Next year I'll be turning forty. High time to do certain things and contemplate certain others. Such as how some brands have changed since I was a child, and not always for the better. It's not just because I've gotten older that they come across differently â€“ they've become older too. And not all of them have aged that well.
Probably the first brand that I recall from my childhood is Lego. Back then the Lego figures all had the same smiling face â€“ fire fighters, astronauts, city dwellers, knights. You could take off a police officer's cap, stick on a piece of long plastic hair and, hey presto, you had a policewoman. I loved my Lego. I spent hundreds of hours playing with it.
Then the Lego headquarters were taken over by Danish Vikings who decided that children didn't know how to make-believe correctly and needed clear guidelines for their imaginary games. Bearded pirate faces, unfriendly police faces and kitschy made-up girlies were produced. Ever since, the male Lego figures all wear a grim expression; there's hardly anything left to laugh about in Lego land. Instead, each and every face has been stereotyped.
Those same Danish Vikings also came up with this incredibly brilliant licensing concept, which is why we now have Lego figures of Harry Potter, Batman and Darth Vader â€“ all with very grumpy faces. With all these innovations Lego has betrayed its very own, smiling soul and the changes may well be the reason why the figures look so bad-tempered.
When I wasn't playing with Lego as a child I could be found immersed in a Merry Paperback. These Walt Disney publications of Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse cartoons in the German-speaking countries were translated by the late Dr. Erika Fuchs at the publishing house Ehapa-Verlag. Her translations were not only funny, but clever too, and they entertained generations of German-speaking children and teenagers. Unlike the grim Danish Vikings, Dr. Fuchs took her audience seriously and considered her readers worthy of witty German, thereby creating a standard that has been severely lacking since her demise.
Witty, good-quality German no longer seems to interest anyone these days. In fact, good quality seems to be considered intellectually taxing and a waste of time in a good many things nowadays. Brands seem to assume that they are producing for idiots, and comics are just another example of this. Their stories are crude, lack sparkle and are carelessly drawn. Apparently even good illustration is considered too much of an effort and a waste of time these days.
And so, even comic book stories aren't funny anymore. It seems that since Dr. Fuchs passed away, the publishing house hasn't bothered to fill her position with somebody who ensures that the published translations are funny and clever.
We don't have only the demise of Dr. Erika Fuchs to regret; Mr. Friedmann, my grandfather, has also passed away since my childhood, may he rest in peace. I remember my grandfather as a wonderful human being: humorous, dignified, high moral standards and the driver of a plum-blue colored Mercedes 280. Everything about him was perfectly seamless: his persona, his lifestyle and his car. The model 280 symbolized the Mercedes brand (and the Mr. Friedmann brand) perfectly. An elegant, solidly-built and safe sedan in a design that can only be described as successful, immortal and classic.
Today's Mercedes models deserve only one label: gross. Not a trace of the traditional elegance that dates back all the way to Gottlieb Daimler, the inventor of the internal-combustion engine, can be found in any of their models. My grandfather would have never sat in such a vulgar, glitzy car, and the people who do so today, believe that class is something you can buy. As those supposedly highly intelligent business executives at the Mercedes headquarters obviously do too.
For almost thirty years the face smiling at us from Kinder chocolate bars was that of little GÃ¼nther. A likeable lad. Then, 2005, Kevin appeared on the scene and GÃ¼nther vanished from the wrapper. Another part of my childhood irrevocably gone. Some brands should never ever be allowed to modernize, for the simple reason that it's unnecessary. In fact it's short-sighted and suicidal.
Though I'll make an exception here for the traditional Swiss supermarket chains Coop und Migros. The old logos were fusty and the redesign initiatives dusted them off and gave them a fresh look. If, however, the EPA department store still existed, we would probably want it to appear just the way is did back then, when it was still a strong brand. Its logo redesign in the 1990s was a terrible mistake and obviously did the organization no favors at all.
Which leads us to an interesting aspect of brand images. Brands shouldn't always try to keep up with the times. Some brands, yes â€“ a food chain should always have a fresh image. However, durable values with a high identification factor shouldnâ€™t tamper with their brand values. Like Kinder. Or Mercedes. Or Lego. Or Disney's witty German translations.
Even at a tender age already, brands work their magic on us. We attach ourselves to them on an emotional level and are childishly upset when they change. When the children's bedtime television program suddenly appeared with a new theme I shed bitter tears. It felt like the ultimate betrayal.
As we grow older we learn to accept changes more gracefully. Yet brands can really harm themselves by climbing onto every bandwagon in an effort to stay modern at any cost. Even though I will be turning forty next year, and don't belong to Lego's primary target group anymore, I still feel a wave of annoyance every time I see those angry little yellow faces somewhere.
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Thomas Meyer was born in Zurich in 1974. He worked as a copywriter and concept developer in advertising agencies and as a reporter, columnist and chief editor for various publications. In 2007, he started his own business as an author and copywriter. Thomas Meyer's debut novel, "Wolkenbruchs wunderliche Reise in die Arme einer Schickse" was published in March 2012.
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