Now That’s Refreshing: This Month in Brand Updates

This month at Cucumber has been all about branding. We’ve covered topics such as online positioning, targeting your audience, when to refresh your own brand, and how to judge your brand’s strength to bring everything together. We’ve had a blast, but that’s sure a lot of advice and introspection! As the month draws to a close, let’s take a moment to break from our internal reviews – it’s time to appreciate (and critique) some brand updates from some of the bigger players.


A Tight Fit

Founded in 1850, American Express has been around the block. They’re well known for their credit card and travel services. But as for any brand, there are higher goals beyond being known. At their age, American Express is a brand plenty familiar with the refresh process.

The AMEX logo evolution since 1850.
The AMEX logo evolution since 1850.

As with most great refreshes, the differences are subtle. The gradients have been removed, and a bolder, slightly darker blue has been chosen. At first glance the type might look the same – but the beauty is in the details. It may be minor to some, but each letter in the logo has been tweaked for a tighter feel with more lateral motion. Notice how the legs of the Rs no longer curve downwards, but instead jut out and across diagonally to keep the eye moving forward. Other noticeable changes are the slants on terminals of the Ss, or the reduced vertical space between the arms of the Es. There’s plenty more, can you spot them all?

AMEX before and after
Before and After

American Express hired international design agency, Pentagram, to update the brand. Here’s what they have to say about the project:

Pentagram has refreshed the American Express visual identity, reasserting and amplifying the brand’s visual expression. The project sought to retool the iconic Blue Box logo, introduced in 1975, and to derive a typographic language that could also live outside the Blue Box, providing a bolder, more confident expression of the brand.

– Pentagram

Finally, a key element to this brand refresh would have to be the new simplified alternate logos. The box logo for the company’s shorthand nickname, AMEX works well to maintain the identity in smaller spaces, and could even become the default in years to come as logos continue to trend towards reduction. The box-less wordmark breathes nicely on it’s own, too.

Overall? We’ll mark this refresh as a success. Nice work, Pentagram.


HSBC Says R.I.P To Serifs

Still in the financial industry, we saw another brand refresh from one of the world’s largest banks, HSBC.

While at first glance this logo update might seem more drastic than that of American Express, for the most part it’s rather simple. The most obvious change of course, would be the abandonment of the serifed typeface from yore. The loss of serifs has been a growing trend among established brands, most noticeably with companies like Google, or even The Gap’s failed logo update in 2010. It can make a brand appear more youthful and friendly, but in this case… does it make much of a difference? The new type might be more modern, but is it particularly inspiring? Kudos to the colour change, however. Like AMEX, they have opted for a darker tone which feels a bit more trustworthy.

Here’s what HSBC has to say about the change:

Our latest global marketing campaign explores how HSBC helps people prosper in the 21st century. HSBC’s iconic red and white hexagon plays a central role. It becomes a lens through which to look at the world, showing how the influence of the bank can help individuals, businesses and communities to grow and flourish.


Integration in their marketing material is where this branding shines.

With the concept of the lens, we have to say that the icon works nicely when integrated to create a frame for juxtaposition.

Overall? They’ve swapped one safe choice for another. Solid work, but we’re not sure we’ll be writing home about it.


No Name Keeps It Simple

Moving our sights to a wholly different industry, we noticed a great update from Loblaw’s unassuming No Name brand. That’s right, we’re praising the design from the company that brings you 89¢ beans and discount cat litter. The grocery kings of simplicity, with plain black Helvetica type on a painfully bold yellow, their brand’s not about to win the beauty pageant, but why should they care? Any Canadian can recognize No Name packaging from across the room, and this familiarity with the packaging is exactly what the new No Name website design rides upon:

NoName brand website screenshot
Cheeky bugger…

Notice anything about that headline? Just like all No Name packaging, the website simply states what it is. Really, what more is there to say? It’s not the prettiest, but it’s certainly fresh. Even within seemingly restrictive brand limitations, creative thinking counts.

Overall? Whoever came up with this jokey landing page deserves a big yellow star.


Wrapping Up

As you can see, a brand refresh doesn’t have be drastic to make an impact. Every little change might seem subtle at first, but they add up to keep the whole brand fresh. Minor adjustments in colour can make a real difference, but sometimes all you need is to review your copy and find the right tone of voice.

Agree with these refresh reviews? Or do you have a different opinion? Let us know! Contact our marketing agency in downtown Vancouver for a quick chat – no stress! We always have chocolate 😉