October 14, 2015 James Hanington

Press: Identity Rx: Kind—Applied Arts Magazine

(Originally published October, 14 2015)


Back in February, we checked in with Ottawa communications agency Stiff about its new Brand Zero contest, which annually awards a charity with $100,000 in branding services. The inaugural winner was PTS, a local centre advocating gender diversity and Canada’s oldest registered LGBTQ charity. (For more of the background on the contest and some of the marketing challenges Stiff anticipated as they worked with the winner, click here).

Recently, Stiff revealed the new identity and strategy for the former PTS, now called Kind. It was the result of months of planning that started with a full weekend workshop involving 50 members of PTS.

“We went into this with a completely open spirit, understanding that the first thing we needed to do was not make any assumptions as we guided the group to come up with a strategy behind the brand,” says James Hanington, Stiff CEO. “We talked about language, about attitude, about acceptance.”

One of the immediate motions on the table was a name change. PTS, formerly Pink Triangle Services, was derived from a reclaimed and re-appropriated symbol that had once identified gay men in World War II. But as the centre welcomed people from all sexual orientations across the entire gender spectrum, the idea of the pink triangle was outdated and exclusive to most.

The former identity


The new identity


“We learned that there are tensions from different groups and communities. When there is a space that opens itself to people of all types, there’s a natural friction that happens,” explains Hanington. “But the great leveler of humanity is that we are all individuals.”

The Stiff team conducted a branding exercise during the workshop, creating a Love/Hate wall where people could write expressions, words and phrases they felt were inclusive or alienating.

“A word like ‘fag’ — some people felt it was empowering, and for others, it was a word of abuse. It was the same with the word ‘queer,’ which PTS had adopted as a catchall term. It was offensive to some and not others,” says Hanington. “Through the exercise, we realized we had to come up with a brand that was not about helping people ‘identify,’ but that was actually a notion they could all agree on.”

The Love/Hate wall

The exercise led them toward the eventual new name for the centre. “We came up with the idea of different ‘kinds’ — my kind, your kind, womenkind, mankind, any kind. It’s an attitude that everyone can share,” he says.

“It was just too much of an important notion not to have as their brand name,” he continues. “Now, you’ll walk into the place and have this breath of calm, because above all, everyone is kind.”

Another challenge was demonstrating just how much reach Kind could have across the country. “They saw themselves as a small association. But the way we looked at it — our job will be complete if we rebrand so they are leading the national conversation about gender identity,” Hanington says.

Creating a consistent brand mark that could be used throughout all centre materials and at events will help the charity start to solidify itself as a national resource for gender diversity issues. One of Hanington’s colleagues mentioned the concept of snow. “If you look at a snowflake up close, no two in the world are the same. They’re all stunning, intricate, delicate, beautiful — but no two are the same. If you step back from them, they’re all still snowflakes. Then you step back again, and they are all just snow,” Hanington says. “We’re all humans when you step a couple paces back.”

The logo mark serves as both a stylized snowflake and an asterisk — a placeholder of sorts. “The idea of the asterisk is that there is always more to the story. It’s a footnote,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter if you are straight, gay, gender fluid. Above all, there is kindness.”

The new identity was well received when it launched earlier this year at an Ottawa event called Glitterbomb, a fundraiser for Kind featuring contemporary performance art. “The reception was wild. People loved it. There were many tears,” Hanington says. “All we’re doing is understanding what a brand does, then shining a mirror on it. This brand gives a message of kindness to someone who has faced a lot of adversity and a lot of pain […] it’s very rewarding for us as an agency.”

Stiff plans to continue its relationship with Kind, helping with public relations, advertising and social media. The next Brand Zero contest will launch over the next few months. “There are so many small, invisible associations who are doing this fantastic, important global work,” Hanington says. “They just don’t know that they have the power to brand themselves in this way.”

Kind’s new website

Watch the Kind rebrand video here: