Friday, November 30, 2018

From 1998: The moody GeoCities 'g' by Landor

Those who remember GeoCities remember it as one of the primary places for hosting a personal website and a vibrant online community in the late '90s. After its founding in December 1994 it grew quickly and became one of the pioneers in online advertising in 1996. In August 1998, they had a successful IPO on the NASDAQ. In October 1998, it boasted almost three million users. At its peak, GeoCities was one the most trafficked sites in the US, second only to Yahoo and AOL.

Such a significant company needed a clear brand strategy, for which they enlisted the full talents of the Young & Rubicam network. This included Landor Associates, who were tasked with coming up with a new visual identity for the platform. The designer in charge at Landor was Robert Matza.

Landor came up with a lowercase "g", which was unveiled on November 30, 1998. The "g" had a pupil inside it, allowing it to act as an animated character in ads and other environments. The main version was looking forward curiously, but there were also a number of "riffs" where the character displayed different "moods" by looking in different directions and having its ears move around. (Fun fact: the little nudge on top of a double-storey lowercase g is actually called an ear.)

The brand campaign launched the following day, on December 1, mainly consisting of print ads in traditional news media, suggesting they were mostly courting new advertisers.

Symbol used until 1998.

This logo proved extremely shortlived. At the end of January 1999, two months after the new logo had been introduced, Yahoo announced that they would buy GeoCities. The new G logo was soon replaced as Yahoo implemented its own branding scheme onto GeoCities. As with most other Yahoo acquisitions, GeoCities declined for about a decade before being shut down in 2009.

Yahoo! GeoCities logo.

Some contemporary quotes from the press release that announced the brand campaign:
According to Thomas R. Evans, President and CEO of GeoCities: "Our Company is just over four years old and is a grassroots phenomenon. We have experienced exponential growth and have become a top-five Internet presence without the benefit of any appreciable advertising or marketing. It's clearly time to step up and articulate what our brand is all about -- nearly 3 million consumers have found and joined GeoCities because we are more than an Internet destination. We are a community of creative, engaged, interesting people, communicating about their life passions. Our new icon and forthcoming campaign embrace and articulate the spirit of GeoCities. We are convinced this effort will increase our visitor traffic, member growth and reach."

Bruce Nelson, Vice Chairman of Young & Rubicam, added: "GeoCities is taking their leadership to the next level. Their new brand identity clearly communicates the company's consumer focus. It's far more than a logo or just the result of a corporate design process. We actually brought the resources of all of the marketing disciplines to bear on this project, which will make the new identity work across media and as the GeoCities brand evolves." The Y&R companies involved in the launch of the new identity include Wunderman Cato Johnson (the relationship marketing experts responsible for the print and radio campaigns), Landor (which developed the corporate identity) and Brand Dialogue (which did the animation and interactive executions which will bring the new identity to life on the Web.)

This new identity builds on GeoCities' appeal to the wide range of consumers who have flocked to its site to build personal web pages. "The challenge," said James Glicker, GeoCities Vice President of Marketing, "was to strengthen the brand's connection with consumers, to more clearly capture its dynamic, approachable and user-oriented nature and to better differentiate the company."

"To break through to consumers, the identity had to be very fresh, personal and dynamic," commented Ken Runkel, Executive Director, Corporate Identity at Landor. The new brand identity directly engages consumers with a playful character created from the letter "g" and positioned above a new GeoCities corporate logotype. While there is one primary "g" character, Landor has designed a number of iterations or "riffs" of the "g" character -- each conveying distinctive moods, from whimsical to witty.

The launch campaign will kick off with teaser print ads in leading business publications, building over a three-day period. Subsequent ads feature the "g" character and brief factual headlines that convey the scope of GeoCities and its astonishing growth (such as "Every day, more people visit here than New York, Paris and London combined.") The print work breaks December 1 in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, TIME and U.S. News & World Report. The radio portion of the campaign will run in major markets.

Robert Matza has posted a few images from this project in his portfolio.

Archived version of the GeoCities homepage shortly after launching the new logo.

Robert Matza

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