Wrestling with the branding

Branding-wise, seagulls could be considered a kind of sky bogan. GRAPHIC: ODT
Branding-wise, seagulls could be considered a kind of sky bogan. GRAPHIC: ODT

While we furiously brand ourselves before taking to nature, it might be nature that could do with a new brand, Leigh Paterson writes.

After a stunning summer poking around Central Otago and sampling nature via short walks and tramps, issues of design and context ran through my mind. Particularly as I was not dressed like a Kathmandu advertisement. At times there were looks from old-timers who were displeased with my tog-and-shorts combos.

I dress with one F-word in mind: FUN.

At one point I was pack-shamed by a strange walker: it seems you have to always wear a pack on a track to be taken seriously, even if in my case at that time it would only serve as an accessory.

Getting into "nature'' is new to me and I was amused to find there is a silent code in regards to what attire and equipment fits with the idea of being in the outdoors and how this played out most times I hit a track.

Nature apparently requires remarkably different attire, and this was the source of some personal conflict as I refused to look like I'd stepped out of an outdoor adventure catalogue.

A uniform for nature was my design fight: how much fashion can you bring to nature while still remaining safe, that doesn't fit the perceived brand ideal of "living the dream''.

And if you want to "live the dream'' how much of the "dream'' do you have to carry around with you?

Sometimes I forgot I was on a track and assumed I was front row in a runway show for an outdoor brand as individuals moved past me laden with apparel and associated accessories, to, I assume, prove they were truly ready for nature.

I was learning again how powerful nature and branding is.

Was I being greenwashed into believing that I had to buy brands that market to nature-minded consumers?

The experience of a brand and its desired value and perception are paramount and has a powerful influence on people and economic markets.

My stand-off with nature is obviously not the first nature clash in relation to design aesthetics; there is the wonderful court case between the famous pandas of the world and sweaty American wrestlers.

The acronym WWF and its usage was a gruesome battleground for many decades and resulted in one of my favourite rebrands of all time.

It was the early 1990s. In the red corner: the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), a pseudo-front for performative masculine telly drama in a trailer-trash-styled grudge match of alter egos.

Imagine the heady mix of Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, a giant stack of steroids and arguably the No.1 source of entertainment for rednecks in the Land of the Free. Heck yes!

The panda - a heavyweight champion in nature. Photo: Getty Images
The panda - a heavyweight champion in nature. Photo: Getty Images

Meanwhile in the blue corner: the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), the not-for-profit organisation protecting wayward sexually frigid pandas and species that spit in the face of "survival of the fittest'' ideology.

Let's get ready to ruuuuuuumble!

A classic exhibition bout pitting the weak against the strong.

A collective gang of wrestlers relentlessly bobbed and weaved their way around the posse of endangered species, which were not only threatened by biodiversity but by a hit to their global brand and reputation due to potential confusion.

The use of WWF was ultimately granted to the Worldwide Fund for Nature in an almighty TKO legal smackdown.

The sweaty wrestlers retreated to their caravans, beat their chests and emerged with a rebrand campaign that stated that WWF was "Getting the ‘F' out!'' and screamed it was renaming itself WWE: World Wrestling Entertainment.

Wrestling fans cried, the pandas smiled. The pandas would live another day as the icon for animals in danger.

Using an animal that has been popularised as cute and cuddly works for WWF's brand perception. I wonder how successful WWF would be if it used a New Zealand black- or red-billed seagull as their brand ambassador.

They have, over recent years, become endangered, but given their behaviour it might be hard for the seagull to make a paradigm shift in the attitude of New Zealanders.

Ornithologically, they could be considered a kind of sky bogan, cruising round making noise and generally being a pain: cafe-swooping chunks of bread off abandoned plates and bullying small children out of fried chips.

If seagulls were going to be associated with a brand to support and encourage public support for their survival, maybe we would have to imagine first what our streets and public spaces might be like without these yappy thugs?

Because if nothing is done they, like the wrestlers, will be getting the F out.

 Leigh Paterson is a lecturer in communication design at Otago Polytechnic.

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