Brand Controversies: Lessons from Abay Bank’s rebranding efforts


Why was Abay Bank's rebranding so controversial?

If you’ve been on social media, you’ve probably heard about Abay Bank’s rebrand. The rebrand has triggered a backlash from the public, some terming it a debacle. The cost associated with the rebranding effort, which was a staggering ETB 7 Million, further baffled the public. Given the simplicity of the logo, some have seen it as a waste of resources. The event has ignited discussions related to the relevance of branding and design in general. The attitudes are diverse but can be grouped into two. One group says that rebranding and design is an inflated industry where excessive money is spent on “easy” and “simple” logos. While the other group asserts that branding is an essential part of business and that “simple” logos are not easy to design. In this article, we’ll explore these opposing attitudes.

Is Branding Irrelevant?

One of the major issues some people have with branding has to do with the cost. For the regular person, paying 7 million ETB for slapping some colors on a shape may look excessive. People did not deem the new design worthy of such investment as it lacked detail. In a country where bank users struggle to gain a loan or cash due to shortages, seeing a bank pay that much for a logo may hit some nerves. 

Another point of contention for the public was the apparent simplicity of the logo. At first glance, the minimal logos may appear as low effort and “lazy”. So, it’s perfectly understandable if one looks at such a logo and says “I can do it too.” Among the prominent responses in the social media comment sections were people posting a picture of their hand drawings of the logo to prove how easily it can be duplicated. There have also been multiple accusations of plagiarism, where people compared the logo with the logos of foreign brands and accused designers of stealing. 

With the growing AI industry and the freely available generative software, It may sound foolish to invest such an amount of money for businesses to design a logo. Many people are convinced that AI can create these “simple” logos and does it with minimal to no cost. As a result, many see graphic design as an archaic profession. 

Why Branding Matters

On the other side of the fence, some people argue that the rebranding efforts were reasonable. Their primary argument lies behind the fact that branding isn’t just “drawing logos”; it requires extensive research and preparation that may require significant investments. It’s like a game of darts. Throwing the dart may look effortless from a distance, but hitting the bullseye requires years of training. That principle applies to design as well. Therefore,  clients aren’t paying for a “drawing”, they’re paying for a Business ID that represents who they are and what they do for the long term. This brings us to the second point regarding the “simplicity” of logos. 

Minimalism has gained traction in logo design in the past years. Even though some people claim it to be a lazy approach, it’s actually a pragmatic one. The reason is simple; minimal logos are durable and can be used for a long time. Minimal logos remove design constraints that in turn will allow clients to repurpose their logos for any sub-venture they establish. 

As minimalism becomes the norm, there’s a justified concern to make about repetitive logos. This leads to accusations of plagiarism, which is what we’ve seen with Abay Bank’s rebrand. Such comments often fail to understand how creativity works. Take music, for example. A majority of the songs we hear today have a similar chord progression. Does that mean all music is the same? Similarly in logo design, more specifically when designing simple logos, designers must work in constrained circumstances to produce a unique identity for a brand. As such, designers who design simple logos need to be far more creative. This leads us to the final point; AI could never replace such creativity. 

While there are some valid criticisms to be raised when it comes to pricing and creativity in logo design, they can’t be used to dismiss the whole industry. While some people may be uncomfortable with simple logos, It’s important to remember that logo design serves a business, and as a result, it must follow trends to build an appealing brand.

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