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Is PwC Cooking Up Another Big Rebranding?

graphic design is my passion

TLDR: PwC has engaged McCann as global creative agency, their current logo is 14 years old, and the tax scandal that originated at PwC Australia has done real damage to the PwC brand worldwide. Plus they like debuting new logos when the economy sucks. There might be a new face of PwC on the horizon.

Ad Age reported earlier this month that PwC has appointed Interpublic Group of Cos.’ McCann — we’ll just call them McCann — as its global creative agency per a memo someone slipped Ad Age‘s way. They said:

Multiple people close to the situation confirmed the appointment. McCann declined to comment and referred calls to PwC, which declined to comment.

It is unclear if PwC previously had a global creative agency lead.

We’ve got you, Ad Age reporter who isn’t fully caught up on the Big 4 professional services firm design lore.

In 2010, PwC underwent an ambitious rebranding (a story we managed to break because we enjoy ruining big reveals) that ditched the old “graphic designer driving down pothole-filled road in a car with busted suspension when they created this” PricewaterhouseCoopers branding and replaced it with the autumnal logo and recognizable color palette the firm uses to this day.

Old. Ugly. Strangely chaotic.
New. Modern. Totally overused in every single piece of media PwC has produced since.

The lowercase ITC Charter Black name was intended to lend a more “human” look as capital letters would be “too authoritative.” And the flower — which I always assumed was a butterfly? — was intentionally given a pixelated look because 2010 graphic capabilities across various systems were spotty at best.

mock-ups of the new logo designed by Wolff Olins

The rebranding was the work of branding powerhouse Wolff Olins and eight years in the making by the time it became official on October 4, 2010.

Not everyone was happy when the new logo debuted. Actually, a lot of people weren’t. Like this person who CC’d us on the email he sent directly to then-PwC US Chairman Bob Moritz lambasting PwC’s child-like and unprofessional new logo:

To be perfectly honest, I’m not a fan of the new branding. In your email you wrote “…we are altering what we believe is an outdated visual identity to better express the kind of vibrant and relationship-based firm we have evolved into.” I find it ironic that you referred to our former visual identity as outdated when our new brand looks like a throwback – a 70s color scheme meets an IT startup.

I completely agree with the comments on the website where the brand is repeatedly referred to as child-like and unprofessional. I feel like the explanation for the symbol is also very complex. The *connectedthinking brand was simple and easy to understand. With the new symbol, everything has a meaning, from the colors to the solid blocks to the transparent blocks. A symbol should be fairly self explanatory – this one requires too much explanation.

I love the fact that the company has been focusing more on changing behaviors and placing a greater emphasis on building relationships. However, I fail to see where a new brand would affect this. Colors and symbols don’t represent PwC, the staff does. In one of the online discussions it was pointed out that following a salary freeze one year and layoffs the following year, it almost seems foolish to spend so much money to “reinvent” ourselves. To quote a wise PwC employee, “A new brand isn’t going to win business, motivated people will.” I find it hard to believe that this new, colorful symbol will be the motivation that people need to help expand our business and improve relationships with clients. A better way to motivate the staff would be more incentives – bonuses, rewards, raises – positive reinforcement. Pavlov was definitely on to something with the concept. Interactive gallery stations complete with iPads to show off the brand? Activities revolving around the launch of this new brand? Is this really the best method of spending funds?

BoMo must have gotten several of these emails because he sent out a FAQ to all employees shortly before the new logo dropped for real:

By now you’ve likely checked out the new PwC brand. Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten strong feedback from around the firm. Many love it. Some don’t. Few are neutral. With a firm of 30,000 smart people, there are going to be lots of opinions…and that’s okay. I ask that you don’t get caught up in the colors and logo; these changes to our visual identity are simply what we think reflects the evolution that has taken place within our firm as we continue to build a relationship-based, value-driven culture.

You know this whole thing had to be incredibly controversial to inspire a bunch of accountants to get pressed about some pictures to the point they were writing strongly worded letters to top leadership about it.

Then there was the issue of destroying literal tons of letterhead and business cards to make way for new ones. At the time, PwC had around 236,000 employees in 157 countries. Of course not all of them had a large cache of PricewaterhouseCoopers business cards, even back then, but still. This was right around the time Big 4 firms were starting to pretend they cared about the environment.

There will be some costs associated with the change. In the US, they will include the cost of building signage and consumable items such as stationery, business cards and printed materials. Overall, this spend is minimal in relation to our size and is certainly not significant to our annual operating budget. If we treat the brand re-launch as an important opportunity to engage with our clients and each other–to discuss how together we will improve relationships and create value–the money we spend on the launch will be paid back many times over.

You have to remember this happened in 2010, about a year after the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research declared the Great Recession over. So that was another concern.

With the economy just climbing out of a recession, why are we spending money on this change now?
A: Timing was clearly a consideration. We have set ambitious goals for our network of firms–and we are counting on our brand to work harder for us as we distinguish ourselves from our competitors. There will never be a better time to begin the transition to our new brand, and by starting now, we will be well-positioned as the economy improves.

OK that didn’t really answer the question. And the orange-sorta red-purple color scheme intended to improve client relationships, generate value, and other such corporate fart-huffing doesn’t seem to be helping to generate business in the current day deal slowdown.

Ad Age said McCann will be launching a creative platform for PwC in collaboration with “brand-led business transformation company” FutureBrand later this year. FutureBrand are the ones who gave a redesigned Nesquik rabbit to the world (along with adding unnecessary jizz milk squirts to the Nesquik name) so we’re looking forward to seeing what unnecessary 3D Blender animations they bring to the traditionally 2D world of professional services.