Low Income Branding

This article is about the heroes of low income design, Netto, LIDL, Waitrose as a surrogate mother, evolution of the urban species, emotional branding,  Argos, communist East Germany and Krispy Kreme.

When one walks the streets of London looking for the unsung heroes of low income design one sees some unexpected things. Who would think you could find  a great example of logo design on Rye Lane, Peckham?

Netto, a supermarket in the vain of LIDL, has a wonderful little identity going on. A little scottie, holding a basket, black on yellow. Simple but engaging mark. Nice strong typeface with the scottie incorporated into the N – maybe  a tad unnecessary. But still, in the dessert of design that is low income supermarkets, this is a jewel.
Compare it to LIDL, Morrison and Aldi – it has character, likability, reassurance. In short, it has most of what most brands yearn for. So it comes as a surprise to see that they have dropped the poor doggies from their logo in their new shops. Now the words ‘Netto’ feel very much less empathetic.

I for one feel less inclined to shop at Netto’s now. As I am at Aldi, Morssions and Lidl. If only they put more effort into making me feel held (like my mother held me in her arms) I might change my buying behaviour.

Looking at these 4 logos reminds me of a recent question about working class design. Now I know the words ‘working’ and ‘class’ together open up a minefield, especially here in the UK where we are generally of the opinion that if we don’t talk about class it will go away. So maybe we can use the term ‘CDE Design’ in relation to brands marketed solely at the lower demographic groups.

Or maybe we can be even more specific and use the term ‘low income design’.

The 4 logos (except for the Netto dog which is the odd one out) have a similarity to each other  which makes me wonder whether someone somewhere has decided that the low income shoppers out there need strong colours and heavy fonts in order for them to remember a brand. This is a ‘smack you over the head’ style of branding which attempts to burn the logo into the retinas of anyone who looks at it for too long. Are those with low incomes not deserving of more empathy? I wonder whether all of these companies are underestimating the brand sophistication of their customers? Or are they correct in assuming that the one thing that connects all their customers at this end of the market is a lack of care for design? Does not everyone want to feel held, loved and cared for by a brand – and is this not the exact reason why so many people love Waitrose?

Waitrose is a surrogate mother for many. Could it be true that the middle and upper classes need a lot more love from branding (and their surroundings) than the working classes? Do they surround themselves with beautiful objects because internally they are bereft of such things? Is it true that someone who can live happily in a house over-looking a motorway is a stronger and more adapted version of the human than those who need 10 acres, trees, art and silence to just get through the day? Will the latter die out as the planet becomes more crowded and urban?

Would this then mean that any money put into emotion based ‘low income brands’ is a waste? Or is it just an orthodoxy that has taken grip and been incorporated by the actual low income shoppers themselves who display skepticism of any ‘middle class’ brands? Brands are then used in a class war of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Argos vs Jon Lewis for example? Is there not a need then for a more democratic design that speaks to us all irrespective of our backgrounds and income?

Another good example of a brand that works at the lower end of the market is Argos. In some ways  the logo is a copy of the most universal brand of all, Coca Cola. But without the aspirational or inspirational history. However, I would class it as an aspirational brand. Their catalogue is somewhat of a low income bible, a progression chart of material needs and successes. One can mark out ones achievements by what one has being able to afford to buy from the Argos catalogue, and what one would buy if ‘money was no object’. Argos’ advertising is very functional, devoid of much emotion.  They seem to buy into the idea that emotional empathetic branding is a waste at this end of  the market. ‘You want it, we’ve got. Come in and get it’ seems to be their message. The Argos ‘experience’ in their shops is similar to the UK post office experience. Somewhere between East Germany under Communist rule and 1970s Britain.

A definitive hero of ‘low income branding’ has to be Krispy Kreme. Their  logo and donut box designs with the green pimples are a beauty to behold. The logo itself has not changed much since 1937. The combination of the words crispy and cream can make whole nations of sugar addicts salivate at the thought of that nirvana, fried sugar! Krispy Kreme prove without a doubt that products aimed at lower income groups can still be branded beautifully with feeling and love and most importantly can still add a little bit of goodness to our visual environments.

So listen up Netto, bring back the Scottie and let the little doggy help us with the burden of our urban lives!

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