29 August 2014
How new logos become instantly powerful global icons

The controversy surrounding Airbnb’s new logo grabbed the marketing world’s attention, with what could be interpreted as female – or male – genitalia. It has provoked curiosity and a widespread investigation into the new logo and its new branding. For Airbnb, this is certainly mission accomplished.


While some logos inspire a split-second blink, Airbnb’s new logo has lured in a 30-second glare, if not more.


Launched into the universe on July 16 as part of Airbnb’s rebranding, the new symbol Bêlo has instantly soared as a global icon, a quasi-religious and slightly cult-like symbol that is largely empowered by its “people” – hosts and guests of Airbnb’s home-rental website.


Bêlo is the universal symbol for belonging; that we can belong anywhere in the world, thanks to Airbnb. As the company’s CEO Brian Chesky explains “’The bélo is a vehicle for rich, deep, emotional, human stories.”


So how does a logo become instantly iconic? For some brands, it can take decades. After all, it took McDonalds 20 years to create the golden arches. More oever, how did such a young brand pull it off?


Shock factor:


In its christening moments, Twitter predictably went nuts, opening up a discussion about which part of the human anatomy it represented.  The debate about whether or not the new Belo looks like a lady part or male organ, not only became a topic of conversation but also of participation, as users even designed infographics to provide explanations for how the logo came into existence. While on other sites, a simple broadcast of Bêlo with its imagery awarded swarms of free advertising to the home-rental website.

Although Airbnb was apparently stunned by the insinuations that Bêlo had anything perverse related to it, Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk’s wafty statement in response certainly leaves this unanswered: “It’s just like: Go ahead, laugh all you want, guys. We wouldn’t want to design a logo that caters to the lowest common denominator.” Not really sure what that means, at least it’s certainly unclear.


Here, controversy proves a brilliant segway for Airbnb to launch its new logo and messaging around Bêlo. The taboo about it triggered the media to call on the industry’s top designers, as well as acclaimed marketers for their opinion.


Their response was, in fact, a standing ovation to Bêlo.


Design wise, it’s a masterpiece. Reviewed by top designers worldwide, the logo scores high for its simplicity, strong and clean lines that can read well both large and small, and its clever intertwining of symbols.


According to a Ryan Arruda, a graphic designer for Monotype “Airbnb’s redesign feels more refined, more mature and more purposeful—but not in a manner that evokes a feeling of an artificially sleek or saccharine veneer. Featuring a new symbol named the Bêlo, this monoline mark is an entwined union of other symbols, among them a heart, a map marker, and an abstract “A” letterform.”


Complementing its design is a highly potent message.


Bêlo is the people’s symbol of belonging. It’s a symbol of rich storytelling, and it can be owned by anyone.  Since everyone can draw the symbol and adapt it, it already induces a state of belonging by its user-friendly form. With “Create Airbnb” people can customize their own “Belo” symbol, and share it on Airbnb. The company then promises to create merchandise based on the popular people’s interpretation of the logo.  They call it a shared brand identity, and it’s something that has never been done before.


Of course adopting a simple symbol, especially one that works well in a small square format, is also hugely helpful with mobile apps and social media.


So there we have it. The residual effects of spending more than a few seconds on a logo due to its initial taboo nature, has allowed people to notice the sheer genius of Bêlo. It’s a symbol that represents a whole new behavior about belonging to the world. As Airbnb’s co-founder Brian Chesky puts it, ‘It’s a symbol for going where the locals go—the cafe that doesn’t bother with a menu, the dance club hidden down a long alleyway, the art galleries that don’t show up in the guidebooks.”


This symbol is about content. It’s not just about the way it looks, but it’s about what it induces and the culture it creates. So whether it looks perverse or not, is hardly the point but exactly the first impression.








23 May 2014
The wondrous act of eating and how one app has revolutionized it


Food – it’s a rather complex system of structures connoting customs, behaviors, beliefs. There’s the ingredients, the sourcing of ingredients, the recipes, the art of recipe-making, etc etc.


Then there’s the experiential element “the eating.” The ritual of eating is, in fact, something that we participate in, consciously or not, multiple times a day. And the culture of eating is somehow engrained in our cultural codes, customs and lifestyle.


Take countries like Spain and France. A 1-2 hour lunch break involving a sit down meal is standard, while in the UK and the USA, the popular “eat at your desk” concept is readily adopted for efficiency and brownie points at work.  Then take Israel. Shabbat is central to everything in the country, including the bus schedule and bank hours, affording the entire country to come to a ritualistic standstill every week.


It’s no more apparent that contemporary eating practices seem more complicated than ever, demanding a multidimensional analysis that strives not for a reductive overview but for a complex understanding.


Here’s a mobile app that has found a clever way to facilitate the practice of eating, taking into account the cultural codes, customs and traditions that bring a dish and a meal to life. What’s fascinating is the way that it has skyrocketed success in one city – Tel Aviv – while still dwindles along the lines of touristy and experimental in another – Barcelona.

