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Capital FM Logos, 1999-2009

7:54a.m., Mon 15 Jun 2009

I started working for The Capital Radio Group in February 2000. Since that time the flagship 95.8 Capital FM brand has undergone a bevvy of logo re-freshes. It's an interesting journey, and one I can throw some (dubious) light upon.

The Sunny Day Logo

95.8 Capital FM, Sunny Day Logo

So we start with the "Sunny Day" logo. It looked dated, like it had been the logo since the mid-eighties, but it was introduced circa 1998.

Legend has it that a design agency was hired to design a new logo. The first meeting they presented some mood boards to try and pin down the colours, typography and style of imagery that reflected the brand. One one of these mood boards was a piece of clipart of a smiling sun. "That's it!" cried the Capital executive who was being presented to, "this image is the one - it perfectly captures what Capital is about". And so a piece of clip art became the Capital logo.

I have no idea if this story is true - but, looking at the logo, it seems perfectly plausible.

It was the logo during Capital's absolute boom years, and a time when the staff and audience were immensely proud of the station - Chris Tarrant, Dr. Fox, Martin Collins, Neil Francis et. al. Since the station was performing so well, there was, I suppose, a certain reluctance to change anything.

The Sonic Smile

95.8 Capital FM, Sonic Smile Logo

The logo that killed the sunny day, was the sonic smile. Given the pride in the brand and the fear that changing it visually would endanger the station's popularity there's the continuity aspect - the sunny day's 'smile' element is retained. The marketing director at the time claimed that this shape also represented a 'sound wave' - personally, I find this a dubious claim. My first reaction upon seeing the logo was that it looked like a duck in profile.

The typography is brought up to date. What you need to remember is the backdrop of the pop music of the time and the visual ingredients that went with that (and this is a theme that we'll come to again). This logo was unvelied as Capital FM was playing Blue, Phats & Small, Macy Gray, Fatboy Slim, Sisqo & So Solid Crew. New DJs included Simon 'Schoolboy' Phillips (a credible R 'n' B DJ) and Ali B (hosting the "Dancemasters" show). The coolest music of the time was dance music and the station's core listeners were teenage girls. The typography reflects that time in pop music - it's not unlike the fonts you might have found on a nightclub flyer in the mid-nineties.

The Bling Logo

The sonic smile stayed in place for quite a while - probably past it's time of relevance. But as the station was undergoing major changes elsewhere - not least the efforts to replace Chris Tarrant with Johnny Vaughan in the Breakfast Show slot and to fill the gap left as Dr. Fox jumped ship.

The station's popularity and, as a consequence, its confidence plummeted. Countless changes were being introduced in an effort to stymie the loss of listeners and, when the changes didn't work, more changes were introduced. Any stability the station might have had was lost.

The station's parent company, The Capital Radio Group, had also merged with GWR to form GCap Media plc - which only meant yet more instability.

This new logo was part of another drastic change in the station, effectively a complete re-launch. Trails on air promised the listeners that "a new Capital is coming". An on air countdown began.

95.8 Capital FM, Bling Logo

To focus on the specifics of the logo - there's three elements to tackle here:

  1. the shift from "Capital FM" to "Capital Radio"
  2. the inclusion of "London" within the brand
  3. the overall look-and-feel.

First of all - the shift back to the station's original name "Capital Radio". This was *probably* initiated by GCap Media's Chief Executive, Ralph Bernard. He had come from GWR and was able to bring a fresh perspective. As the new Chief Executive he invited each and every member of staff to meet him face-to-face in small-scale meetings. In the meeting I was invited to attend one staff member, a man in his fifties posed the vague question about what changes might be "introduced to Capital Radio, I mean Capital FM". Ralph stopped him. "There's one of the problems right there," says Ralph, "people don't know what this station is called. I call it 'Capital Radio' people call it 'Capital Radio' why doesn't call itself 'Capital Radio'?"

The word 'London' was introduced in an attempt to become thought of as 'the city's radio station'. At the time it was seen as the station's USP - that it was of London and about London, in the same way that Timeout manages to be 'the London magazine'. Given that Capital's major competitors were Heart and Magic where music programming was presented as the reason to tune in, this was a tactical marketing move.

