Creative Thinking

Brand codes: what are they and why you must understand them before your next campaign

Published on

August 24, 2022


Row of fast food meal boxes

The distinctive elements of a brand that consumers use to remember and recognise them are potentially more important than the brand name itself. But why?

From McDonald’s golden arches to the Chanel suit, brand codes can take many forms. In a nutshell, it’s the identifying features and unique elements in the visual representation of a brand which come in a variety of forms through the use of colour, font, music and of course the celebrity.

‘Brands achieve “distinctiveness” when it has a unique and unmistakable identity, which could be based on a number of things. Distinctiveness ensures recognition and helps to trigger brand associations. But we would say that distinctiveness is a complement to differentiation, not a replacement for it.’ – Nigel Hollis, Author of The Global Brand: How to Create and Develop Lasting Brand Value in the World Market

Minimal yet distinctive

More recently you may recognise McDonald’s McDelivery campaign which removed the brand name totally leaving just aspects of the golden arches. McDonald’s as a brand is confident enough in the specific use of colour, shape, and font that consumers can easily recognise the brand without its logo.

Three posters showing McDonald's advertising
McDonald's / Leo Burnett

The campaign, created via Leo Burnett, promoted the delivery service whilst restaurants were closed during the pandemic. Featuring just half of the iconic golden arches and illuminating specific windows in a variety of buildings and apartment buildings, the outdoor campaign is accompanied by the solo message ‘We Deliver’ in McDonald's easily recognisable font and the colour yellow. Whilst no logo and no mention of the actual McDelivery service, consumers will understand what the new campaign means.

Another easily recognisable brand through its strong brand codes is the Virgin Group. Not only is the brand and its many subsidiaries recognisable through that distinctive red colour, but Virgin also makes use of the V element, similar to McDonald’s.

Richard Branson in front of a Virgin Group plane
Virgin Group

Virgin however also have another powerful brand code element under its belt using its founder, Richard Branson. The celebrity aspect of a brand code can be a powerful one and it seems to work well for Virgin. Any announcements made about new business ventures require Branson himself as people recognise him as Virgin and Virgin as Branson.

Codifying your brand

Without codifying your brand, you will quickly saturate across any assets you create and before you know it, you’ll lose that unique aspect of what makes your brand stand out from its competitors.

Benefits of codifying

  1. Maintains salience
  2. Connects all marketing/comms activity
  3. Builds brand equity
  4. Bridges your long and short-term strategy

Let’s talk about implementation

Implementation is by the far most important step. If you read this and understood what brand codes were and are already identifying other brands who implement them, you may be realising the common mistake that many brands fall victim to – sticking a logo on a campaign without first codifying your brand is doing your brand more harm than good.

Here are some tips when implementing brand codes:

  1. Understand your brand code library - what each element means, the benefit they serve and how to use them correctly
  2. Codes should never be used in isolation
  3. Invest in your codes, they will become your most valuable assets
  4. Review the final asset and ask yourself, is this distinctive? If I removed the logo would consumers still be able to identify the brand?

So now you know what brand codes are and how to recognise them, go back to your marketing teams and ensure your brand is codified.

Not sure where to start?

Get in touch for a quick introductory call and let’s see how Bray St can position your brand as a leader.

written by

Daniel Dagher

Founder and Client Partner

Bray St.

Become a Bray St. brand and choose long-term success
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