THE BLOG

Branding Power Wu Tang Style

12/15/2010 03:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

See my little brother-in-law lives in Mongolia, so early in the mornings, we often Skype over there and talk to the extended family. He is 14 years old, starting to date, and, like most young folks in the world, is a Hip Hop fanatic.

I was wearing my thermal bottoms and a black Wu-Tang shirt, cradling a cup of coffee in my hand, and not really ready for what I saw next. What I saw was this little kid throwing up a Wu "W" back at me over through the grainy video.

Now I starting listening to the Wu back in '93, before this dude was even born. How was he throwing up that "W"? Then it hit me -- The power of a brand and the right logo would extend across the planet and live forever, which of course, The Wu have no doubt enjoyed themselves.

It got me to thinking about how powerful a brand image can be and how much thinking should go into such things, especially now that there are so many DIY (Do It Yourself) people out there trying to get the word out about their art.

If you read RZA's book, The WU-Tang Manual, he talks in great detail about how Mathematics (the designer who created the logo) went over several iterations of the piece before it came to being. They went over and over again, thinking about what it was supposed to convey and how they wanted people to react.

In the end, they came up with what is perhaps one of the most recognizable logos in the second half of this century.

So what goes into making an image that represents you and your work? For me, I was lucky enough to have a publisher willing to work with me on my cover for the book The Last Block in Harlem . I went into the ring and didn't come out until I was not only happy with the image on the book, the font -- everything, but pleased with the message it was going to convey.

I had to fight, because the wrong image can distort the message you are putting out there. In fact, if it's not right, people are going to turn away. Book covers are like logos because when people roll with your book in their hands, they are showing the world what they are reading. They want you to look at them an associate them with what they're holding.

This blending of marketing and art is such a delicate tightrope to sway on because what you don't want is one to dominate the other. During the day, I write copy for a New York Ad agency and I see art folks and account people going at it full throttle -- one wanting the most creative piece to go through, the other wanting the message of the brand to come through.

I've seen people nearly get tossed out a window and often people just getting tossed (however you want to the think of the word tossed is right in this sense). Recently I went out on a limb and created what I thought would be a sick video that would go viral and get the brand we were representing out there.

Got a call to go into the head Creative Director's office and nearly got my head chopped off for going "off brand." When I asked whether or not he liked what he saw, the man told me that wasn't the point. Everything you do represents the brand, and if you represent it wrong, you could cost it millions.

Now, I left pissed off and still think the video was amazing, but the point was, logos are not about art - Not only about art I should say.

I wonder if Mathematics and The RZA had these battles over a logo that would some day defy the barriers of language and seep into the minds of people around the world. Now I'm thinking I should go and talk some Wu Tang with my Creative Director.

Thing is, a logo is more than just selling yourself or representing yourself. People want to be associated with your brand - wearing it is like badge of honor and a reflection of beliefs and culture.

Has the Timberland Tree, the Nike Swoosh, the Rocawear R, or the NY Yankee NY, replaced the old school crests that-well to-do families would wear on their blazers to country clubs and signify what was what? Perhaps the advent of advertising and branding has given the masses crests of their own to choose from, rather than to have assigned to them since birth.

Wu Tang to Mongolia - believe it.