We heard whispers from clients, but nothing was confirmed.
What would it be like when it happened?
What would they do with something so iconic?
Then the rumours were confirmed. On August 8th, founder Dave Liniger wrote: “RE/MAX branding is being updated with a fresh, modern design.” The balloon, the red white and blue, the wordmark – what would become of them?
The majority of our clients are with RE/MAX, so this was a big deal for us because it is for them. We work with the corporate brand daily. So naturally, we were on pins and needles waiting for the release of the new, “refreshed” brand. Was it worth the nearly 40-year wait? I think I just heard one of those pins drop.
OUR CEO, Adam Lerner, has spent nearly fifteen years in brand strategy and design and so understands just how complex this kind of process is. A brand like RE/MAX needs to retain all the brand equity it has spent billions of dollars on building since the late 70s. At the same time, as designers of the new identity, Camp+King note, the world has changed. Most of the impressions of the RE/MAX are on a screen rather than print, and, as Mr. Liniger says, “great brands evolve.” So, after 1.5 years with countless identity variations and market research of over 20,000 consumers, RE/MAX LLC revealed this to the world yesterday.
All of this got us thinking: what should a refresh entail? How have other world-class brands refreshed? Apple’s apple with a bite in it, Starbucks’ green mermaid, RE/MAX’s hot air balloon… What makes a successful refresh of an iconic brand?
A refreshed brand should pull a double whammy: it should “jog” all of those well-honed brand attributes in consumers’ minds, while simultaneously speaking to a contemporary (yet timeless) vernacular. And in many ways, the success of a refresh can only be viewed in the rear view mirror – by looking at quantitative swings in perception, awareness, market share, recruitment and retention.
We love a challenge as much as the next agency. Or maybe slightly more. So – with the acknowledgement that this would be merely a thought exercise (and one that required quick turn-over at that), we set out to imagine an alternative brand-future for the RE/MAX wordmark and balloon. This thought exercise was not intended to criticize the years of work to arrive at yesterday’s final design, but rather for our team to stretch ourselves about how we might approach the problem, and perhaps even inspire a discussion about how great brands like RE/MAX successfully evolve.
Excuse us for geeking out on the research momentarily and feel free to skip ahead to what we designed (it’s a choose-your-own-adventure!). We needed to do some digging before diving into this theoretical refresh. We found this gem of a video revealing the story of Real Estate Maximums and its shortening to RE/MAX. It also reveals how the use of red, white and blue is a reference to the founders’ status as army veterans. And that the slash came from the redesigned Exxon logo.
And then there was the hot air balloon, which has always left us a bit baffled. But who are we to be confused – it’s now one of the most globally recognized logos in the world. The origins? A 7-story-tall “Above the Crowd” balloon flown by the company in 1978.
The question for all of us who navigate the brand design world is, what do the Exxon slash, Above the Crowd campaign, and army colours do for today’s consumers? It turns out that that’s actually a moot point – the RE/MAX brand now embodies those three attributes without needing to reference the origins. The RE/MAX brand became its examples. So, how to move forward?
We started with the wordmark. We agreed with the (actual) new designers that the E/ split in the original mark was awkward, the slash clearly worth preserving, Gotham’s status as a still contemporary typeface, and the red/white/blue as synonymous with the brand. Where we disagreed was re: doing away with the unique letterforms of the AX. That interplay brought a uniqueness to the wordmark in the same way the crossing Xs do for Exxon. And by removing the split E but keeping the slash, while retaining the MAX from the previous mark, we discovered something that we were excited by – the slash and MAX letterforms were so distinctive to the RE/MAX brand that they signified RE/MAX without the RE even being present.
And while we certainly aren’t proposing to do away with the RE, we liked the idea that this space could potentially be used for messaging to build off the MAX concept, which would make the wordmark even more distinctive.
Then there was the balloon icon. In their survey, RE/MAX discovered that 60% of the 20,000 surveyed connected with their new balloon logo. We totally agree with the decision to keep (and revitalise) the classic RE/MAX balloon given the brand equity the icon has built – despite the fact that the balloon is now completely divorced from the original “Above the Crowd” message that inspired it. Because the old logo is so iconic and distinctive, we wanted our iteration to be an ode to it. And while some project that airships will be coming back into vogue, the heyday of the hot air balloon in the 19th century isn’t likely to return in any form other than extravagant vacations and cliché honeymoon activities.
The Camp+King team discovered that removing the cables between the balloon and basket made the design clearer and more contemporary. We also had a bit of a revelation while thinking about the balloon. We realized that the outline of the balloon actually shares a similar geometry to the location marker used by practically every contemporary mapping application to denote place. And what’s more fitting for real estate than location markers? So we created a new family of balloons, which are grounded rather than airborne.
By removing the interior lines and adding an interior bubble, we had ourselves a location balloon. And not only that, but we solved a potential sub-brand problem we’ve been struggling with since day one of branding RE/MAX brokerages, teams, and agents: How do we ensure their identity is represented alongside – and not dwarfed by – the RE/MAX logo? We added logos and even tried brand illustrations within the bubble and voila! We’d established a brand/sub-brand hierarchy.
Do we think we’ve created the next timeless logo that will last RE/MAX for another four decades? Well, we’d need a lot more than 24 hours to do that. And neither did we intend this to be a criticism of the work by RE/MAX LLC and the team at Camp+King. But a great brand benefits from dialogue and having people stretch its limits along the way. Hopefully we’ve made at least a minor contribution to the discussion of the possible. We look forward to being part of that possible for some of you (and then perhaps we also dive into the RE/MAX Collection logo which lost its luxury black then too).
If you couldn’t tell, creating distinctive brands for real estate teams and agents (many of whom are with RE/MAX) is really our thing. Like, we actually get hired/paid to do it. So if you are looking to rebrand or even for a refreshing refresh, you can book a time with us here or see some of our branding work here.
We’d be remiss without ending with a truly heartfelt statement – Go RE/MAX!