Guest blogger: Pádraic Ó hUiginn, Irish Academy PR Graduate
Cars have changed much since 1984. In contrast, the logos of BMW, Ford, Mercedes, Toyota, and Volkswagen to name a few, have remained more or less the same.
Governments and the business of government have both changed and stayed the same many times in that same period, but in Ireland the government logo has come back full circle to 1984.
Staying in 1984: in the earlier Terminator movies there is a recurring dynamic of robots and people being sent back in time to 1984 and the mid-1990s to change the course of events and avert catastrophe. Borrowing the dynamic of these movies, if we were to imagine ourselves being returned to 1984, we would for the most part probably find an Ireland where the state harp predominated across state bodies as a single government logo. It could be argued that the technology of the day, and the condition of state revenues at the time, would have been severe limiting factors on anyone losing the run of themselves with dis-connected departures from that branding.
Staying at the movies, if Ireland had a “Sliding Doors” moment sometime around 1994, as computers, software packages and graphic design started to make a generational leap, we might have had two alternative futures for the following twenty years and more…the one we got where most government departments and agencies developed their own ‘silo-ised’ brand identities; and the one we could have gotten, where one single, streamlined government identity might have been retained and re-imagined in a contemporary format.
Arguably Aer Lingus has shown excellent delivery of the second alternative over the same period, retaining the baseline shamrock logo and some shade of green and white corporate colours. Add to the leaps in computer technology and software programming an ongoing increase in the funds available to public bodies from 1994 onwards and we start to see all the ingredients for a divergence from a single government of Ireland brand. Dilution and disintegration of a single brand identity arguably dilutes and disintegrates the bigger picture messages being communicated by government. Do we need to send back a ‘Terminator’ to 1994?
One single government logo, that is (i) easily identifiable and (ii) with which the broad public can identify, is a valuable audit trail for the scale of work and services funded by government programmes. It’s a simple tool to publicly identify where public funds are spent. Arguably, it’s as much a valuable governance tool as it is a communications tool.
Fast forward to today, Ireland has seen, but possibly hasn’t noticed that we once again have a single, joined-up government brand for the ‘Government of Ireland’ (since 2017 or so). Have you noticed government departments have gradually returned to having a uniform, core branding with the state harp and green colouring?
Communicating the diverse range of work of one government to its vast public, especially in this current era disrupted by sudden, unexpected technological and social upheavals requires a number of tools. Short videos and GIFs distributed over social media are in the ascendancy, but have you noticed the relatively recent departure in Mr Varadkar’s era, where weekly, post-government meeting media briefings are given directly to journalists on the steps of Government Buildings by the current Taoiseach – White House-style?
Maybe more likely we’ve heard of the short-lived Special Communications Unit that arguably fell victim to factors outside its control. The very setting up of this unit was a recognition in itself that in the modern era, communicating government, is a mammoth, if not impossible task. The unit is gone, but its long-term legacy including communicating to the public with both modern digital and traditional tools is possibly a more vital output, especially in this era saturated by online marketing and digital analytics.
Direct, weekly exchanges with journalists about ‘all of government’ by the head of government is an effective tool in communicating government working ‘as one’ in a co-ordinated way. One joined-up logo for all of government is another valuable tool across all communications platform, including traditional print and the most dynamic online platforms and content.
Sometimes, it’s good to re-invent the wheel.