I am a huge fan of logos and brands that have hidden meanings or inspirations in them. One such example is The North Face logo. This is a well-known North American brand that was founded in 1966 in the San Francisco area. Douglas Thompkins and his then-wife, Susie created the business that focused primarily on outdoor products. The company was purchased by Ken “Hap’ Klopp two years later.
Photo: Suki Hill
Specifically designed for active lifestyles, the original target demographic was mountaineers, climbers, skiers, snowboarders and all kinds of athletes. Although that still accounts for the majority of their business, the durable and contemporary styling of their products has also attracted many others who would fall outside of the active-lifestyle category.
The North Face manufactures outerwear, footwear, tents, backpacks and sleeping bags. The addition of camping gear did not occur until the 1980s and has proven to be a wise extension of the primary product line. You may even own one of their insulated jackets – a product that The North Face has become best known for.
What I find even more fascinating about The North Face – aside from the fact that I am an active sportsman – is the story behind their simple, yet dynamic logo.
Typically that is the case when someone is trying to develop a brand. The general idea is to use an idea, concept or inspiration that comes from wherever it comes from. Names, places, events and personal experiences all become great sources of that inspiration. Sometimes a great branding concept results from an accidental circumstance. All they really need to have in the beginning is something about them that can become marketable.
This is one of the reasons why I truly admire the branding behind The North Face logo. It all fits together and makes sense for a company that makes clothing and accessories for outdoor enthusiast.
The North Face name also has an interesting story behind it. The name is in fact a reference to the north face of any mountain in the northern hemisphere. Outdoorsy types, climbers in particular, will know that the coldest, the iciest and most difficult route of a mountain to climb is typically the north face of it. So, with this in mind, the product name hints at durability, perseverance, challenges and more.
The logo itself also gives a nod to the outdoors. The quarter-circle containing two lines inside of it is symbolic. It is actually paying homage to the famous granite “Half Dome” in Yosemite National Park in the United States. The logo was created in 1971 by California graphic designer David Alcorn.
Even the colour choice for The North Face logo has meaning. The red is symbolic of passion, courage and combines with the black, which denotes supremacy, elegance and dominance, to create an iconic brand. The North Face logo is so iconic that it happens to hold an unusual distinction. It is one of the most copied (counterfeited) brands in the entire world.
So what exactly makes this such a strong logo?
Well, first off, it is simple. I have stated many times over that sometimes the most powerful logos or branding are those that are not complicated. A logo that has an easy to understand design and simple, memorable word marks are the ones that stand out and have a long shelf life.
When you examine the font choice, it becomes clear that the intention of the designer was to leave an impact, give you something bold to burn the words “The North Face” into your mind. The font used is Helvetica Bold. It is a commonly used typeface simply because it is not fancy nor is it weak in visual appearance. Helvetica Bold hits you in the face and loudly.
Another way in which The North Face has continued to solidify its relationship with sports and athletes is by the events it sponsors. In fact, the company is well-known for the support it has given to professional athletes in skiing, snowboarding, climbing and running. This kind of sponsorship activity keeps The North Face connected to the sporting community that is full of people who fall into the marketing demographic of the product line.
It is from these connections that The North Face continues to remain popular and in many cases, relevant. This is another part of the marketing puzzle that I feel this brand has excelled at. They keep being relevant by targeting promotional activities at the centre of their core audience. As an example, The North Face has sponsored athletes – as I’ve already mentioned. What has really benefitted the company from this corporate activity are the athletes they have been associated with.
One outstanding sponsored athlete is Lizzy Hawker. She is proof of how success can come to a product when the sponsorship is with a successful partner. Hawker has won the Ultra Trail Tour du Mont Blanc three times (2005, 2008 and 2010).
It is one thing to sponsor an athlete or sporting event but quite another when that athlete or event becomes a winner. The brand awareness that The North Face has gained with their association
with sporting sponsorships can truly be a teaching tool for other companies and brands seeking a way to solidify an audience share. I’m not criticizing here, in fact, I’m actually applauding the efforts which have clearly paid huge dividends on both sides.
What all of this means is that it proves the point I was making at the beginning of this article – there are often a lot more interesting details behind a brand or logo than meets the eye. The North Face is a prime example of multiple levels of marketing that has not let up. They continue to sponsor athletes and they continue to market their quality brand of clothing and camping gear.
Somewhere along the way, success arrived and much of it can be credited to the hidden details behind that formidable side of the mountain each of us must climb at one point in our lives.