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Swapping a Record for Relevance…Or Not


I came across this article the other day about how a British baking syrup recently changed its logo. Normally, that’s not a huge news item except for design nerds like me. But in this case, the revamp meant giving up the crown for a Guinness World Record: the oldest branding. They’d only made slight technical changes (due to a war-induced supply chain disruption) since 1885. That’s 139 years of consistency.

So, was it worth it? Or should they have hung on to the Guinness glory and let the brand continue at all cost? To answer that, I explored the reasoning and rationale behind the move—something we do with all of our clients when we’re thinking about what to do with their brands. Ready? Let’s go.

The Why Is More Than Skin Deep

My guess is this update wasn’t just about appearances. They probably wanted to simplify the brand architecture. After all, the original logo had “Abraham Lyle and Sons”—which doesn’t exist anymore—built into it. When that was then put on the Lyle’s Golden Syrup label, the two naturally competed as elements, which added complexity. And complexity can be a barrier to purchase, especially for new customers. A quick read is the best MO, especially on a crowded grocery shelf.

So assuming the goal was to simplify the brand, then the major question looms—what stays, and what goes?

Determining Winners and Losers

When it comes to evaluating a brand’s elements for the purpose of a revamp, nostalgia needs to be put aside, even in the case (or perhaps especially in the case) of a logo that’s endured over a century. You have to be analytical: What is most valuable to the brand and should be retained? And what’s not so essential—meaning we can take liberties with it?

To answer that, it’s helpful to determine your goals. In the case of Lyle’s, I believe the decision making came down to how to retain the spirit of the brand while making it easier to read, reproduce and apply to additional categories. As a secondary ask, I think the company wanted the new design to bring in younger customers.

The Result

Lyle’s ended up keeping several key graphic assets: color palette, composition, typography, classic decorative fill and, most importantly, the lion and bee avatars. Their appearance relates back to a story from the Bible about Samson—who killed a lion and later found a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass. The incident led to a version of the phrase that was featured on the logo, “Out of the strong came forth sweetness.” The new logo removes the phrase and gives the animal illustration a much less literal treatment, but for the sake of the brand’s heritage, the nod is still there.

What do I think of it? I think it’s quite good. They landed the goal of simplification, and all the important elements are still there.

Brand Strategy IS Business Strategy

Something Lyle’s brand director said in that article was that “consumers need to see brands moving with the times and meeting their current need.” I totally agree with meeting customers’ needs. But I don’t think the idea that consumers require brands to move with the times is really accurate—and it shouldn’t be a company’s mindset or motivation. Changing your logo doesn’t drive relevance. Your logo is an expression of how relevant your brand is. And that is directly connected to how relevant your business is. Business strategy is brand strategy. And a logo should mirror that strategy. They are totally interconnected.

A rebrand—including a visual identity change for a 139-year-old logo—shouldn’t be done to prove the company belongs in 2024. Rather, the brand should compel the decisions that are made in all aspects of the organization so that its overall position in 2024 can be truly reflected.