May 16, 2007


In advertising and marketing, the word "branding" became big catch-word a few years ago. Its one of those words that makes me groan, because usually the ones that throw it around the most don't understand what it means. It often gets thrown around in a way that means "stick the logo on everything" when in actuality, good branding is a clear identity without the logo ever being seen.

I ran across an interesting article the other day by Steven Heller that made me realize one of the reasons I find World War II history and the Nazi period so fascinating. They were brilliant at branding, and their design was usually incredible - from posters to rallies to uniforms (designed by Hugo Boss). [Please don't misread that to believe in any way that I condone or admire anything the Nazis stood for - but their use of marketing stands as an important example of how such atrocities could be sold to a mass audience - and its important that we be aware of how similar methods are used today: "Patriot Act" anyone?] One twisted example of Nazi branding was their visual identity system for their concentration camp prisoners. The color coded system of triangles was a visual identity system (known as the "winkel") that was - literally - branding. The inverted triangle system originated at Dachau in 1933, predating the 1938 law that decreed that Jews wear a Yellow Star. Because Hitler was generally given credit for all things under his rule, little is known about who actually did much of the design work from that time, though there apparently was a "culture chamber" that sanctioned Nazi designers. It makes you wonder whether they believed in what they were doing, or whether they did it only to survive.

There's no positive happy ending to put on this, except just the importance of historical awareness. Also kinda makes you think twice when using the word "branding".

  • Steven Heller: The Nazi Triangle
  • No comments: