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Hiding Behind New Logo?
Effective January 27, 2003, Altria Group, Inc., became the name of the parent company of Kraft Foods, Philip Morris USA, Philip Morris International and Philip Morris Capital Corporation. Collectively, these companies form the Altria family of companies.

No matter how you look at it, the name Philip Morris will always be associated with smoking, even when that company is parent to many other products (whose quality won’t be discussed here.) It was obvious that the parent company needed a rebranding badly, but no matter where I looked all articles pointed that Altria was trying to hide, and put in the past, any relation to the name Philip Morris with this new branding effort. Leo Burnett will be in charge of the new advertising campaign. I still haven’t found who designed it.

Now to the new logo: it’s definitely very colorful, there is no questioning that, which makes it a more “happy” brand. Almost all the rainbow colors are in there. When you look at it, it’s really hard not to associate it with pixels. That would lead us to believe that they are a company that’s tech savvy. The typeface selection is a safe Serif, after all, they are Corporate America. These are just some of my objective opinions, what do I really think of it? It’s a lame excuse of a logo, it’s expensive to reproduce, it says “hey look at me, I’m colorful, because I couldn’t come up with anything better!.” I really don’t like it.

The funniest thing I found while doing some research was a petition from Adbusters to… I don’t even know what they want.

Thanks to Thomas for the tip!

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ARCHIVE ID 1350 FILED UNDER Branding and Identity
PUBLISHED ON Jan.28.2003 BY Armin
Darrel’s comment is:

I don't know why we give Phillip Morris so much grief. They make what Americans' want: smokes, booze, and processed cheese foods. I call that smart business.

But yea, that logo is goofy. As is the name.

On Jan.28.2003 at 09:43 AM
Sam’s comment is:

This logo is a nightmare! On the Philip Morrris page the upper-left-most pixel is the same color as the page background and therefore disappears. Since this can happen with any color along the edge of the logo, that's 18 colors (a couple might be the same so maybe it's less) that the logo can't be printed against. Such a colorful logo should probably be against white only, but they're already disregarding such basic common sense.

Why the type is placed the way it is seems awkward to me--one row from the bottom but two rows from the top. It doesn't balance the weight/mass of the mark.

I would disagree, Armin, that Joanna is a safe serif, though I agree that the choice of a serif is relatively safe. Joanna is another of those odd faces--the kid whose parents send him to school with clothes that don't fit. I use Joanna, love it dearly, but mainly for something that is deliberately off-kilter. Assuming they use it in their branding materials, it's likely not to look corporate or "new." Whatever the hell new is these days, I have no idea.

Plus, it's meaningless. Pixels? Rainbows? WTF?

On Jan.28.2003 at 09:47 AM
jon’s comment is:

I was working for Landor when they designed the logo; I was not on the team, though. Basically, the logo is a mosaic of colors of Altria's brands. I recall there was A LOT of testing done on press to figure out how to reproduce that thing effectively. The typeface is Joanna, if I remember correctly.

>because I couldn't come up with anything better!.”

I won't defend the logo, because I'm not so sure it's that great either. But, what I will say is this: until you've spent some time trying to design corporate identities for companies of this size, you can't understand how difficult it is to develop and sell-in a creative, original idea. The corporations with great identities typically have CEO's who are visionary leaders who are not afraid of stepping outside the bounds of what a focus group tells them. Typically, the process of selling in a new identity starts with marketing people several steps below the CEO. These people usually work by the principle of pleasing their boss before anything. So, instead of thinking, "is this a great idea?", they think, "will my VP like this?" Hence, focus groups and ideas 'refined' into sameness.

I'm sure Art Chantry is out there barking "corporate whore" at the moon, and that's his right. I don't like the process one bit, and it frustrates me to no end to deal with a company that is more interested in protecting itself than presenting an interesting vision to its customers.

On Jan.28.2003 at 10:02 AM
Armin’s comment is:

>until you've spent some time trying to design corporate identities for companies of this size, you can't understand how difficult it is to develop and sell-in a creative, original idea.

