Wednesday, March 2, 2011

LOGOS: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Both of this season's major musical revivals have something in common that is some times hard to wrap my mind around: when both were originally staged, they were CONTEMPORARY works, like RENT was contemporary in the mid-90's.  It is important to remember this in general about revivals, and very specifically both of this season's entries in the Best Revival of a Musical pool.  I say that because both revivals have thus far created logos/art campaigns that try very hard to be both retro-nostalgic and just modern enough to draw the eye of today's audiences.

Two early versions of the "official logo": I prefer the image
and coloring of the top one, and the titling of the bottom one.

Today, I'm thinking specifically about How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and I think one needs to look at the whole art campaign to fully appreciate the logo itself.  But before I go any further, I'd like to thank any and every one who made sure it wasn't even a tip of the hat to the last H2S logo.  The best thing about it was the green color and the world's first "initialized" title (no so very Facebook/texting):  H2$.  What were those hideous little monsters supposed to be anyway?  But I digress...

The creatures at the bottom are creepy...
when they went to black and white it was even worse!

If one takes into consideration the series of character photos released prior to the start of previews for the show (a few of which also adorn the Al Hirschfeld Theatre), one can probably better decipher the thinking between the main logo.  Keep in mind that the show opened in 1961... we were fully swinging into a modern, urban, edgy era of design, WWII a fading memory, big business, big buildings and tranquil suburbs changing the face of America.  Sharp colors, simple, but dramatic lines and a sleeker look made the early 60's set different (but comfortably so) from the full skirts, bright colors and happy-go-lucky feel of the 50's.

Top to Bottom: John Larroquette, Tammy Blanchard, Rose Hemingway,
Christopher Hanke and Daniel Radcliffe  (all photos by Chris Callis).

The photographic style - very posed, very "you could be in Macy's windows" - of these pictures suggest a freezing of time, while the actors appear to be winking at the types they represent, be it the big boss who putts in his office, the good girl secretary, the unaware bombshell, the office underling and subversive bad boy, and, of course, the ladder climber.  And look at the playful use of props.  Nostalgic but fun and some how subliminally of today, too.  These pictures fairly yell, "The good old days are back!  Let's have a laugh together!"

And that all-American love of nostalgia and the need for a laugh or two are definitely buttons that we willingly let be pushed in our mental state during these decidedly unfunny times.  And how nice to go back to a time when America was prospering and cutting edge.  Heck, with this show, we even get to laugh a little at sexual harassment and the anti-feminist desire to capture and keep a husband.  (One side note:  the levity and brightness almost entirely ignores the current love of Mad Men, a wise choice as the two properties share a business workplace and era in common but little else.)

The "Official" Logo

All of this is important to keep in mind, because the logo itself, while colorful, is not nearly as evocative as the picture set.  Yes, you can still see the old Manhattan skyline in silhouette, and the colorful title 3-D's (in a most "modern" way) right at you.  But, by cropping the ever-looking-upward J. Pierrepont Finch, boyish, pseudo-innocent grin/smirk on his face and all, we focus on WHO it is, not the show he is selling.  Don't get me wrong.  Daniel Radcliffe is definitely a selling point to ticket buyers, and I appreciate that.  But why not use the ladder climber picture as the logo?  You get the star AND the story...and some of the much needed nostalgia.  Smart to make him the focus - at least initially - and to make him recognizable without even a hint of Harry Potter.  But his face and the title do not make me think "musical" (even when some versions actually refer to it as a musical comedy) or "nostalgic trip to Broadway of yesteryear."  No... they got it pretty close.  But nothing beats the simplicity and then-modern style of the original logo.

And so I'd have to say that the overall campaign is excellent - A+ even.  But the logo by itself, not quite so much.

Grade: B

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