Authentic brand design is much bigger than product design or graphic design. Sure, product design and graphic design is part of the larger synchronicity, but it is not the sum of a brand’s authenticity. Authentic brand design aligns the organization’s product design and graphic design with its core brand values. Every design element from the brand icon to the product packaging is inextricably tied to the core philosophy of the brand. The result is a brand that is sustainable over time and continues to accumulate equity and long-term value.
The long and checkered history of the Ford Mustang is a perfect example of what happens when a once-authentic brand design slips into inauthenticity. When Ford launched the first Mustang in 1964, a buying frenzy ensued. Exuberant consumers descended on Ford showrooms, vying to be the first to own a Mustang. Legend has it that those buyers even slept in their chosen cars overnight, while waiting for their checks to be approved.
But throughout the eight generations of ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s Mustang IIs and Cobras, the authenticity of the Mustang brand began to unravel. Ford dramatically decreased the Mustang’s raw horsepower to comply with the fuel efficiency standards of the day, and followed the rounded-edge car design trends, instead of leading the design trend. The Mustang lost its spirit, its muscle, and its identity. As the years passed, it looked more and more generic, a mere shadow of its former self. By the way, what is a “Mustang Cobra” anyway? Some unnatural horse-reptile hybrid? The Mustang brand no longer stood for anything in the marketplace, thus sales reflected that.
Ford, to their credit, understood that killing the Mustang would kill the one car that the whole world associated with Ford. The Mustang’s brand identity had fused with Ford’s core identity. With the 2005 redesign, they returned to their brand roots.
They gave their core market the brand they craved. The resurrected the original, classic American muscle car… the throaty rumble, the classic Mustang sharp-edged design with its canted nose, big grille and round headlights reminiscent of the ‘67 to ‘69 Mustangs, while the side sculpting, fastback roof line and taillights recall the ‘65 ponies. It does not even look like the other modern muscle cars. It looks like a Mustang, and the American love affair with the Mustang was reborn.
It is a cautionary tale. Authentic brand designs such as Porsche, Aston Martin, Bentley have remained consistent and sustained brand value. It is clear who they are and who they are does not change.