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Five Big Brands That Have Evolved Over Time

Brand evolution and development isn’t just giving your logo a refresh. It should serve a purpose and represent adaptation to always-shifting audiences and technologies.

In our birthday month, we’re taking a look at brands that have evolved over time and how they’ve kept up with what consumers want.

Qantas

Australian icon Qantas holds innovation at the heart of its brand evolution — keeping up with modern trends while staying true to its heritage.

Since its post-war beginnings, Qantas has been at the forefront of the industry. As well as breaking many early records, Qantas was the first airline to introduce business class and cabin mood lighting (which apparently reduces jet lag), and it also invented the slide raft.

Over a century, the Spirit of Australia has embedded its brand identity into the hearts and minds of the country. From the first use of the flying kangaroo symbol in 1944, to the iconic I Still Call Australia Home ads of the 90s, Qantas taps into our feelings of patriotism and nostalgia for home.

The brand’s updated logo and livery in 2016 introduced sleek, modern typography to coincide with a fancy Boeing 787 Dreamliner joining the airline’s fleet, a tradition that goes back to 1947. Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the modern and dynamic branding symbolises a new era for the airline, as it nears its centenary in 2020, while honouring the familiar flying kangaroo: “When passengers see the Qantas tail at airports around the world, it’s a symbol of home.”

How Qantas adapts to the new normal remains to be seen, after recording a $2 billion loss as a result of the pandemic. In an attempt to connect with a grounded market, the brand is now selling excess business class amenity kits and pyjamas as care packs to boost morale.

McDonald’s

Potentially the world’s most recognisable icon, the golden arches have been carving out a place in the global consciousness since the 1950s. When Ray Kroc bought McDonald’s Famous Hamburgers from the McDonald brothers — and quickly turned three restaurants into 200 franchises — 15-cent burgers, thick milkshakes and the architectural metal arches were all part of the package.

Over the next decade, the brand’s logo evolved into the golden arched letter ‘M’, which stuck around in some form or another until the early 2000s. That’s when the wildly successful slogan “I’m lovin’ it” — launched with an actual song sung by Justin Timberlake — came to stay.

Of course, it’s not just the golden M in the sky that makes McDonald’s such an international institution. There’s also the signature clown.

Ronald McDonald made his debut in the 60s in the brand’s first TV commercial and was a massive hit, despite being the stuff of nightmares. This saw the beginning of a marketing push towards children and led to the introduction of Happy Meals in 1979.

The infamous clown did more than sell cheeseburgers, and in 1974 McDonald’s funded the first Ronald McDonald House, giving sick kids and their families a home-away-from-home. Now, there are 368 Ronald McDonald Houses around the world. Australia is home to 18 of them and runs the world-first Ronald McDonald Learning Program.

Now McDonald’s brand evolution continues, working to keep up with changing attitudes towards food. Think apple slices instead of fries, salads instead of Big Macs, campaigns centred on transparency and freshness, and the introduction of McCafé — with surprisingly good coffee!

Microsoft

Not too fussed on aesthetics, founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen slapped together Microsoft’s first disco-style logo themselves, using computer language program BASIC in 1975. Incidentally, a BASIC interpreter for the Altair 8800 minicomputer was the first product Microsoft ever sold. The product didn’t even exist when the pair pitched it to the Altair manufacturer.

This nimble brand development saw Microsoft leading the computer software and operating systems game in the 80s. Stumbling over some interesting logo iterations (including a short-lived heavy metal version), the modern “blibbet” design was in place at the time of the Microsoft Windows launch. The striped ‘O’ of the logo was seen across all the company branding and became a cult icon among brand loyalists — there was even a blibbet burger served at Microsoft headquarters.

As personal computers found their way into homes all over the world, so did Microsoft Windows, Office, and the italicised Helvetica logo you may remember from the 90s, which stuck around for 25 years.

In the early 2000s, Microsoft struggled to keep up with the rise of handheld devices, showing the importance of positioning your brand as a leader, not a follower. After shifting focus from consumer tech to online business services, the Microsoft of today seems to have finally embraced a clean aesthetic — a 2012 rebrand gave a nod to its hallmark Windows system. Developed by Microsoft employees (not a professional designer), the logo’s four coloured squares represent the company’s diverse products, while a modern wordmark unifies marketing communications with a consistent typeface.

Kodak

Beloved global technology brand Kodak has had a strong brand identity since it released the first handheld camera in 1888. Founder George Eastman coined the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest”, and spread the Kodak brand through magazines, billboards and sparkly electric signs.

Kodak was at the forefront of photography, motion pictures, colour printing, document imaging and health imaging. By the 1990s, the brand had been helping create “Kodak Moments” for more than a century. A tagline first heard in a series of TV ads in the 1980s, a Kodak moment is now defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “an occasion suitable for memorialising with a photograph”.

With the digital revolution, Kodak proved that even legacy brands need to innovate and adapt. Left behind by the advancement of digital cameras and competitors that had found ways to stay relevant, Kodak declared bankruptcy in 2012.

Hitting rewind, Kodak bounced back in 2016 with a new/old look that tapped into the nostalgic 90s revival. The return of Kodak’s signature ‘K’ logo — which it used from 1971­–2006 — and its trademarked red and yellow unified the company’s offerings under a familiar visual identity.

Kodak recently went all out with embracing its heritage and the power of nostalgia, releasing a clothing line featuring retro prints, a limited edition journal on analog culture, and revamped film tech for a new generation.

Netflix

Netflix’s brand evolution story is all about the service it provides, and how it changed the way the world consumes media. Kicking off as an ecommerce rent-by-mail DVD platform in 1998, Netflix’s convenient, cheap model disrupted an industry that would struggle to survive.

The company soon switched to a subscription service model, before introducing streaming capabilities in 2007. Pioneering the streaming format that made its own DVD rental model obsolete, Netflix secured its position in the market.

From there, the brand saw rapid growth through strategic partnerships with consumer electronic companies, putting Netflix onto gaming platforms, smart TVs and Apple devices. When Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010, Netflix had more than 20 million subscribers.

A few years later, Netflix shifted focus to streaming and released its first original series. Using real data on users’ viewing habits, the company was in a prime position to produce popular and critically acclaimed content — Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, The Crown, Queer Eye and so on.

Now, Netflix has more than 180 million registered subscribers internationally and an incredibly strong brand identity, recognisable by its single red ‘N’.

Feeling inspired to give your brand a refresh? We’re experts in brand evolution and development — and we’re here to help.

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