MEDIA: BEHIND THE HYPE - Unilever embraces love and flowers for latest logo

Its new logo reflects a desire to sell the Unilever name as a brand per se.

Looking at an early version of Unilever's new logo, which is set to receive a global roll-out later this year, it's tempting to think that the corporation is now run by a hippie collective.

Moving from the steel blue of its rigid "U" corporate identity to a "U" made up of fish, flowers and birds underpinned by retro lettering, the new identity seems in line with Unilever's touchy feely intentions of helping people "feel good, look good and get more out of life" as part of its "path to growth" programme.

The logo, created by Wolff Olins, is Unilever's first stab at a new look since the 70s. But is it a cynical attempt at jumping on a bandwagon backed by a consultancy trying to justify its large fee or a profound attempt at moving forward?

Unilever's new look appears to be part of a trend towards environmentalism that saw BP rebranding to reinforce its green credentials. It was no longer about oil but "beyond petroleum", complete with windmills at petrol stations and a flower on its logo.

But why push the main Unilever brand to the forefront? Michael Johnson, the founder of the brand consultancy Johnson Banks and a former D&AD president, argues that Unilever has always kept its corporate brand in the background.

"The big blue 'U' stood for all that. This seems all about making it consumer-friendly with stars and fish. This is usually a sign that the identity will move from the body copy to the front of the pack. Nestle did this about 15 years ago and this has enabled it to cross-sell brands," he says.

However, pushing the mother brand to the front on products, if this is what Unilever intends to do, is not without its dangers. If anything happens to tarnish the main Unilever brand, this could then have an impact on the family of products that carry its name.

One observer suggests that other factors are at play here. That impetus for the rebranding and greater promotion of the Unilever brand has been driven from developing markets where the Unilever, or Lever, brand is more prominent. In some African, Latin American and Asian markets, the Unilever brand is more prominent and respected than in developed markets such as the UK where the individual brands are king. Local managers in developing markets are said to believe that this will help shift more product and build the image of each individual brand.

Another factor may well be the passion that Niall FitzGerald, the Unilever chairman, has for corporate accountability. With the issue of the transparency of corporations so high up the agenda, increasing the visibility of the Unilever brand might convey an impression of openness and accessibility.

But what of the design itself?

"At first I thought it has the look of ice-cream packaging - one of its brands is Walls and it has that same squiggly lettering," Johnson says. "I find the design itself intriguing but I'm perplexed by this lettering. It disturbs me, it's like the language of late-80s hotels and ice-cream."

FitzGerald steps down as chairman in September after 37 years at Unilever to be replaced by the foods director, Patrick Cescau. So despite the 80s lettering on the logo, it seems there is about to be a genuine new era at Unilever.

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