A Tale of Two Brands
by Will Novosedlik
December 5, 2017
Recent campaigns from Montreal and Toronto go head-to-head in a brand-off
As Charles Dickens’ timeless A Tale of Two Cities begins, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Looking at the subject I have chosen for this column, I would paraphrase it to say “it was the best of branding, it was the worst of branding.”
The two cities in Dickens’s tale were London and Paris; in mine, they are Toronto and Montreal, a North American echo of the centuries-old rivalry between the French and the English.
Let’s start with the best. Strategy ran a short piece online this past week that showcased the visual identity of a longstanding Montreal photography studio called Shoot. Designed by Lg2, the identity is highly animated, dynamic and a ton of fun.
Though this studio has been around for a long time, its new identity firmly locates it in the now of brand communications. It’s fresh, simple, memorable and looks like it’s got the legs to be expressed in countless different ways without sacrificing recognition. I am not familiar with this studio, but its identity makes me want to find out more. There’s not much more you can ask of a logo.
And now to the worst, which brings us to Toronto. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my city. I also love Montreal, which I have often felt is a cross between Paris and New York, except on a scale that is beaucoup plus intime. But back to Toronto: for almost 40 years a fixture on the cultural calendar of the city has been the One of a Kind Show and Sale. It is an annual gathering of arts and craftspeople—or makers as they are now called—in which everything from jewellery to crockery is available for admiration and purchase.
Like all such seasonal marketplaces, a broad spectrum of creations is on display, presumably to appeal to all tastes and pocketbooks. The main message of the event is that everything in the show is a unique product of its maker, and an embodiment of creative individuality. And while the poster done for this year’s event does indeed showcase some rather unique-looking objets, it does so in a way that brings to mind the anemic window displays I remember from Soviet-era storefronts in Poland and Czechoslovakia. The very concept that is meant to animate the brand—handmade uniqueness—is killed by the weak use of colour, lighting and the rather sad-looking spruce twig off to the left-hand side. This is not a poster in the classic sense so much as a politically correct nod to some marketer’s stipulation that it should communicate variety.
What a missed opportunity. We live in a time when "makers" are like folk heroes, passionately and fastidiously devoted to their craft, fighting the good fight against the mass-produced banality that saturates most of our lives. Pinterest boards and Instagram feeds are full of the "thoughtfully made" efforts of human beings on a mission to bring some soul to even the most utilitarian and mundane of life’s moments.
The folks who run One of a Kind have clearly lost sight of their brand’s promise, not to mention the cultural zeitgeist. How unthoughtful of them.
Will Novosedlik likes playing in traffic at the intersections of business, brand, design and innovation. He's worked both as a consultant and client on brands such as Telus, TD Bank, Bata International, Williams-Sonoma, Vodafone and Deutsche Telecom in Canada, the US, North Africa and Europe.