Revised article published: 20th February 2021.
Back in December, the new BBC Select website went live, in advance of the formal launch of the new streaming service. The BBC Select logo included an odd looking version of the BBC blocks logo, which Clean Feed dismissed as a bad mock-up of the real thing. But is there more to this logo than meets the eye?
This week BBC Select was formally launched, as reported on the Variety website. Curiously, the blocks logo on the BBC Select website has remained unchanged.
So, what’s going on? Is this just another example of poor governance of the masterbrand? After all, it wouldn’t be the first time an illegitimate BBC logo has been used on an official BBC service or product.
Why should we be more suspicious on this occasion?
BBC Select is a reasonably high-profile international commercial venture. It seems a little odd that a logo which, even to the untrained eye, is noticeably different from the current BBC logo wouldn’t be spotted/reported by anyone involved in the BBC Select project or any internal graphic design/branding resources.
The BBC Select blocks logo caused a bit of a stir online when it first appeared last December, with most dismissing it as a bad mock of the current BBC logo.
Its continued use – at and beyond the official launch of BBC Select, a couple of months later – is rather curious.
I could be completely wrong and it could be that a mocked up logo has gone undetected and uncorrected. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened.
However, let’s add to the mix that the BBC is currently reviewing the use of the masterbrand BBC blocks logo – mainly with a view to bringing about some consistency and standardisation again.
It is my understanding that a logo that closely resembles the one on the BBC Select website is included in the masterbrand review.
The presence of a similar logo on the BBC Select website could just be a complete coincidence.
Alternatively, knowing that a very similar logo is part of the logo review, should we take the fact that it has been used to brand a new service – and is now in the public domain – as confirmation that it is now the approved successor to the 1997 logo? The proposition that its use on the BBC Select service is a trial/experiment seems unlikely.
Supposing this is the new BBC blocks logo – how is it likely to be received?
Aesthetically, it looks like a poor imitation of the current blocks logo. The tinkering – to switch to the BBC Reith font and widen the gap between the blocks – just doesn’t work really.
It lacks the class, gravitas and timeless quality of the current logo. And because of its close resemblance to the current logo, comparisons will always be made.
Not sure what the rationale is for the larger gaps between the boxes. The current logo works well enough at smaller sizes – the gap is still clearly visible. In this digital, high-definition age, this type of thing is much less of an issue than it once was.
The shape of the BBC Reith ‘C’ looks slightly awkward within the box.
I used the word “tinkering” earlier because that’s what this boils down to. It’s insufficiently different from the current logo to merit the expense that it will take to phase it in on-screen, in print, on merchandise, on vehicles, building signage etc etc.
Any time the BBC spends money on something like this, the press usually has a field day. Masterbrand updates are particularly expensive and high-profile though and consequently will grab much more attention in the press than say a brand refresh of a channel/service.
In 1997, there was a reasonably good defence for the change (more on that below), and the new logo was obviously different from its predecessor. The same cannot be said here.
When the 1997 change was announced, the press reaction was largely negative. If this new BBC Select logo contains what will become the new blocks logo, the press will undoubtedly go to town on this again – but they’ll have more ammunition this time.
This (BBC Select) blocks logo doesn’t appear to be solving any real issue. It will be seen as change for change’s sake. It just looks like a badly executed mock-up of the current logo.
When the BBC is under pressure to cut costs, and various departments have been making people redundant in recent years, it’ll be difficult to explain away an expense like this, for such an inconsequential logo change. Even the best marketing spin doctors will have their work cut out defending this.
The current BBC corporate logo is directly descended from the first modern BBC logo introduced around 1959.
It gradually evolved: first the boxes were slanted, then the edges were softened, then they were hardened again and coloured lines were added underneath. The changes in 1988 gave the logo a new lease of life and over the next few years its prominence on-screen grew dramatically.
The most significant and radical change came in 1997 when the current corporate logo was introduced, featuring upright boxes and Gill Sans text.
The designer of that logo, the late Martin Lambie-Nairn, provided some insights into the need to update the late-1980s – 1997 masterbrand logo:
- The slanted logo didn’t work well at small sizes on-screen and online.
- The BBC had hundreds of internal logos that all looked completely different from each other. There were two key issues here: it weakens the core brand; this huge variety of logos cost a lot of money to produce.
- The slanted logo was based on previous logo designs and therefore inherited a certain period feel.
- The brand names often looked uncomfortable alongside the diagonal BBC logo.
- Off-screen, the four-colour logo could sometimes disappear when overlaid on a colour photograph.
- Being a four-colour (minimum) letterhead – sometimes much more when incorporating brand logos – stationery was working out quite expensive.
When designing the new corporate logo (in 1997), five key criteria were established:
- Must work in all media – from television, laptops and websites, to a range of printing processes.
- Must be timeless.
- Must work with all BBC brands.
- Be easy to add to.
- Be simple to manage.
- Allow for personality.
- Must be cost-effective.
- Even cost-cutting.
- Must be an expression universally admired. The standard of design would have to be at a world-class level.
There’s more detail on the reasoning behind the 1997 corporate logo update in this video presentation by Martin Lambie-Nairn, as well as examples of the initial executions of the 1997 branding.
Since the original implementation of the logo in 1997, some of its benefits have been undone. Consistency has gone out the window and creatives are now even disregarding one of the golden rules of the original rebrand – that the corporate logo must only appear in either black or white.
There’s also been evidence of a lack of governance of the use of the BBC masterbrand, with many examples of mocked-up BBC logos appearing on air, online and on merchandise.
I agree with the BBC that a review of the masterbrand is due again. If nothing else, to address the inconsistencies that have crept in again since 1997. Some level of standardisation is needed.
Ideally, an outcome of the review will be the setting up of an internal mechanism to govern the masterbrand on an ongoing basis and enforce standardisation and consistency in branding.
After nearly 25 years, revisiting the logo does not seem unreasonable. And the BBC is approaching its 100th anniversary – a good excuse for a brand refresh.
But if you’re going to update the masterbrand, be more bold than the BBC Select execution. Don’t “tinker” with the Martin Lambie-Nairn design – you won’t better that.
The publicly funded BBC ought not to be indulging in the kind of mild brand evolution that some big commercial companies have over the years – Virgin and NatWest for example. The expense of implementing relatively insignificant logo adjustments is difficult to justify within the BBC funding model.
It needs to be something more dramatic, a radical change, that would perhaps help the corporation’s image with the all-important younger generation who the BBC apparently struggles to connect with, but at the same time not alienate its core audience.
Either take the BBC corporate logo in a completely different direction, or leave it as it is.
PICTURED: BBC logo as seen on the BBC Select website. COPYRIGHT: BBC.