Uber’s shiny object: Why a new logo won’t fix a rot beneath the surface


When organisations go through sustained tough times, as night follows day, a new logo will often follow. And with a splashy launch Uber is the latest member of the cult of shiny objects. Although with their last rework just three years ago, this is their second trip.

Generally speaking, people don’t think organisations updating their logos or the other visual markers which help people pick them out of a line up is really an issue. And I guess it isn’t if you overlook that it rarely accomplishes what people tell themselves it will.

I do start getting twitchy when the update ascribes all kinds of noble intent with slick wordy justifications. Just once it would be nice if the organisation said: ‘We didn’t like the old one, it was tainted by the crappy culture and bad actions of the past chief executive officer, and we think this will help people forget about all that.’

Here’s what they said instead: “A tech startup turned global mobility platform in eight short years deserves a holistic brand system that’s instantly recognizable, works around the world, and is efficient to execute.”

And while the look of the new logo and associated font is likely to have broad appeal, with a clean, minimalist and slightly bland look, the design isn’t the issue. It is a well-executed paint job. However, the problem with a new paint job is, unless you first clean up what’s underneath, it won’t last. The rot will resurface.

Uber rebranding

Uber has a new look.

Uber rebranding

Uber has new branding for the second time in three years.

News is mixed on how much of that structural work Uber is doing — a look in the rear-view mirror in a few years time will be the only real way to tell.

Beyond Uber, there is a much larger issue, because no shiny object, no matter how well executed, will atone for treating the people who provide your services poorly. Or ignoring bad behaviour by those people. Or a business model that outsources operating cost onto society and wraps it up as progress. Or any number of other day-to-day things which get ignored in pursuit of the shiny object.

I’ve often used a line from the movie Thomas Crown Affair when talking about using a new logo to paint over an organisation’s problems. Rene Russo’s character says: “It’s diversion, make a lot of noise over there, and over here, you can take 100 million bucks off the wall without anyone noticing.” And diversion it is — until a spot of rot comes to the surface and the cycle begins again.

To learn why you don’t need a new logo, click here.

So what’s an organisation to do?

Well, do the work and focus on fixing the unsexy hard stuff. Then give those actions time to surface so everyone can see them. Let how you have actually changed be the shiny object people focus on. I think you’ll be amazed how what’s actually different transforms how people see and feel about your logo.

After all, it’s only a marker of who you are. And who you really are shows up in the everyday unheroic actions and decisions and the promises you keep to your employees, customers and everyone you come into contact with — achieving a robust and resilient brand as a result.

See you next week.

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3 years ago

Michel, before you go on about how organizations don’t need to re-brand their logo etc. Unless you work with or for them you haven’t a clue about what really goes on. Secondly, I have seen the changes within Uber and if they decide a new logo is what they want and need then so be it.
There are companies out there that don’t re-brand or make any changes and yet they still haven’t cleaned up the mould left on their walls.

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