Chapter23 Establishing the Sony Brand

Establishing the Sony Brand

The SONY logo displayed in neon lights in New
York's Times Square

The term Corporate Identity (CI) refers to both a company's characteristics and the image it conveys to the public. In the early years, when Sony was still relatively small and unknown, CI was a totally new concept in Japan. However, people at Sony realized the importance of CI early on and began to promote the Sony brand name worldwide.

In 1955, Ibuka and Morita registered SONY as an official trademark of Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo with the intention of establishing the name as a global brand. One month later, when Bulova Inc. of the US promised to order 100,000 transistor radios on the condition that they be sold under its own brand name, Morita refused, saying that his company would only allow its products to be sold under the Sony brand. When pressed, he asked Bulova, "How many people had heard of your company fifty years ago? My company is just starting out, but fifty years from now it will be just as famous as yours."

In 1958, Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo, which was gaining recognition for its Sony brand goods, changed its name to Sony Corporation. The name "Sony" is easy to pronounce and read in any language. Moreover, it has a short lively ring, which matched the spirit of freedom and open-mindedness which Ibuka emphasized in the company's Founding Prospectus. The name "Sony" was neither derived from anything connected with the electronics industry, nor from the names of the company's two founders. At the time it was introduced, the name was considered by many Japanese to be quite strange. The fact that it was introduced at all can be attributed to Ibuka and Morita's progressive philosophy.

After changing its name, Sony set about building its brand image. Morita firmly believed that brand image could be built from the ground up, and that a company had to work hard to develop it. For him, corporate image was like a product; it had to be carefully manufactured and marketed and he always kept this in mind when conducting business.

A Catchphrase with Impact

The evolution of the SONY logo
from 1955 to 1973.

From its introduction, the eye-catching SONY logo was revered within the company. The first version of the logo, which was enclosed in a square box, was registered as a trademark in 1955. Thereafter, the logo went through a succession of changes. In the 1960s, when Sony began to seriously develop its brand image overseas, the logo was displayed in neon in New York and Hong Kong, where it competed with famous and well-established foreign companies. In 1959, the catchphrase "Sony -- a worldwide brand born in Japan" was introduced to capitalize on the logo. This was followed by the slogan, "Research Makes the Difference."

One man who worked particularly hard on the development of the logo was Sony designer Yasuo Kuroki. In 1961, it was decided to place the new Sony logo on a neon sign in an upscale area of Hong Kong. Sony was the first Japanese company to put up such a sign there. But before this could happen, the logo needed to be modified to suit this method of display. So Kuroki who was then in the Publicity Department, was asked by Morita to come up with a design. The following year, Kuroki's logo was proudly displayed in advertisements for Sony's miniature televisions.

To develop an even more effective logo, a committee was formed within Norio Ohga's Design Division. By 1962, corporate identity (CI) rules and a design policy for the use of the Sony logo were established. After making numerous attempts to modify the logo, the company decided on the current version, which was introduced in 1973.

In order to mark the 35th anniversary of the company in 1981, there was a proposal within Sony to introduce a new logo. Although ideas were submitted from all over the world, Ibuka decided that none of the designs was better than the original one which had been in use since 1973. Consequently, the 1973 logo was kept, and it is still in use today.

In 1982, Sony created a catchphrase and an additional logo to enhance the company's overall CI. When Morita was shown the design for this "S mark" logo, he thought that when people saw it for the first time, they would wonder what it represented. He reasoned that a brief, catchy description would be needed to explain the "S mark." The phrase he came up with was, "It's a Sony!" This, he believed, would add impact to the advertisement. Thereafter, all Sony TV commercials ended with the "S mark," followed by a voice-over saying, "It's a Sony!" This unique combination of picture and sound quickly became recognized around the world as a unique Sony trait.

When launching such products as the Betamax VCR in 1975, the Walkman headphone stereo in 1979, and the 8mm camcorder series in the 80s, Sony sought to create new markets and lifestyles. Because such products often presented completely new concepts, they had to be advertised in ways that effectively explained what they were and how they should be used. Therefore, Sony advertising staff was involved in product planning so that product names, marketing slogans and advertising strategies were created in tandem with the products themselves. Sony's method has traditionally been to come up with one or two catchy words to introduce a new concept or product. A prime example of this is the name "Walkman," a Sony product name that has become synonymous with personal headphone stereos. Another example is "Passport-size," which was used to promote Sony's 8mm camcorder. This camera was small enough to fit into a travel bag and was marketed for use on holidays. Since the establishment of the Sony brand name, the company has tried to make its product names and catchphrases part of our everyday language.

