In 2004 General Electric, the parent company of American television network NBC, purchased 80% of Vivendi Universal Entertainment, the parent company of Universal Pictures, cable channels like USA Network and Syfy (then Sci-Fi Channel), and the Universal Studios theme parks. NBC Universal was born. A powerful entertainment company with major real estate on television: NBC, Telemundo, Bravo, Syfy, USA Network, A&E, MSNBC, and CNBC among others. In 2009, cable operator Comcast announced its plans to purchase a stake in NBC Universal and as of last week, with approval of the Federal Communications Commission and U.S. Department of Justice, Comcast now owns 51% of NBC Universal, while General Electric owns 49%. On Friday, at an employee town hall meeting, Steve Burke, COO of Comcast and CEO of the new company, announced a new name, NBCUniversal (no space, thank you), and a new logo designed by Wolff Olins.
The reaction from the media — from the New York Times, to Huffington Post, to Gawker, to Media Bistro, to whoever else still thinks every new logo should be recalled — has been surprisingly ignorant and short-sighted. Everybody has expressed irreparable emotional damage that the NBC peacock logo is gone and that we will never see it again. Reportedly, even NBC anchor Brian Williams asked at the town hall meeting what was happening with its dear logo: “It’s our Coca-Cola. It’s our Apple. It’s our Ford Motor Company, that instantly recognizable thing.” Fear not Mr. Williams, et al. The NBC logo belongs to the NBC network, that fourth-tier network on television that nobody watches anymore, except for when Parks and Recreations is on. It’s also funny that no one lamented the loss of Universal’s globe. The peacock? Don’t touch it! The globe? Kill it, who cares!
Strategically, there is no reason whatsoever that the NBCUniversal logo should feature the NBC peacock logo. NBC is only one property of NBCUniversal. By that same token, the logos of Syfy, iVillage, USA Network, and Telemundo should all be up there in the logo’s business. But they are not, because NBCUniversal is a parent company that does not face consumers, that has to represent a dozen other properties, and that, believe it or not, have nothing to do with NBC, a network few people want to be associated with, unless you cranked up the hot tub time machine and traveled back to the 1990s when Seinfeld was on the air, and Jay Leno wasn’t the biggest douche in late night.
But, mostly, we are here to talk about logos, right? NBCUniversal approached Wolff Olins with the assignment of designing a corporate typeface that then evolved into becoming the main logo. Mike Abbink at Wolff Olins designed the basis for the typeface which draws from the typographic history of both NBC and Universal. The former has consistently used bold sans serifs and the latter has consistently been mired in Copperplate Gothic — sucker! Further developed by Bold Monday, a Netherlands-based type foundry run by Paul van der Laan and Pieter van Rosmalen, the new corporate typeface named Rock (after Rockefeller Plaza, headquarters to NBCUniversal) comes in serif and sans serif versions, each with a light and bold, and a Roman and italic. The serif version then serves as the basis for the new logo. As a type family, Rock, is quite nice, especially the sans version which has very nice proportions and some quirky details, like that delicious lowercase “k” but when you pick out the characters for NBCUniversal, the quirkiness turns a bit sour.
Looking solely at the logo, the typeface looks less like a formal serif and more like a hybrid of serif and sans serif — in the realm of things like P. Scott Makela’s Dead History. The “N” has two point ends and two serif ends: awkward. The “C” has a serif on top and a blunt sans ending at the bottom: awkward. The “v” has serifs flaring outward: awkward. The “a” has a blunt sans on top and a serif on the bottom: awkward. I think the idea is good and interesting and, as I mentioned, the type family works well, but these twelve characters as a wordmark aren’t particularly fetching.
Nonetheless, where the new logo works very well and its raison d’être pays off is as an imposer of brand hierarchy. It works as a descriptor, almost like a caption, but it also works to define who’s who and what’s what in the universe of NBCUniversal. Sure, they could have probably chosen a typeface and called it a day but a) this gives them something that is 100% unique to them and b) licensing a font family for a corporation as large as this one can make the cost of a proprietary typeface be a great deal.
The most important thing to remember is that this is not a brand identity but a corporate identity. Meaning that it doesn’t need to have that sex appeal that attracts millions of viewers each night but one that looks like it will take no shit when printed on a business card and handed out by people with power suites more expensive than the computer you are reading this on.
Thank you all for your patience while we put this review up. Brand New doesn’t always break news but we sure deliver the goods when we can. We’ll leave the photos of blurry, warped, colorless logos for others.