No Sacred Cows – September 2015


gary crawfordIt was at a Main Committee meeting (to which Bill Scurr was invited just before assuming the position of Executive Director) that   I   presented   my view  of the  direction  sassda  needed  to  take in order to recover from the damages done to it by several years of ineffective management.  I  stressed  the  need  to ‘Get back to basics,’ which did indeed become the motto of Bill’s term of office. I warned against ‘biting off more than you can chew,’ ‘sticking to what you know,’ and the need to ‘cut the crap.’

If  I’d  guessed  at  the  sassda  style over the next three years, I’d have also included the need for the Association to become more visible, both as industry mouthpiece and source of technical advice on all things stainless steel.

With hindsight I should have cautioned sassda against “hiding its light under a bushel.”

stalcorAlthough I’m averse to quoting proverbs  derived  from  biblical parables, I should have used the light and bushel example to warn against the dangers of keeping a low profile for the sassda ‘brand.’ With the knowledge of the importance of ‘differentiation’ and ‘positioning’ gained as an in-demand international  Marketing  and  Strategic consultant, it was remiss of me not to include these important factors in my presentation, especially since a ‘side bar ’ occurrence that day in a meeting room of 3M’s Johannesburg headquarters should have rung ‘branding’ alarm signals. My presentation plan was to use flipcharts and as each page was filled, to stick them on to the meeting room walls. I asked for a suitable adhesive product and (obviously) expected to be given something from 3M’s extremely wide Scotch® or Post- it® brand ranges. To my great surprise I was given adhesive putty branded with the name of a local stationer. I have no idea how the product got to be in 3M’s mighty portals of branding. A sixty thousand item product range, and just last year, acquiring its 100 000th patent, now a lonely intruder.

It probably is not funny, but that day the perverseness got the better of me.

For branding is a very serious matter and has been since about 8000 years ago when Mesopotamians starting marking stoppers with personal seals: in effect, creating the first branded goods. At least that’s the theory of David Wengrow, an archaeologist at University College, London. As cities grew and people had to start dealing with products produced by people they didn’t directly know, the symbols on those stoppers were likely used to ensure quality or embody trust for the people consuming the contents.

‘Ensuring quality’ and ‘providing trust’ for consumers have always been the fundamental functions of brands and brand symbols, not only for inanimate objects, but for people and organisations.

My  Scottish  forbears  felt  the  need for  branding.  They  adopted  the mighty  stag  as  visual  and  a  motto that emphasised strength: TUTUM TE REBORE REDDAM (‘By my strength I’ll protect you’).  They chose a tartan with a lot of dark red so that (according to my military-man paternal grandfather) blood in battle wouldn’t be so visible to the Sassenachs (a.k.a. the English).

guildsGuilds (of craftsmen) were early the Grand Place, Brussels, for example. Likewise   cities   and   associations   of all  kinds,  and,  for  the  same  reasons: ‘providing trust.’ In many cases, the branding was done for external and internal reasons. To insiders, the brand and its symbols became rallying points conveying  the  ethos  of  the  concern, in the way a flag often carries highly emotive connotations.

Having    resided in the United States of America for more than a decade, I can vouch for that country’s citizens  being  immensely   proud   of their national flag.  You see it flying everywhere  and  on  the  4th  of  July, when you couldn’t believe there was space for any more, the country blooms from “sea to shining sea” with the Stars and Stripes as Americans celebrate their independence from British rule.

Another  flag has  been  in  the  news of that country quite recently, the Confederate flag, symbol of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865. Only four years flying and 150 years ago, yet many continue to rally behind it.   Is it just a flag? No, like it or not, it has become associated with racial discrimination.  As one truly proud of their southern heritage and without a racist bone in their body, one still cannot avoid the racist implication. Such is the emotive power of a symbol.

Founded    in    1964,    the    Southern Africa   Stainless   Steel   Development Association ( s a s s d a ) embraced its first  symbol (or trademark) in old cross and balls1973. The new corporate device, now know as the Cross & Balls, appeared as a full page advertisement in the November/ December    1973    issue    of    Stainless Steel  magazine,  its  first  colour  issue. The headline read: “Get behind this symbol.”   The   sub-head   was:   “And we’ll get behind you.”  The body copy explained the benefits of stainless steel and advised that the new symbol was “being introduced on Stainless Steel products and components fabricated in South Africa.”

The  ‘balls’  appeared  in  black,  with the markings on the ‘cross’ emulating the reflectance  of stainless steel. Below it were the words “STAINLESS STEEL.” No explanation of the symbol was provided. However, since it was launched by The Southern Cross Steel Company, it is safe to assume that the ‘cross’ represents both stainless steel and the constellation. Crux, located in the deep southern sky, is the smallest yet one of the most distinctive of the 88 modern constellations. Its name is Latin for ‘cross,’ and it is dominated by a cross-shaped asterism that is commonly known as the Southern Cross.

As described on the sassda website, the Cross & Balls (a.k.a. Stainless Steel mark) is a registered trademark owned by sassda. It may be used by sassda members on all goods made from or containing  South  African  stainless steel or goods made in South Africa from imported stainless steel of an internationally accepted standard. Members   of   sassda   are   entitled   to use the mark on their products.   They are  encouraged  to  incorporate  it  in their corporate stationery and in their promotional literature. Prior permission for use of this mark must be obtained from sassda.

In 2007, it was decided to ‘relaunch’ the Cross & Balls mark to encourage members to use the trademark. According to the then Executive Director, Michael Campbell, “In market research, the trademark received 80 percent recognition in the retail sector. We want to refresh it and remind everyone of the trademark and what it represents.”

The mark was highlighted again in 2013  in  a consumer  promotion  using radio and print.

In  the  sassda  Member  Satisfaction Survey conducted earlier this year, the trademark  elicited  positive  response as  a  symbol  of  the  quality  of  locally produced stainless steel products.

The Cross & Balls mark and the sassda name have become so intrinsically linked with Southern African stainless steel that the writer recommended in the sassda 2015+ Marketing Plan that they should become part of a single ‘unifying’ corporate device. That is, the two marks should be melded into one strong and modern corporate device. This was approved by the Main Committee in May 2015.

The writer also suggested that since the devices had been subjected to the ravages of time, both should be critically examined. In briefing the two
graphic design studios, it was stressed that any changes to the marks should be ‘evolutionary’ and not ‘revolutionary.’ This is the same philosophy adopted by major marketers such as Ford and Shell in their ‘updating’ of corporate trademarks. Shell has had more than twenty ‘revisions’ of its famous ‘scallop’ since it was introduced in 1904.

Apart from ‘unplanned’ changes to the Cross & Balls device over time, the original design made for difficult reproduction in some media. Particularly vulnerable were the four long arms of the ‘cross’ component. Drawing on his extensive experience in international corporate identity development (see notes), the writer insisted that the design proposal be contemporary and compatible with reproduction specifications in all media. The end result had to be a visually cohesive composite element with impeccable justification and kerning (referring to the positioning of words and letters) and that the design must work in sassda blue (Pantone 286/100C 60M 0Y 6K) and out of a plain field.

There is insufficient space in this column to show the various iterations developed. Suffice to say that it was a time-consuming process, before the
Main Committee was requested to ‘vote’ on the finalist designs.

Those who are interested in the process may request a copy of the presentation titled ‘The Remaking of a Brand’ which was used to keep sassda
staffers abreast of developments.

sassda-logo1The final revised and melded sassda corporate trademark is shown here and on the cover of this issue of STAINLESS STEEL magazine. Approved just three weeks ago, the sassda corporate trademark and the Cross & Balls mark have been rendered as artwork in all commonly used electronic formats (jpg, eps, pdf, etc.) and will be available on the sassda website. For the Board and Main Committee meetings on 20 August, all corporate signage at sassda’s Morningside, Johannesburg, offices had been changed to the new design.

Like ensigns throughout history, the new sassda mark will play a very important role in all of the Association’s communications and engagement
activities. Now bearing the Cross & Balls device which has come to represent the quality of Southern African stainless steel, it will provide a constant reminder as sassda executes Executive Director John Tarboton’s policy of engagement with members on multiple fronts, including face to face meetings, sector meetings, breakfast meetings, email and a mobile-friendly, fresh website, and in raising sassda’s profile with other important stakeholders such as project houses and government.

sassda’s evolutionary trademark thus effectively signals the end of the ‘back to basics’ period and heralds the beginning of the confident shining of
sassda’s light.

The writer left South Africa and a peer respect comfort zone for New York where few knew of his brandbuilding and strategic skills. The ‘wake-up call’ was too  threatening to go unheeded. Within two years, he and his wife had built a marketing consultancy attracting major US and global clients. The formation of graphics consultancy, Troller Crawford Mintzer & Cobb, followed, the ‘Troller’ being Swiss born Fred Troller, distinguished designer and educator who created the minimalist Swiss New Typography ‘school.’



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