What’s Your Type?

Christine Birkner​
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways
  • Your font choice should say something about your brand and help you connect with your target audience.

  • If you want a typeface that’s going to be in the marketplace for a long period of time, then choosing a typeface that’s well-rounded, contemporary and easy to read is really important.

  • Brands can use different fonts to differentiate their product lines, as well. Coca-Cola, for instance, uses different fonts for its Coca-Cola, Diet Coke and Coke Zero logos.

​Want to express your brand’s personality through design? Start by choosing the right font.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but your font choice can make quite the statement, too. “Your type is almost like the handwriting of your brand,” says Yego Moravia, design director at New York-based advertising agency Mother New York with clients including Target and Virgin Mobile. It’s an expression of your brand’s personality, whether it’s serious or sophisticated, playful or compassionate. Font styles are messaging cues, and serve as important branding elements in all advertising and marketing collateral. Here, experts offer some guidance on finding the right fit.

Typeface is the equivalent of a human voice, says Simon Lince, chief creative officer at New York-based Sterling Brands, a branding agency that focuses on design for clients such as Nike and Levi’s. “Think of it as a medium in the same way you’d think of imagery or sound—as a palate you can tap into to communicate all kinds of emotions.

If you’re happy speaking in a quiet, hushed tone, then choose a light, delicate, simple font. You also want to choose something that isn’t going to date quickly. If you want a typeface that’s going to be in the marketplace for a long period of time, then choosing a typeface that’s well-rounded, contemporary and easy to read is really important.”

The same slogan or phrase can convey two completely different meanings when displayed in two different fonts, says Alisa Wolfson, executive vice president and head of design at Chicago-based Leo Burnett Co. Inc., who has worked with clients including Crate and Barrel, Hallmark, Kellogg’s and Coca-Cola. “If there’s a T-shirt that says, ‘Pardon My French,’ and the typography is big and bold, there’s a tongue-in-cheek wink to it, but it’s in your face, so you know the wearer means business. If the same statement was written in a nice, beautiful script, it would have a totally different meaning. It would be a little more girly. It would be cute.”

Your font choice should say something about your brand and help you connect with your target audience, Wolfson adds. “Pick a font that best describes the DNA of your brand, and try a bunch of different fonts to test and see if you’re communicating that idea,” she says. “Figure out how you dial up or down emotion when people see the words. Think about what emotion comes out of the communication, and what the user should be thinking or feeling.”

The choice of font style for your message can be pretty straightforward, says Matthew Allen, a typeface illustrator and designer based in Ladera Ranch, Calif., whose clients include Ford, Crate and Barrel, Converse and Food and Wine magazine. To make a logo feel clean and modern, use a sans serif font, which lacks those small projecting features at the end of letter strokes. If you want an ad to feel more approachable, use a slab serif, a more block-like font, and if you want to give the ad a human touch, use a hand-drawn font or script, he suggests.

When Allen designed animated gifs for a Ford Fusion campaign targeting millennials, he used block script that was inspired by the typography used in Wes Anderson’s films, which are popular with consumers in their 20s and 30s. In illustrations for grocery chain Foodland Ontario’s winter recipe book, meanwhile, Allen created script typography that mimicked the look of hand-drawn menus on a chalkboard. “For Ford, I wanted to give it motion and movement, and a more playful feel. Foodland Ontario wanted a script [font], which seems more approachable. Scripts are trendy right now, and when they’re hand-done, they have a little bit of sophistication,” he says.

Brands can use different fonts to differentiate their product lines, as well. Coca-Cola, for instance, uses different fonts for its Coca-Cola, Diet Coke and Coke Zero logos, Moravia says. “It’s different expressions of the same brand, and it says something different about each one.”

And while Gap uses a tall, condensed serif font for its logo, the text for its marketing materials is in Helvetica, a simple, easy-to-read font, Wolfson says. “Although their logo is really classical and elegant, their marketing materials are friendly and feel like everyman. Helvetica is a super democratic font, and very modernist. They’ve managed to feel populist in their brand even though their logo is really elegant.”

When you’re focused on fine-tuning your marketing message and building a brand that connects with your target audience, you might think that you have bigger fish to fry than to fret over font choices, but keep in mind that font styles can carry just as much weight as visuals and word choices when conveying a message, Allen says. “You can have the right message and the right image but the wrong font, and you can mess up the whole ad. It takes everything working together to have the most effective marketing piece.”

It can be an easy step in your design process, and your selection might seem self-evident, but be sure to give it the attention that it deserves, Moravia says. “For every rule out there, I’ve seen companies break it, but generally, you’re not going to write in a super playful type for a John Hancock mutual fund spot. You’re not going to use Times New Roman for a Doritos ad. The rule is: Be true to the personality of your brand.”


This article was originally published in the July 2015 issue of Marketin​g News​​​

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Author Bio:

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Christine Birkner​
Christine Birkner is the senior staff writer for Marketing News and Marketing News Weekly. E-mail her at cbirkner@ama.org.
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