Bad Subliminal Work 🍨

The new Baskin-Robbins logo falls into the trap of trying to aim for a new demographic while not properly integrating visual elements that made their old look iconic.

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A Baskin-Robbins storefront with the new typography. Meh. (Baskin-Robbins)

Good logos are hard to come by, and by modern standards, Baskin-Robbins had a pretty good one.

The ice-cream purveyors played up the “BR” initials in its typeface in a way that subtly hinted at the number 31, a key part of the company’s branding. (For those not familiar, perhaps because you live in one of the few corners of the world that does not have a Baskin-Robbins, they are known for having 31 flavors at all times.) It was the best subliminal logo this side of FedEx.

But this week, the company decided to put the goodwill of having a good logo on ice, instead updating the typeface from a clever visual approach to something that doesn’t look very good.

Moving from a playful sans-serif logo to a more retro-hued slab-serif that hints at the company’s typographical roots while not fully committing to retro like, say, Burger King, the logo’s fatal flaw, in this context, is that it attempts to continue the company’s clever trick from the prior design era—putting a subliminal 31 within the BR of the typeface—but simply not doing it very well.

The 3 is too subtle. The 1 is too obvious. Together, they do not feel like serious attempts to fulfill the mission of the prior logo. At this point, why not just make the logo brown and get over it?

Baskins Storefront 1

The old Baskin-Robbins visual style. (Bjørnar Tollaksen/Flickr)

Baskin-Robbins severely downgraded its typeface for reasons that appear to be based around a more stately visual look elsewhere within the brand, one that allows more consistency across the board. Per comments to CNN Business, company president Jason Maceda implied that the company needed to essentially grow up:

Baskin-Robbins' leadership team heard that some customers felt very attached to the brand, which they associated with childhood trips with parents or grandparents. But they also heard that there were "some opportunities in being more relevant," Maceda said.

It's important for brands like Baskin-Robbins to gain traction with younger consumers—not just people who remember it from their youth—so they have new customers coming in. 

While I can appreciate a good, consistent branding approach, this is a trap when your logo is absolutely iconic, and can end up being a severe brand downgrade if not handled properly.

One example that comes to mind here is the logo for the kids’ channel Nickelodeon. In that case, the network essentially psyched itself out. Per a 2009 Variety article:

According to Cyma Zarghami, prexy of Nick and MTV Networks’ Kids and Family Group, the decision to streamline the network identities came after they started putting all of the channels’ logos on the same business card—and decided that it looked like a mess.

“We wanted to clean it up and allow Nick to be the stamp on all of these channels,” she said.

It was one of the great branding failures of the 21st century—taking an iconic parent brand that was playful, functional, and flexible, and essentially killing it off because the company could not figure out how to do that across multiple brands.

I’m not saying brands can never change here—far from it—but I do think that if you’re going to jettison a good brand, you need to ensure that the approach matches the old one as you modernize. If you’re going to commit to something more “adult” in nature, drop the subliminal messaging entirely. If you don’t want to do that, pick a better typeface, or don’t worry quite so much about the typeface matching your brand language elsewhere.

As a thought experiment after seeing this logo, I built another version of the Baskin-Robbins logo with a stronger typeface, one built around playfulness but also hinting at the company’s retro past in a Burger King-esque style, and one that was designed to work in the 31. It took me 10 minutes. It can be done.

The 31 isn’t the only thing that’s missing from this new logo. What a big mistake from a branding standpoint.

Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes

Time left on clock ⏲: 1 minute, 14 seconds

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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