An award-winning branding expert has committed to creating a brand for the “blue economy,” the multi-billion-dollar industry that relies on Earth’s ocean waters for its livelihood.
It is perhaps one of the most recognizable logos of all time. The question is, can a graphic design — like the ubiquitous symbol for recycling — be created to raise awareness of the “blue economy”?
Fred Terral, president and CEO of Brand Architecture Inc., believes it’s possible and is now applying his expertise to developing a brand identity for an economy that some maritime experts and policymakers have trouble embracing — let alone defining.
It couldn’t come too soon, given how essential maritime-related industries are to the planet’s inhabitants, said Harlan Doliner, president of the Marine Oceanographic Technology Network (MOTN), a nonprofit organization that promotes marine-technology manufacturing and services in New England.
Since Earth Day began in the 1970s, the environmental community has shined a spotlight on the hazards of pollution, motivating citizens to demand better care of the planet they call home. The “green” movement has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar environmental industry, Doliner said during a panel discussion at the MTS/IEEE Oceans ’15 Conference near Washington, D.C.
“What could we accomplish if we defined the blue economy?” he asked.
Founded in 1999, Brand Architecture is a boutique creative agency operating in Orlando, Florida, and Boulder, Colorado. Terral’s firm recently redesigned the logo for the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“Everyone, in one way or another, is affected by the oceans,” Terral said, alluding to the fact that the oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface. They playan integral role in climate and weather. In the U.S. alone, ocean waters, harbors, ports, and coastal zones create one in every six jobs, producing one-third of the nation’s gross national product, according to NOAA.
“We need all eyes on the ocean and we need one voice,” Terral said. “But when we mention the terms blue economy, blue technology, blue voice, no one knows what we’re talking about. It will take a paradigm shift on how we sell the ocean brand.”
Terral’s own awareness of the maritime economy came just a few years ago when he met Michael Jones, president of The Maritime Alliance (TMA), a nonprofit that promotes ocean-related business and technology development in the San Diego, California, area. Jones hired Brand Architecture to create a new visual identity for the association as well as a series of posters promoting the ocean-technology industry and Ocean STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) to students considering future career paths.
Though Terral understood the virtue of conservation, sustainable development, and other environmental initiatives that have gained momentum since the first Earth Day in 1970, his knowledge of the ocean, its fragility, and influence on literally millions of people worldwide remained elusive. He acknowledges he was unaware of its impact and importance.
“Michael opened my eyes,” Terral said.
To create a strategy for making students cognizant of marine-related jobs and opportunities, Terral and his team of designers immersed themselves in all things ocean. Inspired by photos of underwater sea life, the company employed a minimalist design and vivid colors to depict mysterious sea creatures and technology. Brand Architecture titled the posters “Explore, Journey, and Strange.” The firm also developed a unique Internet address to track visitors, who, after seeing the posters, became motivated to learn more.
Brand Architecture furthered its expertise in the maritime sector by rebranding NOAA’s IOOS, a national partnership of data observation and collection organizations. That logo was unveiled to the public during the MTS/IEEE Oceans ’15 Conference near Washington, D.C., in October.
What Terral and his company discovered while working on these projects was that the industry had no clear iconography, unified language, or universal-branding strategy. Dominated in large part by technical people with no experience in or understanding of design and its potential to move people to action, the blue world relied on charts, PowerPoint presentations, and numbers, he said. Many of those who had a vested interest in selling the ocean story had no compelling story to tell, no authentic message that connected with people and motivated them to learn more about the ocean’s bounty.
The Curious Citizen
In doing his research, thanks in large part to Jones and IOOS Director Zdenka Willis and her team, Terral learned about many issues affecting the ocean and the economy it served. One that particularly resonated with him was the problem of ocean debris — the estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic trash that reaches the ocean through direct and indirect means each year.
These non-biodegradable plastics are unsightly and pose serious threats to marine life and people who make a living from fishing. To a sea turtle, for example, a floating plastic bag looks like a jellyfish. Plastic pellets — the small hard pieces of plastic from which plastic products are made — look like fish eggs to seabirds. Drifting nets entangle birds, fish, and mammals, making it difficult or impossible for them move or eat.
Terral changed his personal purchasing habits, eschewing plastic bags, and urged his friends to do likewise. What he became, he said, was a “born-again person,” a “curious citizen,” and ultimately an “ocean advocate” who conscientiously considered the ocean when going about business and his everyday life.
“We need more ocean advocates and it starts with the curious citizen,” Terral said. “We don’t need to scare people. That strategy doesn’t work. It ends up making people feel helpless, like they can’t do anything to change a situation.” But by telling his friends and associates about the plight of sea life due to the proliferation of ocean trash — in other words, telling them a story — he says he changed the purchasing habits of his family and friends.
“We need to recruit influencers across all sectors,” Terral continued. “If we want to talk about the blue economy, ocean awareness, a blue voice, there needs to be a central platform, a central voice. We need to recruit curious consumers like me. The way we’re currently communicating to the general population is not effective. There is no retention. We need to pull people in, not push them away. Is it effective to simply say ‘the icebergs are melting’?”
He thinks not.
New Vocabulary Needed
Building awareness also needs to include the adoption of a common language, Terral said. “Terms such as blue economy can gain as much traction and recognition as the green economy. Once such terms are consistently adopted, they will become immersed in the ocean-brand vocabulary. This vocabulary will serve as the foundation for a growing and unified blue voice, which will need to be visually expressed in a compelling and alluring way. A smart rollout and execution of this ocean brand will result in greater attention and retention from the general population and those curious citizens we wish to reach.”
Though he isn’t quite ready to reveal a strategy or visual identity for the multifaceted blue economy, Terral said he is committed to giving the ocean brand a voice as powerful as that of the green movement. In fact, the challenge has given his work new meaning.
“We have to simplify the message and sell the emotional benefits. It’s not easy. But I do have a unique perspective. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t.”
Lori J. Keesey is a freelance writer who specializes in new technology development. She can be reached at Lori.J.Keesey@nasa.gov