Following the recent tragic shooting in Connecticut, once again, each network has their own brand, literally, of coverage. Catchy phrases, judicious word choices and carefully crafted logos fill the screen as they each vie for market share, exploiting this incomprehensible act to get the best ratings.
Of course we want to know what happened. And some people want to know more than others. Regardless of how much detail we can bear, we need good reliable information, not a polished 3D logo to spiral onto our TV screens to “insta-brand” the tragedy with as much emotion, personality and faux excitement as an episode of The Voice. Eric Karjaluoto, creative director at Vancouver’s Smashlab, says it best: “Through our knowledge of brands, we’ve found a way to commoditize anything. We’ve built names and phrases for inventions and constructs that needn’t be, nor ever should have been, sold. We love the taglines and gimmicks. Names and logos for military actions, Acts Of God, and other products not made for sale, are produced with such vigor and precision.”
There are many ways that advertising and design are used which I don’t want to be part of. Tobacco. Gambling. Alcohol. Pornography. Big Oil. Clean Coal. The Shopping Network. Rent-A-Center. But this particular niche is the most disturbing, for two reasons.
One: The insensitivity and callousness involved in creating a new logo to brand a tragedy for corporate gain. Having designed many logos in my career, it’s hard to imagine trying to decide what color scheme, imagery, typeface and animation technique to use to commercially represent so many people’s personal loss. When horror, grief, shock and chaos are neatly packaged into a slick graphic identity, I am left cold and empty, and embarrassed for our profession. That it is only a thinly-veiled attempt to outdo the competitive networks only worsens the experience. And, for me, it achieves the opposite effect. I want to change the channel, leave that network, their reporters and their advertisers.
Two: Sensational, colorful, exciting branding of the event calls attention to the person who commits the crime and this has been theorized to be a motivating factor for a mentally ill individual who, among other things, craves attention. The last thing I want to do is design a logo for a murderer. As the Facebook page advocating anonymity for the Gabrielle Giffords gunman states: “Every mention in the media of the Tuscon gunman’s name, his background, items leading to his act, reward him with his goal and provides the motivation for other similarly-unstable individuals to commit similar acts…notoriety” And the BBC’s Charlie Brooker expresses a similar sentiment (following a mass shooting in Germany): that specific media coverage techniques can encourage this behavior in others.
So what is the answer? In addition to denying mentally ill criminals the instant notoriety they crave, why not endeavor to be informational in a respectful, understated way, instead of sensational and salacious? Tell me what happened, report the event with as much detail as anyone could want, show me photographs, even diagrams, but please don’t dress it up, make it pretty or add excitement to profit from someone’s tragedy. Shame on you. Helvetica will do just fine. Think reverence and peace when someone has passed, not bells and whistles, ratings, and cash. It’s time for the media, ad agencies, and designers to do what they can to bring decency, appropriateness and privacy to where it’s sorely needed.