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Hidden in plain sight

Many years ago I had the honour of refreshing this well known beer brand. Although I was very familiar with the label I had never really considered its meaning. I discovered that the unusual shape of the brand mark was originally based on a steeplechase fence from a racecourse.

As part of my refresh I added a jumping horse to the back of the bottle, so that when you held it up to the light and turned the bottle, you could animate the horse jumping the fence. Few people actually noticed, as it wasn’t blatantly obvious, but those who did enjoyed extolling their discovery at the bar.

Similarly, I enjoy inviting people to closely look at the Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup pack and ask: "Why is there a dead lion surrounded by bees?" Few people have ever spotted this and look surprised when it's pointed out. The truth comes from the Biblical story, Samson's riddle, this was used to align with Christianity as the British Empire expanded.

So, what's the point of hidden meaning that people rarely notice?

I believe all brands should strive for hidden depths as most of what we do is communicating with the subconscious. In focus groups we get a hint of this as, when we quiz respondents about brands, you can see on their faces as they play back and unpack their experiences with a brand, lifting information into the rational mind.

The subconscious rapidly processes all information and stores far more than we are aware of as we only spend a fraction of a second contemplating most brands. Often the rational mind never catches up, however all this can add to a feeling if a brand is right for us.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink it is hypothesised that the subconscious is actually more perceptive, therefore even if ideas appear hidden, they can be exceptionally powerful.

To influence the subconscious, your brand needs to have a clear purpose to attain trust and a compelling yet simple idea to motivate. To be effective use every tool you have to communicate what you stand for by using design cues, tone of voice and behaviour. I'm often frustrated when I see a typeface masquerading as a logo that completely misses the opportunity to communicate something meaningful.

Here are a few more well known examples and those who see the ideas can feel closer to the brand, like sharing a secret with a friend.

Hidden meaning and intrigue is all around us from branding to television. One of my favourite writers, Russel T Davies, was once interviewed about his masterpiece Dr Who… A wry smile crossed his face as he cheekily admitted that he would insert oddities into the plot, that even he doesn’t know the meaning of, as they would come in handy in a later season and become magical.

Here are some of the ideas hidden in our brand designs.

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