• Identity Design

Designing a Personality

“A logo is great only when the company it symbolizes is great.”

One can tell just by looking at the Enron logo that the company was operationally dysfunctional.

It’s not a matter of liking versus disliking the logo—even though, in my opinion, it is a somewhat awkward solution. I believe that Enron’s graphic identity is just OK, and for a multinational, supposedly sophisticated corporation (at one time) at the top of its game, one should expect more.

Then again, what might we have expected?

Back in January 1997, Enron unveiled a new logo along with its first ever branding campaign. The advertising was created by the New York office of Ogilvy & Mather, and according to an Enron press release from that time, the ads were “screened for the first time by Enron employees and the media in Houston at a star-studded Hollywood premier featuring Whoopi Goldberg, Elizabeth Taylor, and ‘Rocky’ lookalikes; paparazzi; searchlights; and fireworks.” (Seems that even back then the Enron M.O. was to rely on presenting fake appearances to the public, but that’s another story.)

Actually, it’s not another story: If we’re talking about managing a company’s image, then we’re talking about thinking about how everything a company does for the public should represent its values and its approach to business. I’m sure it would be easy to say now, “Gee, the minute I saw that fake Elizabeth Taylor, I knew there’d be no way I’d trust them with my retirement fund.” Or even, “Jeez, it was just a dumb press event. Chill out.”

Of course we all know more about Enron now than we did then, but you have to admit that when viewed through the lens of what later developed, having a fake Whoopi there when you present your new logo stands out as sort of a weirdly odd and telling reflection of the company’s mindset.

Anyway, as Enron’s then-president and COO Jeffrey Skilling announced at the time, “This exciting new ad campaign will initiate the process to take Enron from being one of the least well-known large companies to joining McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and American Express as one of the most recognized names in the world.”

Well, I suspect it’s not due to the ad campaign, but they certainly did achieve their goal: Their corporate image is out there, and they are indeed one of the most recognized names in the world. Unfortunately the Enron image has nothing to do with the talents of those who were responsible for their advertising, their marketing, or even their logo—a logo that we now see everywhere and one that seems, from a formal point of view, to be particularly clunky, ill resolved, and amateurish.

A logo that was, by the way, the last corporate logo ever designed by the late, great Paul Rand, who is regarded as the father of modern corporate identity design and considered by many to be the most influential graphic designer who ever lived. As Rand himself said, “A logo is great only when the company it symbolizes is great.”

Perhaps the Enron design is, in fact, perfect after all.

—Alexander Isley

Adapted from an essay that first appeared in reveries, an online marketing journal.

© 2005 Alexander Isley Inc.