You are completely right. It's probably one of the hardest sells in the design industry. And my comment is based on the final logo, not in the process you mention. It must be very frustrating for a designer to work on a project like that. At m1 we did an intranet for Coca-Cola and it was just hell trying to get anything approved.

On Jan.28.2003 at 10:12 AM
jon’s comment is:

It's very frustrating and why I finally quit. I'm tired of adding 'exploratory' to my portfolio!

On Jan.28.2003 at 10:18 AM
steven’s comment is:

Not long ago, wasn't the true test of a successful mark the fact that it worked just as well in black and white as in color?

I agree with Jon though. When working with a HUGE conglomerate, you have absolutely no chance in getting an original well designed piece. It touches too many hands.

>>"I don't know why we give Phillip Morris so much grief. They make what Americans' want: smokes, booze, and processed cheese foods. I call that smart business."

It may look that way to the general public, but after working on the Brown & Williamson account, I can tell you it is an evil business. "We don't market cigarettes to young, under-aged people." YEAH RIGHT! And I don't think anyone really want smokes. They want to emulate someone who smokes so they can fit in or look cool. Then they HAVE to have them after they are hooked.

On Jan.28.2003 at 10:24 AM
anthony’s comment is:

"The name “Altria” derives from the Latin word "altus", meaning high"

As in high on tobacco, or your weight from eating their products. Plus I dunno but how does using ALT mean the name is derived from ALTUS, but then again I don't know Latin conjugation so maybe Atria means "Getting High". Plus does the logo vaguely look like a cigarette to anyone else, the orange flame on top and then the cig slanting off the bottom right?

On Jan.28.2003 at 10:44 AM
Armin’s comment is:

>Plus does the logo vaguely look like a cigarette to anyone else, the orange flame on top and then the cig slanting off the bottom right?

That's funny, it could be subliminal advertising. Kind of like these paintings.

* * * Careful: creative adult content. * * *

On Jan.28.2003 at 10:57 AM
Matt’s comment is:

Philip Morris is one evil company. We all know it. Corporate branding campaigns are stale, boring, and plague our visual culture with subversive CRAP. I can't help but dislike the company...but and for a corporate conglomerate its kinda refreshing to see a colorful logomark rather than a boring logotype. They obviously went beyond the average multinational corporation stereotype. Unfortanately I can still see right through their rhetoric.

On Jan.28.2003 at 11:23 AM
Su’s comment is:

Weird. Why didn't they have Altria do the new logo for them?

And, of course, the jokes:


Rejected slogans

As for AdBusters, they've become more and more confused over the years. Soon, nobody will bother listening to them. But what I'd really like to know is that the hell is going on with the letter spacing in that example of the letter to Bush. The thing's an image, so it's not like it's weird browser behavior...

On Jan.28.2003 at 11:43 AM
Tom’s comment is:

Jon nailed it!

Unless you have access to the CEO or a strong marketing executive who has a clue, then forget producing a meaningful solution.

This logo is lame. I would love to see some of the original/good work that Landor created before going through the corporate water down process.

On Jan.28.2003 at 12:00 PM
jon’s comment is:

I wish some of the great work we did for AOL Time Warner made it out to the streets. There were some really great concepts. Shocker, in the end, they suggested that we just add AOL to the existing Time Warner logo (all cap TIME WARNER between two hairline rules). Another disappointment. I do have a hope that, now that the management that approved the merger is out, they might rethink what their corporate identity is about. Just because they have strong brands that they own does not mean their corporate brand can't be as strong.

Not surprisingly, my favorite project over five years was for a non-profit that we did pro-bono.

On Jan.28.2003 at 12:07 PM
atley’s comment is:

I think what some of us tend to overlook is that there are many approaches to design. What we are criticizing here is that the logo is not designed conceptually but what some designers refer to as expressively.

Altria's primary goal now is to appeal to our emotions- if they are hiding from the dirty name that is Phillip Morris, I'm thinking they feel they need a cleansing of some sort. Unfortunate that they dug themselves that whole and what we see here is a good idea with inevitable associations. For instance, the pixelated look severely deprevates from the "deeper" meaning of the "mosaic-collage."

