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Branding the intangible

Mark Tomkins - Creative Director at Aubergine
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How the rise of cryptocurrencies proves the value of graphic design and branding

In the financial world, the cryptocurrency frenzy is seeing a great many people investing their money in a digital phenomena with nothing more than a glance at a smart looking brand image and a Facebook page or website of promises. So, we are going to assume you have a vague idea what cryptocurrency is.

This article is not about whether you should (or shouldn’t) invest in cryptocurrency or whether you think it’s the next big financial game changer or a headline-grabbing Ponzi scheme.

Instead, in this article we’re asking whether the meteoric rise of cryptocurrency (such as the likes of Bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple) has anything to do with how these intangible assets are represented by their branding, logo, and marketing material on social channels.

To accompany the futuristic names, it has become a prerequisite for a cryptocurrency to have a logo that’s immediately recognisable, looks established, projects a personality, and the general differences from another cryptocurrency. Some of the older currencies (such as Bitcoin and Litecoin) have logos that look a little cheesy and homemade, very possibly made on a pirated copy of Photoshop by one of the original Blockchain gamers. But that clearly hasn’t hindered their interstellar rise (and fall and rise and fall and…).

However, since then, launching the next big monetary idea has taken on a new technique. Smart and well designed branding, corporate-looking white papers, research and roadmap material – all of these add weight to the appearance of growth, certainty and potential for the budding investor.

From a design perspective, the logos all express a well-branded image that tells the viewer “we’re official, we’re serious, and you can trust us”. It shows the power of branding because across the world right now are millions of people investing billions of pounds in something that is utterly intangible. You do not get a shiny coin, a crisp, new note or even a certificate of ownership. You simply get a line of numbers and letters that denote your virtual wallet address and in that, the number of ‘coins’ you ‘own’.

However, there’s no denying that this intangible asset in one form or another IS the future of currency. But branding the intangible to give it legitimacy at a level that makes the world’s financial markets buy into it and make it part of the established financial system will be a harder task than selling the idea to the general population. It’s not just about getting a graphic designer to make up a smart logo, brand guidelines, and a website or Facebook page.

Interestingly, this is not the first time a major global currency shift has been introduced in living memory. These challenges were faced back in the 1960s when the first charge and credit card brands appeared on the high street. They offered a new way to pay for things – a new currency in effect. Back then, the brands of American Express, Diners Club, Barclaycard Visa, Access, and Mastercard all offered this new, convenient way to pay for things without having to carry cash. With the exception of Access, all those brands are still with us, albeit with a few facelifts over the years.

If you look at this selection of cryptocurrency brand logos, there may be one or two you may recognise (or certainly be aware of the name), but most will be unknown. They come from a great list of current and emerging cryptocurrencies. All offering, through their marketing messages and imagery, the promise of the next big thing.

 

So, the questions remain: Is it down to the marketing and brand image that most people are making their decision about which cryptocurrency to invest in? And is it the branding that is sparking the initial interest? Ultimately, it could be something as simple as the branding that gets this new concept off the launchpad and into everyone’s day-to-day lives.

For now though, the jury is out.

However, history tells us that you can sell anything as long as it’s well-marketed and pitched at the correct audience. Therein lies the skill of the graphic designer – to sell the intangible.