What I learned about brand commitment from that article about The Onion

What I learned about brand commitment from that article about The Onion

Chris Wolfgang's Layout avatar

You’ve no doubt seen Fast Co.Design’s (fantastic) article about The Onion’s art department. Three people, well-versed in Photoshop, churn out custom photo and illustration art for every article on the satirical news site. “Why bother?” asked author Dan Nosowitz.

It’s all about commitment, man.

The article expresses awe at the lengths the site goes to for its art, but look deeper. Hidden just under the surface is some valuable info about committing to your brand.

Commitment to a brand… no, a universe

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Photo courtesy of Susy Morris

Nosowitz stated that The Onion is brand-committed to such an extent that the faux news site has created “a fully-functioning, fascinating world” for itself. The Onion’s art is an invaluable part of that — of course they’d pour resources into a pillar of their universe.

But if they left it at just their art, their universe would fall apart. If you focus on just one area of your business, yours will too.

Commitment to a voice

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Photo courtesy of John Morgan

I’ve said before that you need to find your own voice. Nosowitz described in detail the very specific voice of The Onion: “That skewed, surreal tone permeates The Onion’s strange editorial approach — a combination of fake New York Times and fake cheeseball local paper…”

You’ll perfect your own the more you produce but be as specific about your voice as you can in every bit of copy your business produces. Not just website copy, but newsletters, social media, pitches, and don’t forget emails to clients. Every time your business communicates, you’re adding to your universe.

Commitment to the details

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Photo courtesy of A.T.

Stock art, inhouse photos, illustrations, and layer upon layer of Photoshopping — Nosowitz said The Onion’s art department makes use of it all when it comes to building the perfect image for each article.

Designers are no strangers to detail. Close attention to the fine points of a project is what keeps your clients coming back to you. But don’t leave yourself out of the equation, please. Search out all the points where your brand faces the public (exit popups; company T-shirts; Facebook ads; you get the idea) and commit to consistency with your message and your style across the board.

Commitment to a single, clear thought

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Photo courtesy of postbear

For The Onion, that clear, single thought is a headline. “The pitch table at The Onion is difficult,” Nosowitz wrote, “with the surprisingly small staff pitching thousands of headlines per week to be boiled down to a couple dozen.”

Weeding through mediocre ideas can be brutal (the truly horrible ones are actually a lot of fun), but it’s the only way to reach the one idea that works. No one’s found a shortcut. Get a process in place that you walk through whenever you have to make a decision that will affect your brand. For The Onion, that’s their weekly pitch meeting. For you, it could be as simple as a checklist of questions. Is this funny? Is this snarky? Is this informative? Would this help my target audience? and so on.

Commitment from everyone

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Photo courtesy of Alice Henneman

No one at The Onion is exempt from helping out with creating art. Nosowitz quoted managing editor Ben Berkley as saying, “Everybody in this office has had the experience where one of the graphics editors will be walking around with a camera and you see them walk toward your desk and they tap you on the shoulder.”

Whether they’re asked to be a dismembered hand or a superhero, everyone knows this is part of the gig. If you’re part of a team, strive for everyone to be on the same page with the company brand. You may not be asking your coworkers to take part in elaborate photoshoots, but remember that they’re facing the public every day. What’s your morale like? Does negativity reign at the office?

If your work environment doesn’t match the public face that you’d like your company to have, get them synced. Your team makes or breaks your brand more than any T-shirt campaign ever will.

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