Referenced as the Airbnb for breaking bread with locals in their own homes, EatWith defines itself  as “a global community that invites you to dine in homes around the world, connect with amazing hosts, share stories and unforgettable experiences, and enjoy delicious homemade cuisine.”


Users create a profile and either sign up to attend EatWith gatherings – lunches, dinners or classes – or become host to their own. The transparency of the app allows users to see who else is attending the gatherings, guests who already ate with that particular host, and reviews from those that have experienced it.


From “vegetarian cooking according to ayurvedic medicine”, to a traditional Shabbat dinner, experiences offered by hosts are authentic, social and usually unforgettable.


In Tel Aviv, EatWith gatherings are proposed almost every night of the week, attended by up to 50 people per time, while many are simply just sold out.


In contrast, EatWith’s second launch city, Barcelona has had a rather different response. While certainly not unsuccessful there, it seems to be more like riding the way of a new initiative that is explored a few times and then slowly fizzles out.  EathWith gatherings pop up on the website a few times a week, and are attended by a handful of eager tourists or those wanting to try something new.


What’s different about the Tel Aviv version is that it is has created an enormous buzz around town, becoming popular among locals as much as tourists. In Israel, half of the bookings come from Israelis—like 34-year-old Tel Aviv-based foodie Orly Burstein, who first went for the culinary aspect, but is now hooked on the human element. She has gone to two dinners in Tel Aviv in the past three months. “There are two things that happen that you don’t get in a restaurant,” Burstein explained. “One is that you meet other people; that’s the X-factor. Everything is around the food and the story of the person who’s cooking it, but there’s something that’s not discussed: the fact that there are other people at that evening, strangers, all sharing the same experience. You’re not going to get that in a restaurant or bar. I met some very, very interesting people from around the world that I’d never meet otherwise. You become like a traveler in your own city. That’s the extraordinary experience.”


This sort of collaborative consumption is certainly prospering in Tel Aviv for two main reasons: The city dwellers are constantly driven to meet new people. Out almost every night of the week, the outgoing nature of its inhabitants means that EatWith offers a unique option for a night out. That and Tel Aviv’s uber-expensive cost of living, means that people are always on the lookout for more cost-effective experiences,.

For the app’s founder, Guy Michilin, he explains that it all comes down to the people. “The host plays a very important role. If they’re welcoming and hold a crowd, are a good storyteller and know how to bring people together, then everything else falls into place. The food still has to be good, but it’s how people connect.


I’m not a foodie, but I love to eat.”

In his own words, Guy distills the distinction between food itself and the experience of eating, which is central to the apps success.

EatWith is about eating, and eating together.




16 May 2014
City Breakers


I (Heart) New York, LA is my Lady, Sin City, The Windy City, The Big Easy, Motor City – city tags and monikers have existed long before ‘city branding’ became a respected practice. The new era of city branding was born in Barcelona. As almost everyone is aware of, Barcelona reinvented itself as host city for the 1992 Olympic Games, spending millions on improved infrastructure, urban planning, eye catching architecture and street art – a formula that suddenly hurled it from a grimy, off the radar second city to the place everyone wanted to be.

City governments and tourist boards have since tried to imitate the ‘Barcelona effect’ but rarely with the same dramatic result. Perhaps Barcelona’s secret was a mixture of not only physical readiness but emotional as well. After decades of political and cultural repression, Catalans were itching to tell the world ‘We Exist!’. The same can’t be said for Sydney, which was already a confident, modern city before the 2000 Olympic Games hit town.

The Guardian newspaper has recently published a Global City Survey, or breakdown of the strongest city brands, and the results caused a fair bit of media chatter. The report took into account the city’s ‘assets’ (transport, safety, local economy and other factors that contribute to ‘liveability’) as well as media buzz -- which the agency admits gives the results a decidedly western bias. That said, the results were surprising…

LA -- a city long thought of as polluted and crime ridden -- came in at number one, one place ahead of New York. London and Paris scored predictably high, but then so did (unpredictably) Seoul and Las Vegas. Venice, despite being undeniably one of the world’s most beautiful cities and hosting two of the most prestigious international cultural events (the biennale and film festival) was placed below Lima. Copenhagen, generally perceived as one of the ‘coolest’ cities in Europe, was also in the bottom tier (apparently Marrakesh has better infrastructure or at least a larger abundance of luxury, instagram-worthy riads).

In the same newspaper, Sharon Zukin, a professor of sociology at New York’s City University asks just what use do these sort of polls serve (The Guardian is not the first, nor will be the last to invest in them) and  who benefits from the current penchant for ‘city branding’. “In the end, the most important metrics in city branding are increases in property values and tourist spending”, he argues.” Yet these are not necessarily good for city dwellers….”

