Monday, July 14, 2008

Walmart, not the shouting type

True or false? The Columbia Pictures logo (the woman in robes holding a lamp high - doubtless based on the Statue of Liberty) was changed when the Coca-Cola company owned Columbia for a while back in the 1980s. An article I read swears that the woman was rounded and smoothed to look more like the shape of a Coke bottle, although she has since been slimmed down. A lot. Fact or fiction, this story reveals how much corporate strategy can influence brand identity, or perhaps how much people would like to believe it does.

This month one of the best known names in America is having a major face-lift. I’m talking about Wal-Mart, or Walmart as we will come to know it. Walmart isn’t the first company to slim down in this era of brevity and text messaging. Every character counts and I’m sure there are management consultants out there who could calculate the cost of each one. Apple Computer last year became just Apple – which is what we all call them anyway. Federal Express followed the people and became FedEx.

As a name, Walmart has been shrinking for decades. When Sam Walton started the business back in the 1950s it was as the leisurely Walton’s Five and Dime. Name plus price right up-front. Then it was Wal-Mart, and in 1992 the hyphen gave way to the star and Wal•Mart. That version never quite added up for me. The * may be OK for a logo, but I’m sure no one ever wrote it that way so there was always a question mark over it. Icons and logos matter. Lovemarks include them as a key quality of Mystery. I think the new logo and name give Walmart a strong sense of design sophistication as well as a constant reminder that shoppers are tempering their focus on price with their concern that price does not come at the expense of the planet.

What I like best about Walmart’s move is not the hyphen loss or starburst gain or different colors and the rest. What speaks to me most strongly is the simple shift from upper case to lower case letters. Remember when newcomers to email would sometimes accidentally send a message all in caps? “Stop shouting” was the usual response. And that’s what this latest logo shift means to me. Walmart is turning down the volume. Remember, in the Attraction Economy there’s no selling by yelling. Walmart is getting in tune with shoppers.