Absa Group chairman Wendy Lucas-Bull addresses the audience at Absa’s rebranding at the JSE on July 11. Picture: SUPPLIED
Absa Group chairman Wendy Lucas-Bull addresses the audience at Absa’s rebranding at the JSE on July 11. Picture: SUPPLIED

At a time when there is an increased call for local brands to speak to local consumers in a cultural language to which they can relate, Absa has embarked on a huge rebrand to mark its move away from Barclays Plc and establish itself as an independent African organisation, with global scalability.

Barclays’ exit provided the Absa Group with the ideal opportunity to rebuild and rebrand from an African perspective. Its new strategy – encompassed in a new business purpose, “Bringing your possibility to life” – aims to align with its home-grown origins.

The bank revealed its new corporate identity in an African first, via a live Intel drone light show in the Johannesburg skyline.

Absa group marketing head David Wingfield says this refreshed expression of the brand represents Absa as an “entrepreneurial, digitally led bank with a deep knowledge of African markets and global scalability”.

The bank’s African identity is best expressed by the expression “africanicity”, a bespoke term created especially for Absa which describes, according to Wingfield, the way Africans are able to find ways to get things done. 

At first glance it’s hard to see the “africanicity” in the bank’s new logo, created in consultation with OgilvyRED (New York), Grid Worldwide and Yellowwood and the new logo has received less than positive reviews on social media. “It’s crap and an abomination,” says Zwelakhe Tshabangu,  founder and executive creative director of The Make Beautiful Agency. “Of all the South African banks Absa is arguably the most African, and yet there is nothing African at all about this logo. If this is as high as our creative standards in this country go then we’re really in trouble as an industry,” he says.

The big take out

As Barclays Plc lets go of its ownership in Absa, the Absa Group has taken the opportunity to forge a brand new African identity and re-establish itself as a standalone bank in a digital world.

“This is what happens when you try to create a new logo by committee,” says an equally unimpressed Phumi Mashigo, MD of Ignitive and this year’s AdFocus chair.

Absa has defended its new logo, arguing that the simplified “button-like” look aligns well with other brands that are gaining traction in the digital space.

And perhaps it has a point. Graphic designer and creative consultant Neo Rakgajane says while he sees the bank’s new logo as a missed opportunity from a design point of view, the new logo’s very blandness and its inability to offend anyone – with the possible exception of Openserve or SAB – may have been the point all along. “Banks by their very nature tend to be quite bland and in all likelihood this logo probably had to satisfy numerous different stakeholders,” he says.

Rakgajane predicts that, despite the less-than-enthusiastic comments about the logo, within the next two years it will have been plastered throughout Africa and will be indelibly imprinted on consumers’ minds as an African brand.

The refresh itself, according to the bank, will be a complex and lengthy process that will only be completed in 2019 and will be carried through to nine African markets over a two-year period where Barclays-branded banks will become Absa banks. All other collateral, from ATMs to documentation, digital platforms, branches and uniforms will be rebranded by mid-2020. So Rakgajane’s prediction could well be accurate from a timing point of view.