Destroying the Death Star

After a long road of deregulation leading to rapidly recombining Baby Bells, SBC has completed its merger with what was left of AT&T, and assumed the former parent's name. And, to announce the completion, they have decided that it is time for a rebranding.

out with the old, in with the new
Never mind the decades of brand equity in the "death star" mark created by the legendary Saul Bass... out with the old, in with the new! As imagined by InterBrand, this new mark is a lackluster, hurried solution that weakens the brand and will be outdated in about 30 seconds. Where to begin?

I'll start with the type. AT&T is the ULTIMATE in upper case companies. When you think of three inital corporations, it's one of the first. Even the press material introducing the new identity refers to the company with upper case letters. The press release says, "Lowercase type is now used for the "AT&T" characters because it projects a more welcoming and accessible image." Actually, in this case, lowercase type projects weakness and capitulation to fleeting trends and marketing droids. In fact, to quote from the USA Today article,
"We agonized over the letters," says [Ed] Whitacre [Chairman & CEO], who made the final call on the name and the logo.

He says marketing people finally convinced him that the new look was more evocative of the Internet generation: "They tell me it's more trendy and modern."
The day that "trendy" matters to an international corporation like SBC (or AT&T for that matter) is a sad day indeed. IBM has not changed their logo for nearly 50 years, despite being at the forefront of technology for even longer, because of the strength of the logo's design, and the value to the identity of the brand. They may have new campaigns and products, but through it all, that heavy, striped Clarendon IBM is on it all.

Since when is AT&T's primary customer base trendy teenyboppers anyway? 14 year olds don't pay phone bills, even on their own mobile phones. Using typography typically targeted at that generation does little to attract their parents and grandparents, who DO pay phone bills.

Those generations also remember the Saul Bass AT&T logo and the Bell logos before it. So, while I think it is a good idea for SBC to become AT&T, I don't think that rebranding was in their best interest. Especially puzzling was their purchase of AT&T Wireless customers, converting them to Cingular customers, only now to reconvert them back to AT&T Wireless customers again. If I was a shareholder, I would be demanding some kind of refund...

Now, on purely technical merits, this logo is shockingly bad. There are a few good 3D logo solutions, but this really isn't one. Follow the lines around the 'globe.' They don't line up. They aren't consistent. The bw version looks the most egregiously lumpy, but they all look misshapen. It smacks of being rushed, and done without care or much skill. It's also very difficult to reproduce 'accurately,' with all the gradations and tones.

These are not images any company wants, much less one of this size: trendy, ephemeral, rushed, inconsistent, difficult. Yet this is what the new AT&T logo conveys. Not the strong, efficient, coordinated world of Bass' original logo. Which telco would you trust? The old AT&T or the new at&t? I'm switching.

Other interesting links on the topic: Return of Design | Engadget AT&T Merger Guide | Press Release | NYT Article [registration required] | Speak Up! comments.