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Think BR: What's 150 years old, has never rebranded and has 1.1 billion users every year?

There's a lot that marketers can learn from the London Underground, writes Donna Hindson, director of marketing, Microsoft Advertising & Online.

Donna Hindson, director of marketing, Microsoft Advertising & Online

Donna Hindson, director of marketing, Microsoft Advertising & Online

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As marketers we often observe big brands such as the New York Times or Bacardi celebrating 150 years, but seldom do we appreciate those rare identities that have stood the test of time without ever rebranding or losing their core focus.

The London Underground is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and while many (including me) admire the brand more than the actual service, this just demonstrates genius marketing.

Interestingly the tube didn’t actually have an identity until 1908 when the now famous ‘roundel’ logo and introduction of the Johnston signage font fixed it forever in the eyes of Londoners and beyond.

If ever there was a case for 'if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it' then this is probably it. The brand, like the service, is an institution embedded into the fabric of many of our lives. Last week I read how Selfridges has asked top brands to produce versions of their best-selling products as part of its No Noise campaign. Some visual identities are so strong they do not need a name on the logo.  Starbucks, Nike and London Underground are all in this exclusive club. 

I doubt anyone at the time even thought about the commercial spin offs from this brand identity which has seen countless thousands of T-Shirts, mugs, beach towels and the like swell the coffers of TFL to the tune of £2.5 million a year.

What can we learn from this in the modern era? It shows some rules still hold. In 1908 London Underground produced a simple but visually appealing brand that was unique and distinctive. To further cement the brand in 1933 the equally iconic Tube map was created based on Harry Beck’s original. Beck’s idea was that the actual position of the stations and lines were irrelevant to the passengers as looking out of the window underground gave no geographical feedback. So he mapped out something more like an electrical circuit. It was fundamental that the map was clear, easy to use and understood. We all know that the map it not entirely accurate right? If the map had been based on actual location it would have looked more like this:

Beck’s vision worked and because of the cleanness and clarity of the tube map it’s been adopted over the world.

Simple, visually appealing and easy to use = timeless. What modern marketer or advertiser wouldn’t want to embody these elements into a campaign or service?

Donna Hindson, director of marketing, Microsoft Advertising & Online


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