PBS Unveils a New Brand for a New Era of Media
According to a September 2018 Nielsen report, 215 million people, or 83% of all U.S. television households, watch PBS via “traditional television.” The network reaches 89% of non-internet homes, 82% of lower-income homes, and 78% of rural homes. Its demographics reflect that of the overall U.S. population in regard to race, ethnicity, education, income, and geography. And PBS was ranked the most trusted institution among contenders that included courts of law, cable and broadcast tv, newspapers, digital media, and more, according to a 2019 report by Marketing & Research Resources. [Image: courtesy PBS] Though the broadcaster had near universality in American homes, it was in need of a rebrand as it continued to expand into the digital world. That became the design challenge for Connie Birdsall, global creative director, and Bogdan Geana, partner, of creative consultancy Lippincott, who developed the new brand identity for PBS, along with Shelby Hawker, senior partner, and Emily Guilmette, partner. How do you develop a brand that stands out and still appeals to everyone? While Birdsall felt the logo developed by Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv in 2009 “had a lot of strength,” the mark—and the system surrounding it—was ready for a 2019 reevaluation. For Don Wilcox, vice president of multiplatform marketing and content at PBS, the previous look had a “broadcast sensibility” that didn’t translate well across platforms. “We are working in a multiplatform world and we need to change our practice. It’s incredibly important for us to show up consistently and legibly, whether on a handheld device or flat screen.” [Image: courtesy PBS] So Birdsall and her team went back to the mark to determine how to adapt it for the digital age. When looking at the new logo itself, you’ll notice only slight alterations. But they made all the difference when it comes to brand cohesion and direction. The team wanted the mark to be quickly identifiable as users switch across platforms. So they first turned to adopting a consistent, proprietary color, which had to convey PBS’s standing as a “thoughtful and thought-provoking media leader,” and the trust it has established with viewers. The team landed on a vibrant, brighter blue to differentiate from any unwanted political affiliation (including the Democratic Party), and that brought a bit of the unexpected. This is a rebrand, after all. To bring the “flip-phone brand” into an “iPhone world,” as Wilcox describes it, Birdsall and her team made changes to the design of the mark itself as well: They simplified and enlarged the typography, scaled up the size of the head inside the circle, then scaled the type to equal the height of the head, so the two design elements read as one unit together. There was another small change, too: The team tilted the nose up slightly, so the head gazes upward, toward a “beacon of thoughtfulness.” Clean design was also important in creating a sense of universality, even when PBS programming, like its audience, is diverse. “By adopting that flat design and a less invasive design approach to how we make our brand seem, it lets the content do the heavy lifting,” says Wilcox. Whether a viewer is engaging with science, news, or drama, content is at the forefront; the branding was there as a buttress to storytelling. A “crisp, clear, and consistent” typeface met their objectives for legibility across platforms. All together, these new design principles create a cohesive system that’s easy for local member stations to use. “For the PBS brand to flourish, we need to have the brand appear as often as possible,” says Birdsall. But PBS can’t mandate changes to…
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