I don't think that this logo is bad because it is is not conceptually designed, I just don't think we should overlook everything the alternatives to it and pass them off as a failure.

I was reading Type & Typography earlier today, interestingly enough, and Phil Baines & Andrew Haslem were discussing these different approaches. They claim that absolute clarity is not the critical element when design "expressively."

As opposed to both conceptual and expressive design, they discuss an analytical approach which concerns the breakdown and understanding of the whole through it's smaller parts.

Anyway, I'm not saying I particularly like the logo, but I do understand what they are trying to achieve. I guess the question remains if they will expressively reach the people and as lame as it sounds, only time will tell.

On Jan.28.2003 at 12:53 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Conceptual or expressive, the thing is going to be a headache to work with formally.

Certainly generic corporate design is nothing new, nor are the difficulties of dealing with huge clients, etc. etc., but I am wondering how new is the new-name-new-logo-new-reputation gambit as a brand strategy? It seems dated already, but when did it start? In the mid90s with all the Scient/Lucent/Agilent brands? Doesn't it seem transparent and tired already?

On Jan.28.2003 at 01:06 PM
kubo’s comment is:

"I think what some of us tend to overlook is that there are many approaches to design. What we are criticizing here is that the logo is not designed conceptually but what some designers refer to as expressively".

I disagree; Jon wrote: "basically, the logo is a mosaic of colors of Altria's brands". Which means the logo is designed in a conceptual way.

Actually, I think that most of the above people are criticizing the aesthetics of the logo, not the concept, or the lack of it.

BTW, I agree that the logo is highly impractical for reproduction, but other than that I really like it.

On Jan.28.2003 at 01:13 PM
Thomas Shebest’s comment is:

I thinking about the logo and it seems like they just used all the colors instead of deciding on 2-3. Thats always my biggest problem with identities when more than 1 or 2 people have to make a decision.

Recently I've been working on an identity for a DNA startup (their product will eventually be a home paternity test that you can buy in drugstores) and every revision goes through a board of 30 people who all attach comments. Its going very slowly to say the least.

(when I emailed Armin about this yesterday I said I couldn't find who did the naming/identity but it was probably Landor, guess I was right)

On Jan.28.2003 at 01:26 PM
jon’s comment is:


Many forget the Lucent design was done way before the Scient/Agilent/Latin name trend really broke loose. It's still a great identity design, even if they've trashed the brand by running the company into the ground.

>new-name-new-logo-new-reputation gambit as a brand strategy

This certainly can be transparent. The smart companies recognize, however, that simply smacking a new name on the company is a bit like putting lipstick on the pig. Rebranding must cover more than surface graphic issues. I can change my clothes on a daily basis, but if I'm an a**hole on Monday, I'm still an a**hole on Tuesday. ;-)

On Jan.28.2003 at 01:27 PM
d’s comment is:

I think it has been said by a couple people but within larger posts - but most of the time the mark itself means little until it is used. So to criticize it as a piece of design is one thing - but perhaps wait for a while an see how Altria is now used and if it begins to mean anything.

I worked on the redesign of the Windows Identity - and like some of the other horror stories listed here (though the AOL one is the best) it too was difficult to convince a huge corporate to understand how a mark is but a thumbprint and does little on its own - but requires constant attention to how it is expressed and perceived.

Again - Jon points out that some of the best corporate identity systems are produced and leveraged properly because the CEO understands the value and relevance of it to business behaviour.

So as designers - we could also look at the identity system and judge whether the whole thing works consistenty with the way the business is behaving - and if not, voice criticism there too.

On Jan.28.2003 at 01:32 PM
atley’s comment is:

Kubo: I'm saying it's expressive because of the intent of the redesign, I guess i blurred those lines.

I'm just suggesting that the intent of the redesign affects the integrity of design process itself.

In absolute honesty, I don't at all think the logo is conceptual and if not expressive, definitely analyitical. (Refer to my last post on what I mean by analytical.) In no sense whatsoever does colored representation of smaller companies conceptualize anything.

