We love the Co-op. Or the Co-operative as they used to be called.
Well, except they weren’t called The Co-operative. I called them the Co-op, everyone I know called them the Co-op, when I saw people write about them online, they wrote ‘Co-op’ rather than ‘The Co-operative’. I remember when the Natwest was called the National Westminster Bank. But everyone called them ‘Natwest’. So they changed their name accordingly.
Sometimes you have to look back to move forward. This is a brave move by the Co-op. It shows confidence in who they are and who they really want to be. The old identity was rather sterile and brash at times. It was incredibly corporate. Funeral care was branded in the same way (with a colour change) as a convenience store. I never understood this as a strategy, as funerals are about helping people through one of the most upsetting times in a lifetime, yet the stores looked like they could be selling fridges. It felt totally at odds with a business built on ethics, co-operation and member benefits.
The overly corporate approach has led to other problems. In recent years, due to the banking issues they have faced, the whole brand has become tainted. Having a brand that is overly corporate is far more susceptible to issues with reputation than ones that mix it up a bit. Brands are a bit like and eco system, it’s never good to plant just one variety of plant. They need some variation, a bit of rotation and change to feel fresh and new amongst the overall structure of the business while never losing site of why you started planting in the first place.
Their branding didn’t feel like it communicated their values. They didn’t feel like an ethical business. Yet this is their USP. This is what makes them different. Their supermarkets looked more like Spar. Their own brand premium products looked too similar to Tesco Finest. I always felt that they were too rational in how they communicated their values which didn’t connect emotionally.
But this is changing.
Now they are going back to the future. And it really works. They are reverting back to the name that everyone uses to describe them. The logo is a subtle update on the old one too which brings it into line with other co-operative businesses. It’s a visually recognisable symbol that feels retro, but if used confidently can feel quite modern. As with all identities, they have to be seen in context to be fully appreciated. By looking to the past they are saying that they have heritage, a track record and have been around a long time, but still feel modern and fresh.
They now look modern, yet timeless. The design, colours and materials used for signage look much less gaudy and brash than before, which should really lift the perception of the stores. They look proud of who they are.
This is a good lesson in how a brand can stand back from itself and work out what to prune, what to grow and what to plant.
That doesn’t mean that tending to the ‘Co-op brand garden’ should stop now. One of the reasons the previous identity felt so corporate was because it was used as a rubber stamp, same logo with a colour variation for each sector. It felt a bit monolithic and impersonal.
The new branding is a positive change and was definitely needed. We hope they carry on building the brand and furnish it with enough tools and flexibility to allow the Co-op to communicate their core values with emotion.
The packs look great here, but packaging has to work in context. It’s a great way of demonstrating how the branding works, but will it work in store when side by side the competition? Why is this juice better than Innocent, other than it’s cheaper because it’s own brand?
These are early days, so it will be interesting to see how it all works. We also believe that the Co-op could be bolder when stating their values.
For instance, what if:
- Their egg packaging said “free range, just like all the eggs in all the Co-op products”
- Or if their shop windows said “we’re the only supermarket to pay the London living wage” (which they have just voted for as a company value).
If someone else comes and does that too, they could then say “we were the first supermarket to pay the London living wage”.
- The Co-op were the first major retailer to champion Fairtrade products. What else could they tell us that will make us re-discover and love the Co-op again? How can this rebrand communicate with depth the values of the company in a way that is memorable, emotive and distinctive. How can it make people understand that the Co-op makes the world a little better?
We look forward to seeing how they make the most of their new branding.
Images taken from Creative Review The Co-operative returns to its clover-leaf logo from 1968 article.