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The Power of a Doodle in a Country Starved of Brand Relevance
Posted by
Al Mackay at 08:00

Most brands wouldn't let a designer anywhere near their logo unless they were embarking on a redesign. The rules laid out in their style guide would ensure that their logo remained untouchable, locked into its placement, colour and proportions. It is sound branding theory: be consistent and recognisable with your identity.

Google is quite happy to mess with their identity. Their now famous doodles tweak, pull and embellish their logo regularly, and with gusto. Many of them are so divorced from the regular script that users have to just trust that it says 'Google', because they certainly can't read that.

Google has produced, by their own estimates, more than a thousand doodles. The message that comes through is clear: not only do they value innovation and playfulness, but they're confident enough in their own brand to break the rules and take the consistency risk.

And yet somehow, when it's Google doing it, fiddling with a logo isn't messy and chaotic; it's energetic, engaging and zeitgeisty. And I think the reason it works is because the doodles are about much more than being casual about branding. They have a much more powerful purpose - to connect with people on the things that they care about.

Yesterday's doodle was in honour of Miriam Makeba's 81st birthday.What does Google have to do with iconic South African music, you might ask. Or with the struggle against apartheid? Well, nothing really.

But if you watched the reactions unfold on social media, you would have seen that they struck gold. South African web users were delighted that one of our heroines was being honoured. It really touched people that Google recognised someone that we care so deeply about. It isbrand relevanceat its most powerful - taking something that your community loves, and celebrating it with them. Google starts with their users, not their own brand, and that's what makes the doodles work.

The delight it elicited also made me acutely aware of how few of our own brands are getting this right. So little of our own culture is celebrated; so few of our folk heroes are honoured and so few of our consumers feel respected. It helps to be the world's biggest search engine when you're figuring out what people love - but there's no reason why every marketer in South Africa isn't trying to figure out exactly the same thing. 

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