On Jan.28.2003 at 01:59 PM
Kubo’s comment is:


A logo that's a mosaic to underline the idea that the company itself is like a mosaic of brands. I would call that an idea, a principle, or yes, a concept.

From your earlier post: "As opposed to both conceptual and expressive design, they discuss an analytical approach which concerns the breakdown and understanding of the whole through it's smaller parts".

Well, the only way how I can relate these words with the logo is that the logo indeed shows the whole through its smaller parts, but I don't think this is what you mean.

About the intent of redesign affecting the integrity of the design process: In a way I think the neutrality and frame-like quality of the logo refers to its own redesign, which makes it a pretty integer design.

On Jan.28.2003 at 04:34 PM
Matt Wright’s comment is:

Conceptual design vs. expressive design...hmmm. It can be looked at both ways of course. It is, at first glance, a mosaic of different colors. This type of aesthetic expresses a particular feeling or idea, pluralism mayhaps. Conceptually, it represents the brands of that company, however, only to the informed. Not everyone knows that Kraft and the like are brands of a bigger congolmerate. So I think here it has both qualities of being expressive and having a definitive concept. Just my two thoughts.

On Jan.28.2003 at 07:16 PM
Jim Jones’s comment is:

Tony Spaeth regularly comments on corp. id projects. Here is his take on Altria:


On the topic of evil companies rebranding themselves, there was a recent article in the NY Times about BP's efforts in this regard:


And here is Tony Spaeth on BP:


On Jan.28.2003 at 07:33 PM
Jon’s comment is:

I think Tony Spaeth puts it best in his review of BP: It’s a brilliant platform for promises of lower emissions, solar power, and the tagline “Beyond Petroleum.”

It's all about the promise, and if a company can't back that up, then it really doesn't matter what the logo looks like.

On Jan.28.2003 at 10:18 PM
JAKE’s comment is:

I'm sorry, when I look at it — all I see is a blowjob. (See below)


On Jan.29.2003 at 05:34 PM
Armin’s comment is:

all I see is a ...

If it weren't for the small thumbnails of each painting, one would never know what exactly the painting means. Just like Altria's logo, it could be a picture of something, but we would never know... I thought it was kind of funny. Maybe not.

On Jan.29.2003 at 05:51 PM
mGee’s comment is:

That logo is a joke. And then the serif with it?

I can't anything more.

On Jan.31.2003 at 06:47 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Review of the Altria logo at Identity works.

On Feb.11.2003 at 03:20 PM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

The New York Times ran an article (free registration required) today about this very topic.

Grefé doesn't like it, Bierut does, and Altria avoids it.

On Jul.10.2003 at 04:38 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Good one Kiran. From the article:

Just who those designers are remains a mystery. David Tovar, head of corporate communications for Altria, referred questions about the designer of the logo to Leo Burnett, which handles advertising for the company. There, Jackie Hosking, a spokeswoman, said, "I can't answer any questions about the logo," and referred calls back to Mr. Tovar.

The logo is such a frickin' disaster nobody at Landor wants to take responsibility for it, that's so funny — yet so sad.

That's cool, that Ric Grefe is going on national papers talking about design.

On Jul.10.2003 at 04:47 PM
jonsel’s comment is:

Why was that article in the Home & Garden section?? That's a little odd. Talk about buried...

I can't really fault them for wanting a new name and a holding company image that is different from Philip Morris. At the time, they owned both Kraft and Miller Beer, as well as the tobacco companies. From a pure business standpoint (ethics aside), your brand should reflect your entire company. My guess is that the name Philip Morris was a detriment to their stock price. Kraft and Miller are relatively decent companies, as far as I know. I don't think they really could hide from the tobacco side of their business even if they wanted to.

On Jul.10.2003 at 05:20 PM
Mark’s comment is:

I don't know but when I see the name and logo Altria looks like a banking or finacing company not a maker of tobacco,cheese, and such

On Aug.18.2005 at 04:33 PM