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How far is too far when it comes to brand identity?

As if blogs based in Manchester didn’t already have enough Tony Wilson quotes posted up already, we thought we’d add another. When asked about our hometown’s claim to the unofficial title of Britain’s second city, the late, great spokesman for this northern metropolis famously quipped that ‘London and Birmingham can fight that one out’.
OK, so that was really a paraphrase, but nevertheless apologies for the cliche. We’d also disagree with his joke- there’s no doubt that Britain’s biggest urban sprawl is the greatest in the nation, and one of the world’s hotspots for everything from culture to business. Even so, it’s not without some significant failings.
The practice of selling off entire streets to organisations and individuals who only seem interested in increasing profits by pricing out ‘normal folk’ being one. London also has an almost-eye watering ability to be a little, err, ridiculous. Whilst we want to avoid yet another cliche in the first three paragraphs here, it’s difficult to do so as the point really comes down to hipster culture and taking yourself a little too seriously in the cool stakes.
This week news has hit that a coffee shop in south London with the eyebrow-raising name F*!koffee has been issued with a legal order to change its signage, which is apparently causing offence. Outrage has been audible on Twitter, with many regular customers expressing that they would prefer to see the law firm responsible ‘taken down’ for its lack of sense of humour. Nevertheless, it brings to mind an argument that transcends business sizes and marketing perspectives.
How far is too far when it comes to brand identity?
It’s important to make it clear here that we are by no means accusing the proprietors of being ‘hipsters’, or obnoxious people. We don’t know anything about them. That said, calling your coffee shop F*!koffee is about making an impact, and it certainly achieves that. But what message is this sending out to would-be customers?
Those who watched the Nathan Barley TV series will be only too familiar with the re-branding of fictitious magazine Sugar Ape. The logo was switched around so that, in the natural way of reading, said title looked like it said Suga Rape. This is an extreme and made up example, and quite clearly there would be understandable (and legitimate) cause for concern if this publication existed in real life with the same ‘look’. However, this is another instance wherein a name is designed to be memorable through shock factor.
In an age of advertising overkill, message saturation and communications chaos, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to get noticed. The obvious solution is to do something that people can’t help but take in due to disbelief or sheer audacity. Bookmakers Paddy Power is renowned for this tactic. Yet there has to be some lines drawn somewhere in the sand.
If not for decency then simply out of common sense; you might want to be perceived as cool, and you might want to target a certain market. But all markets are finite, and therefore does it really stand to reason that putting some audiences off is a better idea than tactically ensuring that, although a brand is clearly aimed in one direction, it could also appeal to another?
A subjective question, to say the least, the answer probably comes down to several further quandaries. How big does a business want to become? What does that business sell? To conclude with a further query, then, should F*!koffee be forced to take its sign down? And, perhaps more importantly, has the coffee shop overstepped the mark?

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