Disappointed with branding work in India: Michael Johnson

30 Jun,2014

Michael Johnson, Creative Director and Principal, Johnson Banks was in India to head the jury of the Kyoorius Design Awards as well as to conduct seminars on the future of branding in Mumbai and Pune as part of the Kyoorius FYIday series. His company Johnson Banks has re-positioned brands like Virgin Atlantic and Science Museum. MxM India’s Shobhana Nair caught up with Mr Johsnson to find out what’s the future of branding in India and more. Excerpts:


Do you think there’s scope for brand specialists and experts in India at a time when a fair bit of the branding exercise is done by advertising agencies?

The advertising agencies have seemed to dominate for quite a while. The design companies are at a second level. This used to be the case in UK and America several decades ago. In the ’60s, some of the most famous British design firms designed for advertising agencies. In the ’70s, they started their own consultancies and became independent. By the 1980s or probably by the 1990s, they were brand consultancies on their own. Now 20 years later, brand is powerful than advertising. We are often called first about a branding problem and then the advertising agency has to deliver an ad campaign. Things have changed but that has taken a while. It’s not easy to shift that paradigm.


How do people in India react to your kind of work?

I have been doing this for 30 years and we started by doing a logo in the corner. We did just the logos. In India, they think that they only design logos. This problem is not only here, it’s also in China. There aren’t that many countries in the world who understand this. Only people from Japan, UK and America and some clients in the Gulf understand the breadth of the project.


Will the paradigm ever shift in India?

It will but it’s going to take longer than we think. There’s a feeling that things happen quicker in a young, exciting and developing nation like India. But it will take a while. You need to be patient. It’s taking a while for an indigenous true design approach to emerge. A lot of work looks like a work of an American graphic designer. That has got to change. India needs to find its voice as well as an understating about the brand is. It will happen.


Any brand that has caught your eye from India?

To be honest, I am a bit disappointed. A lot of big branding projects look as if they are done in the Middle of Atlantic. Tata Docomo looks from Japan or London. It does not look Indian at all. Apollo looks primitive. Airtel looks dreadful. What’s happening is the very successful international consultancies are selling their international style to big Indian clients. India is more interesting in itself. The last thing that India needs is someone like me. India needs to find its focus. There’s so much originality there. I had spoken at Designyatra seven years ago. All the students wanted to design like me. I wondered why. Their clients demanded designs which looked western. I felt that these are early days and this will change. But not much has changed in seven years. The students don’t need to copy their American tutors. By doing this, India is denying their qualities. I think it’s a bit of shame.


Any successful branding story that India can learn from the global market?

Uniqlo is a nice, affordable, high street Japanese clothing manufacturer. Five to six years, they took the decision to put their Japanese and English logos on the main store in New York. They felt that that they are Japanese and why should this be hidden? I think this will happen in China and India too where brands will be proud of their roots.

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