Lady Gaga, We Are Cork and the crisis of originality


30 April 2021

The same story told over and over? Connecting the dots between A Star is Born, the #WeAreCork place brand project and the challenge of creative originality in art and branding alike.

THERE’S a line in A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper’s $100m-grossing musical melodrama, that should strike a chord with anyone engaged in creative endeavours – from musicians to filmmakers, copywriters to creative designers, and all in between. It’s a line delivered by a grizzled Sam Elliott as Bobby, the surly and long-suffering older brother of Jackson Mane (Cooper), an arena-famous country rock star ravaged first by childhood trauma and second by subsequent decades of substance abuse.

“Music is essentially 12 notes between any octave… 12 notes and the octave repeats,” Bobby tells a wide-eyed Ally (Lady Gaga), the rising star to Mane’s fading light.  “It’s the same story told over and over, forever.”

It’s a thought that neatly sums up the challenge facing all creatives – how difficult it is to build something new, something original, something fresh, out of a limited set of building blocks. Peel back a layer and you note that the film itself, and its central narrative – one star shines as another is beginning  to fade – is based on a story previously told. Multiple times, in fact, including with Judy Garland and James Mason in the leading roles (1954) as well as Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristoffersen (1976).

Discussing this challenge around the office table this week (two of the team having coincidentally been to see the movie on the same night), dyjaho Head of Design Dave Flanagan labelled it the ‘crisis of originality’ – from notes to words, images, colours and ideas, every artist and creative professional must confront the difficulties in building something using tools and materials that for the most part have already been in play for centuries.

The challenge of originality, and the sense of covering well-trodden ground, is also at the heart of another topical discussion this week, not only around the office table but also in the media – the recent unveiling of the We Are Cork branding project. Involving multiple public stakeholders and an investment of close to €300,000, the long-proposed initiative was launched with the objective of developing a strong and defined ‘place brand’ for the city that will help in positioning and appeal to visitors, and to potential investors. However, the project has run into some controversy after similarities were noted between the final visual identity and older, more established logos, including that of the Great British Chefs organisation, and Museu de Cultures del Món de Barcelona (the Museum of World Cultures, Barcelona).

As a team of branding specialists and design creatives, the debate has naturally caught our ears here at dyjaho, and been the subject of much back and forth on the team Slack channel. For designer Dave, who daily faces the challenge of rearranging the metaphorical ‘12 notes’ into a new melody, there’s some professional empathy for the predicament that the designers of the We Are Cork visual identity find themselves in. For dyjaho founder and experienced brand strategist Pat Kierans, it’s essential to emphasise that the investment in the We Are Cork project runs far deeper than a simple logo. To return to musical metaphors, a logo can be thought of as a simple melody. A couple of notes to make a hook. A brand, on the other hand, is a full orchestral score.

“In the first instance, we stand firmly behind the philosophy and objectives of developing a robust ‘place brand’ for Cork,” argues Kierans. “We fundamentally agree that Cork needs a place brand and ‘We Are Cork’ may well be the correct solution from a positioning and messaging standpoint.”

However, while most commentary has focused on the controversial logo design, the concept of developing a place brand – or any kind of brand with value – runs much deeper.

“As branding and communications specialists we’ve listened with keen interest to this debate, which unfortunately has been built on some fundamental misunderstanding of what ‘branding’ actually means,” Kierans continues.

“The logo design is likely to have been just one deliverable from the project, which no doubt also includes a significant amount of relevant research and insight-building, a strategy that involves a clear articulation of Cork’s brand essence, value proposition, key messaging, target audiences etc., as well as an execution plan and all of the relevant content and collateral that enables a brand to be communicated, and to ensure that Cork’s story is heard by a relevant audience.”

At dyjaho, demystifying the abstract concept of branding is a challenge we meet every day, helping clients to embrace the value of strategic thinking and planning before ever embarking on the design process to bring a brand to life through a logo and/or other collateral.

“A brand is far more than just a logo, and it’s unfortunate in this instance I believe that the discussion over the originality of the logo may deflect or detract from the We Are Cork project,” Kierans added. “Not having been involved in this particular project, we would reserve comment on whether or not the €300k cost represents value for money. But clearly, the logo alone did not cost €300k.”

Returning to the challenge of infinite originality in a world of limited resources, we loop back again to Elliott’s Bobby, and the second half of that A Star is Born quote.

“All any artist can offer this world is how they see those 12 notes,” he tells Ally. “That’s it.”

Or to put it another way, all any of us can do as creatives is take the building blocks at our disposal, and rearrange them according to our own vision. In a world cluttered by content, there’s an element of hope that our vision hasn’t already been expressed.

“Yes, Cork needs a brand,” Kierans concludes. “One brand, not two or three or more – that accommodates all key stakeholders and their messaging. Hopefully ‘We Are Cork’ has been built with this in mind and proves worthy of all us embracing it.”

Thoughts? Let us know in the comments.

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