Making sense of the Australia Unlimited logo debacle

Australia Unlimited logo

The new Australia Unlimited logo is not replacing the Australia Made logo, despite reports. Source: Australia Unlimited/National Brand Advisory Council

Botched is the best word to describe the roll-out of the new Australia Unlimited logo, which ignited handwringing and rancour across media, government and design circles when it was released this week.

News organisations pounced and paraded it alongside the Australia Made logo as if one was replacing the other. It wasn’t, but the actual story wasn’t newsworthy. 

A government body (note the Australian Government logo on the website) that proclaims itself as a gatekeeper of ‘our national brand’, decided it wanted a new logo — and paid millions of dollars for a spindly yellow blob that might, or might not be wattle. 

It’s unclear how much the logo cost, with the $10 million price bandied about actually for a broader campaign which the logo is part of. And while plenty of people have weighed in on the design, that wasn’t my immediate focus

I wondered, what is Australia Unlimited, and why does it need a new logo? Seeing the old logo (of two boomerangs in the shape of Australia) generated a spark of recognition. However, I still didn’t know what the organisation was, suggesting that perhaps the problem wasn’t the logo. 

A quick search revealed more about the organisation. From the Austrade website:

“We have developed a nation brand that will be easily understood, consistently recognisable, quintessentially Australian and adaptable for different uses and industries …

Australia’s Nation Brand will harmonise what the world sees, hears, knows and experiences of Australia, making everything Australian easily recognisable. It will capitalise on our known strengths and showcase our lesser-known capabilities as we market ourselves to the world.”

What an impossible pile of agency hubris. Australia is a country of millions of people, who live here and visit, and thousands of businesses. Some are well-known, others obscure. Some do admirable and respected work that contributes to our standing around the world. Others don’t (yes, looking at you Rio Tinto). For good measure, throw into the mix government policy and actions and stuff that happens to us. 

The sum and value of those efforts, events and experiences come together and gets stored in a result called ‘brand’. It’s not, and can’t ever be, a logo.

In 1977, a designer called Milton Glaser designed a now-iconic logo saying “I (heart) NY” as part of a tourism campaign. You’ve probably seen it on a t-shirt; it’s an almost universally recognised marker for New York. But it became that way over time. 

The logo is unchanged and through the years has collected the good feelings and aspirations people hold about New York. It’s now iconic, which is the story of any logo people recognise and hold fond feelings about. Still, no one would claim it represents all that is New York.

One thing is certain: no logo can become iconic if it is continually changing. It takes years, decades, even generations for a marker to amass sentiment and awareness. How long will this one last?

Probably until an Australia Unlimited board member has a drink with an agency mate who suggests the logo is looking a bit tired, and that’s why no one knows what they do. Cue a new round of bright shiny object syndrome and millions of dollars.

Trade Mister Simon Birmingham’s comments shed some light on why they did it. He says the new logo will, “provide an overarching framework that can allow us to have some consistency in our approach”. In other words, they hope the new logo is something more people will use.

Maybe they will. But the logo was never the problem that needed solving. 

See you next time.

NOW READ: ASIC shells out over $100,000 on ‘new’ logo — but we can barely see the difference

NOW READ: You don’t need a new logo

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