So, Pepsi has taken a long, hard look at its brand and decided it needs jazzing up. The classic red, white and blue mark takes a trip to the food blender to create a series of 'smiles' that look like someone stirred the paint tin with a stick. According to Advertising Age, "A 'smile' will characterise brand Pepsi, while a 'grin' is used for Diet Pepsi and a 'laugh' is used for Pepsi Max." Wow.
The Pepsi brand was long overdue a refurbish. On the shelf it looked tired and dated, and frankly the Arnell Group has done a wonderful job in creating a sleek, modern look for the beverage and its related brands. It takes a brave (or foolish) company to mess with such a recognisable mark - people seem to react at an emotional level when something that tethers them to the world is changed, seemingly at random. Another beverage maker found out to its cost that customers can be pretty fickle. When The Coca-Cola Company rolled out 'New Coke' - the unofficial name for an 'improved', sweeter formulation - in 1985, sales dropped off a cliff and didn't pick up again until the original formula was re-introduced three months later.
Reaction to Pepsi's new design has been mixed, but it's doubtful that there'll be anything approaching the kind of outrage that might force it to reintroduce the older look and feel. Simply put, the brand doesn't have the iconic status of the Coca-Cola script face. When Turner Duckworth recently revamped Coca-Cola's branding, it was limited to a gentle evolution, adding the word 'classic' to the stylish Gotham sans serif typeface from Hoefler & Frere-Jones. Pepsi has had more room to manoeuvre and more scope to be bold. The end result is a success in understated design.
Where I take issue is with this ridiculous talk of smiles. I could be wrong, but the new logo looks to me like a talented designer was prodding at the original with a stick, trying to see how it could be taken to the next level, and hit a winning streak. The account managers must have fretted about how they could sell this to Pepsi (clients love a concept). Saying, 'Hey we were just messing around and look what we did!' sounds a little unprofessional and is right up there with suggesting that your cousin Vinny could knock you up a pretty decent website using FrontPage. Squinting and holding the printouts at different angles, one of them must have said, "Hey, Bob, does this look like a€¦ smile to you?" Excited, Bob must have gushed, "Say, Cindy, I think you might have hit on something there!" followed by high fives, whooping and maybe a chest bump or two among the team.
That scenario is pure guesswork on my part, and for all I know the logo did emerge from a lengthy research and development project looking at smiles. But this kind of retroactive concept wrapping happens all the time at every level of design, and what I want to know is why it's hushed up like a relative who likes to play with himself at family gatherings?
There should be no shame in shrugging when the client asks you what your inspiration was, and saying that it just sort of came to you. Designers of the world, it's time to stand up and assert your right that messing around in Illustrator is as valid a creative route as branding agency mumbo jumbo! Aimless experimentation is the new black!