The look-and-feel of the radio was entirely powered by the new music programming policy. Extensive music testing was carried out with actual listeners. The results surprised the station. What the listeners said they wanted was a music policy much more fuelled by credible R'n'B and mainstream hip-hop. Although it was unexpected, the team seized this research like it was the missing piece of the jigsaw. The new voice of the station was provided by a black actor (Gary Beadle, most notable for his time on Eastenders), the new Capital was to be young, hip and with a taste for the new urban sounds of the city.

So that's what powered the logo - fashion, bling, and a sound that was "smooth and slick". In terms of other brands it borrows heavily from the shapes you might get in jewellry, in hair design and fashion logos like Calvin Klein or DKNY. It was designed to be the kind of logo that young, fashion-conscious kids wouldn't be ashamed to wear.

The River

So the re-launched Capital failed. The music the listeners SAID they wanted to hear wasn't actually what they wanted to hear. And the team behind the re-launch were replaced shortly after.

Capital had a new Programming Director, Australian Scott Muller. Understandably he brought new ideas and wanted to make his mark.

95.8 Capital FM, River Logo

The new logo returns to "95.8 Capital FM". I can only assume that somebody successfully argued that having a radio brand without a prominent frequency was utter lunacy. And that person would have a point. If we return to the two people in the meeting room calling that station "Capital Radio" they were two men in their fifties. If we go back even earlier you'll remember that the station's core audience was teenage girls. So maybe "Capital Radio" wasn't such a great idea...

The new logo uses an aerial view of the River Thames, so the desire to 'own London' was still there. This idea of using the river imagery was floated ('scuse the pun), and prototyped, during the previous branding exercise but it was rejected as being both clumsy, cliched and "too Eastenders". The TV ad that heralded this period in the Capital FM story featured an animated logo wherby the river crackled and fizzed with an electric-current-like energy. It's probably the animation that sold the Capital team on the logo - because people love shiny things.

The Swiss Roll

95.8 Capital FM, Swiss Roll Logo

GCap Media was bought by Global Radio in the summer of 2008. With new owners come a new perspective and a desire to make changes (a theme that should sound familiar by now ;).

The "London" word is re-introduced into the logo (albeit very small). The tagline "LONDON'S NUMBER 1 HIT MUSIC STATION" asserts a sense of confidence and pride that has been missing for most of the noughties.

Visually, the logo itself display three noteworthy elements: scale, color and case.

The logo has a 3D element - the perspective and low point-of-view suggesting both size and depth, which is no bad thing.

The colours used are that great British combination: red, white & blue. This fits with the Johnny Vaughan personality of a down-to-earth geezah! who wold happily sink a few pints with you down the pub. It's a combination which no doubt appeals to the stations considerable white van man audience.

The third thing is CASE. It's the first logo in a long time to use UPPERCASE glyphs, again conveying a sense of confidence and pride.

To Conclude

There's no conclusion really. That wasn't the point of writing this post. I only hoped to provide an insight into the design and business decisions that fuelled these branding changes, as well as taking a skip down memory lane.

I should hold my hands up and admit that I was involved in the creative process that produced "The Bling Logo" - but I suppose you guessed that from the amount of detail about that brand. I felt at the time that we were delivering what was being asked of us - delivering a design to a brief, but that the brief was utterly, utterly wrong. I learned two things during the process. Firstly, a business is more likely to stick with a logo that they paid a design agency £50k to produce than one they "got for free" from an in-house design team. And secondly, that when you get a group of people in a room, pay them £50 and ask them what they want... they'll tell you either what they think you want to hear or they'll say something that they think makes them look cooler than they are.

But in the end, this post has been about the Capital brand. Of which the logo is only a small part.

A logo cannot make or break a brand alone and too often do people confuse "brand" with "logo". I recently heard a story of an executive briefing a creative team to produce new imagery and citing Google as one of the logos that he admired. "So you'd be happy with a mutil-coloured logo using the Times New Roman font?". The inevitable response was in the negative. A logo is NOT a brand.

Good, successful, confident brands evolve. When a brand is a success, its ingredients become sacred and brand owners are super twitchy about changing anything lest it "damage their brand". When a brand is a failure brand, owners what to change everything "because it's not working".

Looking back, I think Capital failed to evolve and improve when it was on top. I think part of the problem was that people didn't really understand exactly why Capital FM was such a success when it was. At the time Radio 1 was undergoing great change, their entire DJ roster changed within a few years and the music policy was radically overhauled. They lost listeners. Capital benefitted by being constant when their great rival was in flux. In the latter part of the noughties stable brands, chiefly Heart & Magic, benefitted while Capital embarked on a series of revolutions.

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