Icons are not like any other brand. We love them and every brand wants to be one. In today’s world of constant change, the significance of icons is even more important than ever before as they are beacons of recognition and constancy. We know them, desire them, connect with them—and we expect a lot from them. This sense of expectation about how icons look and behave become most prescient when they decide to change. When icons change, they change our world. Our emotional reaction becomes the ultimate test and can make or break their presence and power. How icons change is vital to how they connect with us now and in the future.
When icons make a positive change, they can uplift, delight, and reconnect us in a whole new way. Looking back at key iconic reinventions, when Saks Fifth Avenue updated its identity it retained its elegance and integral sense of style, but its new, multi-faceted nature made it more contemporary and allowed it to live across multi-channels and platforms. Converse is another classic example of true iconic evolution. Hidden amongst the new competition for years, the once coveted sneakers not only regained their treasured position but also became so ubiquitous that Converse are now once again part of the urban lifestyle and woven into the cultural fabric all over the world.
The wrong or misguided change by an icon can just as easily break our heart, let us down, and disappoint us. The hype surrounding the Airbnb reveal centered on this sense of expectation. It was a chance to create a true iconic moment and capture collective emotion. But, the unveiling didn’t live up to the hype with claims that the new identity was borrowed and adopted. They gave people what Airbnb thought they wanted, rather then being true to the heart of the brand. Essentially, a brand of belonging left us with endless iterations and no clear sense of belonging.
Icons have a huge responsibility to us and brands need to respect this. They need to find the right way to reassert their status and spirit in a way that captures our feelings and desires. It’s not about change for the sake of change – it’s about complete consideration, from the degree of change to the entire behaviour, attitude, and aesthetic.
And it’s about renewing desirability. The comeback of the Adidas Stan Smith is a case in point. The highly respected classic of the 70s and 80s is now back as a fashion statement on the street. Clean and crisp as ever, some of the new designs are beautiful updates that take timeless simplicity to a new level and are even more elegant and exciting in their modern interpretation. On the flip side, endless redesigns are appearing everyday and taking it way too far, flooding the market with new editions and personalizations that have nothing to do with the original idea or equity.
So what is the best way to protect icons as they adapt to new generations? Two of the greatest American icons – Levi’s and Converse – are rethinking and reshaping their design to do exactly that, but without letting go of their iconic core. The new Chuck Taylor II marks a new kind of change as it is created to meet new desires by living alongside Chuck Taylor – allowing the original to be treasured and to live on forever.
Continuous renewal is, of course, good. Beyond iconic reinventions, we are now seeing the rise of a potentially whole new evolution model for icons. When we look at a brand like Google, we see a seamless and constant renewal of its expression. Its prize equity lies in its very adaptability and the constant creation of the new – the true value created for the future now celebrated by the arrival of Alphabet. This could signal a whole new future for what we expect from icons, and potentially all brands, as it challenges them to find new ways to master and continuously express the constant change that reflects today’s culture.
Icons create change, and new evolution models are exciting and directional for our brand culture. Google’s very success lies in the fact that it fully understands its role as an icon and knows where it is coming from and where it wants to go. Yes, we expect our icons to rise to new challenges but their leadership and success is, and always has been, defined by how they approach and create definitive change. Icons will win, keep our hearts, and create meaningful and enduring connections by following a course and pace of change that is true to their hearts and ours.
Image: Siyan Ren