The makers of ‘Bye Bye Barcelona’ would certainly agree.  This recent documentary shows the downside of the huge increase in tourism in Barcelona, and how it has, over a decade after the 1992 Olympic Games, become a victim of its own popularity. Overall the message is simple, a top tier city maybe a great place to visit, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to live there.





5 May 2014
About Face: Selling to (and from) the ‘anti-establishment’.

Once in a while, a commercial comes along that manages to put into focus pre-established ideologies and makes us question where our own values lie. Such is the case of the new spot for the bank ING Direct in Spain.

The commercial features the images and music of Bob Dylan, musical icon and king pin of the anti-establishment movement. It starts with the famous sequence of Dylan, at the height of his fame in the 1960s, creating a spontaneous, poetic and hilarious play on words from a shop sign (the scene forms part of the Martin Scorcese documentary ‘No Direction Home’) and ends with his battle cry ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ under the title ‘People in Progress’. The message is that ING Direct is the bank for free thinkers (of whatever age) – a flexible, left of centre, ‘different’ institution that speaks your language. The reaction on the web was immediate – with as many loving the simplicity and elegance of the commercial as those opposed to the idea of Dylan selling out to capitalist devil (Although no information is available, it can only be assumed that Dylan received payment for the use of his music, if not his images).

Anyone who has seen the aforementioned documentary will know that Dylan is an incredibly complex and often contradictorily personality. He is also not the first counter culture hero to lend it to the mass marketing machine.  John Lydon, the singer of the sex pistols and punk agitator did it for Country Life Butter whilst Johnny Cash endorsed the fast food chain Taco Bell. From a marketing perspective, the question is do these ads work, or fall flat in their attempt to hip-ify the brand for a new audience.

In the case of ING Direct the answer would have to be a resounding si! The spot was created by the Madrid-based agency Sra. Rushmore, who themselves eschew the slick persona of many advertising agencies in favour for one of a cosy bunch of young, offbeat creatives.  In this interview (in Spanish), the agency’s creative director César García explains how the commercial is a reflection of the evolution of the ING Direct brand. “ING started as ‘sole product’ bank, with its ‘Orange Savings Accounts’. Then little by it became more than a ‘bank’ with new ways of doing things- We wanted the whole world to know that they do things differently.”

By using Dylan to spread this message the agency has done so eloquently and admirably. And has shown that when it comes to appropriating our cultural icons for different scenarios, the times really are a’ changin.



24 April 2014
Is it really possible that technology can improve your health?

In some parts of the world, the concept of a gym is a ridiculous proposition. Particularly in countries where agriculture is abundant and farming is a way of life, people work and interact in harmony with their natural environments, integrating health and fitness organically. The notion of going inside a room, to run on a machine that doesn’t move, and pay money for it, is strange and ostracizing.

Yet in many parts of the world, this man-made construct -- the gym -- is an accepted habitat necessary to become connected with one’s body and one’s health. While gyms are nothing new, other man-made health-saving constructs are on the rise, with 2014 witnessing the greatest shift towards technological inventions that are predicted to improve our health: mobile apps.

According to the International Herald Tribune, 500 million mobile users, or about 30% of an estimated 1.4 billion smartphone subscribers worldwide, will be using health and fitness apps by 2015.

The Apple’s US App store itself currently shows 43,689 healthcare-related apps. Predictions indicate that these health apps will grow from 154 million downloads in 2010 to 908 million by 2016, and the number of wearable wireless “gadgets” will grow from 8 million to 72 million over the same period.

Impressive numbers. So what are these apps all about? The apps themselves cover all sorts of health-related issues.

Popular ones this year include, MapMyWalk (http://www.mapmywalk.com/), which tracks the pace and timing of walking, while Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale (http://withings.com/en/bodyanalyzer)  tracks weight, BMI and body-fat mass, transmitting those details to a personally-password protected web site. Then there’s Fitocracy Macros (http://www.fitocracy.com/knowledge/macros-101/), an app that tracks calories one takes in from macronutrients.

Essentially, what these apps seem to have in common is some sort of tracking system: a way to monitor one’s own well-being, while providing an information platform, triggering the popular consumer behaviors of control and prevention.


Wellness has become about prevention:

It’s nothing new that the Western world is entering an enormous health care crisis, with obesity and diabetes’ rates higher than ever, and the focus of preventative care becoming central to a better health system.

These mobile apps allow us to move health care out of hospitals and medical centers and into our everyday lives. It’s already happening with the rise of apps that allow us to monitor our bodies from the inside, offering us more information, insight and control over our lifestyles.

The next question to consider is: if we know more about our bodies, can we save them? Or all these apps just another form of entertainment and coercion to buy more things?


If we consider the gym trend, has the rise of these fitness centers actually helped us towards healthier lifestyles, or simply allowed us to control them more?


While gyms and apps and other commodities allow us to control our bodies more, brands will need to provide a more legitimate sense of health security to create a shift in health care statistics.