Sony Design

The "Eleven" radio, with its
black and silver design

Sony always strives to manufacture products that fit the Sony brand image. These products are usually classified and marketed as the "World's First," "World's Smallest," "World's Biggest," or "World's Best" products. By the same token, Sony approaches the design of new products in a way that nobody else has done before, emphasizing originality and uniqueness. Good examples include the Walkman, Profeel and Handycam products.

One person who was always particularly concerned with product design was Ohga. He said, "If the design of the product isn't attractive, we can't put the Sony logo on it. An appealing design and ease of maintenance are the hallmarks of good industrial design."

In the 1960s, when Sony's transistor radio market share was decreasing, Morita asked Ohga, then general manager of the Tape Recorder Division, to take charge of product design. Ohga replied that he would only do it if he were also given responsibility for advertising. Morita agreed, and as a result the product design and advertising departments were combined to form the Design Division.

This new division was responsible for introducing two new colors, black and silver, to convey robustness and simplicity in a functionally appealing design. New product designs featured a combination of black plastic parts and silver-colored metal. The first product designed under Ohga's direction was the TFM-110 FM radio, popularly known as the "Eleven." The square design of this product shattered the commonly held belief that radios had to be oblong in shape. The combination of the shape and the black and silver color scheme resulted in such excellent sales that Sony's radio business was rejuvenated. "Eleven" became one of Sony's classic designs, which was used in successive products.

The "Citation" Trinitron TV, an
original design for a top quality

A simple and functional design was characteristic of Sony products in the 1970s. Approximately ten years after the launch of the first Trinitron TV, the color television market was maturing. Ohga, then deputy president of Sony Corporation, took it upon himself to develop a 13-inch color television with a unique design appealing to young people. This marked the birth of the "Citation" model. At the time, mainstream television design was centered on the "wood-grain" look, but the sleek and black "Citation," with its simple panel of buttons at the top, was a hit. Its success changed the course of television design.

The end of the 1970s saw the start of multiplex and satellite broadcasting, as well as the emergence of the PC and new multimedia products. Amid this wave of new technology, Sony searched for products that would carve out a new category in the television market. Morita suggested a monitor-type television that incorporated neither a tuner nor speakers. This prompted the Design Division to come up with the idea of a "naked" or "bare" television without a traditional wooden frame. Speakers, controls, and other ancillary parts would be supplied as separate components.

"The latest Trinitron. So
simple, it's naked." - The
catchphrase used to promote
the "Profeel" Trinitron

This new "monitor look" was introduced in 1980 with the "Profeel," or "professional feeling," color television. The new component-style design of the "Profeel" allowed it to be stacked one on top of another, and the novel design found both home and industrial applications. Other TV manufacturers followed this new design trend. But for Sony, it was really nothing new. This approach of dispensing with unnecessary features had originally been applied in the design of the Walkman.

Even after becoming Sony president in 1982, Ohga paid special attention to the design phase of product planning. He emphasized that products must be worthy of the SONY logo -- products that would make customers pleased with their purchases, products they would enjoy, and products that they would eventually replace with new Sony products. Ohga insisted that Sony products must have a certain, extra something that wins over customers. He was concerned that as Sony grew bigger and its product lineup became more diverse, it might drift away from its philosophy of consistently developing high quality, innovative products. On this issue, Ohga was quoted as saying, "A consistent product philosophy is the basis of Sony's brand image. With it Sony can expand and globalize, while still maintaining consistency in design over the long-term. From the customers' point of view, there is only one Sony."

The Number One Brand Image

Following registration of the Sony trademark and the company's rebirth as Sony Corporation, plans to internationalize, diversify operations, and widen brand recognition were successfully implemented. In particular, thanks to Morita's vision and resolution in developing international operations, Sony won widespread recognition and acclaim as a top international company. Thanks to his open and unique character, Morita was not viewed as just another company executive. Instead, he had become an internationally revered figure and "ambassador" for Japan. His charisma served to further boost Sony's image around the world.

As Sony diversified its operations beyond the field of electronics, the company became widely known for its groundbreaking spirit, which also contributed to its corporate image.

In a 1990 Landor Associates survey of Japanese, American, and European companies, Sony ranked first in terms of esteem and fourth in name recognition to win an overall ranking of second place. Ohga was particularly delighted with these results because they were proof of the commitment he had made to the company when he succeeded Iwama as president. Ohga's top priority was to enhance the Sony brand image which had been created by his three predecessors. Through the implementation of various revolutionary corporate strategies and systems, he strengthened both Sony's hardware and software businesses and succeeded in establishing Sony as a major international corporation.

In 1955, Morita had told Bulova that Sony would be famous around the world within 50 years. In fact, his prediction came true in only a fraction of that time. Today, the Sony company culture and philosophy are widely acclaimed by customers of all ages and in all parts of the world.