, the 1991 BBC Two idents and the BBC One balloon truly deserve the word iconic. But not all of his work was quite so successful.

A case in point was the 1985 rebranding of Scottish Television.

While the package was attractive and professional it fell out of use after barely two-and-a-half years.

STV was the first established ITV station to try to significantly modify its image in the 1980s.

The company had something of an unfair image problem for many years – its reputation in its pioneering days for cheap local programming haunted it unfairly well into the 70s and 80s.

And by the 80s, STV was one of just two significant ITV companies to use a static, mute caption before network programmes.

Granada got away with it – it gave a certain character to what was probably the most seriously minded of the big network companies.

But a static STV caption before Taggart or Take The High Road simply looked a bit sour and miserable.

The result of the 1985 rebranding was in many respects transformational. The “exploding thistle” was beautifully animated, classy, eye-catching and memorable.

There was just one problem – it looked like a rip-off of Channel 4’s ident.

Just over two years later, production company idents were dropped across the ITV network so the animation disappeared outside Central Scotland.

Around the same time, the ident started to be phased out locally – it was initially replaced by abstract seasonal images which still kept the silhouette of the thistle.

Then in 1989 a brand new on-screen package was introduced while the thistle design itself was modified significantly.

The 1985 logo remained the company’s corporate logo though until the next on-screen revamp four years later.

So is there a lesson here?

Lambie-Nairn’s work was at its best when it was truly bold and innovative.

Channel identities are always at their best when they are truly distinctive and don’t bear obvious similarities to others – unless on purpose.

The 1985 STV logo and ident were certainly classy and helped the company bolster the professional image it well deserved by then.

But it’s highly unlikely the company invested heavily in a package that would only be in full use for about two-and-a-half years.




Posted by Andrew Nairn

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