Why do charities need or choose to change their visual identities?

Publication Date


Degree Name

MA in International and Intercultural Management

First Advisor

Paul Ventura


This paper is about visual identity. Throughout the paper, we will use the term 'visual identity' interchangeably with the term 'brand image.' It will always refer simply to an organisation's logo or name. I will not use this expression to define the range of services that charitable organisations offer and thus advertise to the public. In the case of the Society, there was never a need to change the services. On the contrary, the Society is one of the fastest growing charitable organisations in the United Kingdom and is therefore constantly expanding or developing its current range of services. The decision to change the organisation's visual identity was taken to reinforce the already healthy services management, but never to redefine it. However, we will see that other organisations such as Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) decided to reposition themselves by restructuring their range of services, but without changing their visual identity. They needed to communicate more accurately the full range of their work, but it did not require a change of name or logo (Bell 1999). The paper is not about corporate identity, although I will use this concept to explain how visual identity fits in the broader definition of corporate identity. Corporate identity is a concept that goes well beyond the scope of visual identity, and therefore of this paper. Wally Olins says: 'Everything that the organisation does must be an affirmation of its identity … Identity is expressed in the names, symbols, logos, colours and rites or passage which the organisation uses to distinguish itself, its brands and its constituent companies … They encapsulate and make vivid a collective sense of belonging and purpose … They [also] represent consistent standards of quality and therefore encourage consumer loyalty' (Olins 1989,7,9) We can therefore say that corporate identity is a combination of a philosophy (often expressed in a mission statement), and a personality (how the company behaves). This creates the company's culture that must remain unique and consistent if it wants to survive in a competitive market. The visual identity is a powerful way of conveying the company's culture in an encapsulated form. It is an easy way for the customer / beneficiary to identify the organisation at a glance. If the organisation fails to communicate its essence in its logo or name, the result is 'corporate dissonance' (Bernstein 1999). For example, a children's charity would create corporate dissonance if its logo was dark, impersonal or indistinct, because people expect a logo associated with youth, which is colourful, depicting people rather than shapes and easily recognisable. Corporate dissonance can also be achieved through an advertisement or a poster. For example, Nike adverts would be dissonant with the company's culture if it addressed an older or less active audience, because people associate Nike products with youth, adventure, activities, challenge…

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