3 Timeless Branding Lessons from the Red Phone Box

Branding — By

Editor’s note: welcome to another episode  of “The London Chronicles.” Online PR and branding strategist Marc Harty, with the United Kingdom as his story backdrop, reveals proven methods for Online PR, publicity, marketing and branding, as you’ve never seen them before…

Question: would you consider your marketing a success if it became a historical landmark?

Answer? Heck yes!

This episode of “The London Chronicles” focuses on an enduring and iconic brand: the red phone box. And more importantly, the three key publicity and branding lessons we can apply to our businesses right away.

It’s easy to think of a phone booth as something generic and utilitarian. That certainly has been the approach in the US. (With the exception of Clark Kent using one to change into Superman!)

And while technology and cell phones have made the phone booth nearly extinct, the red phone boxes remain, often taking on new life in many diverse and exciting ways.

Why? It’s a testament to the power of an iconic and expansive brand.

First, a little background: The red telephone box, a public telephone kiosk designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1924 is a familiar sight on the streets of the United Kingdom, Malta, Bermuda and Gibraltar.

While the original started in Britain, red phone booths have also been spotted in Australia, New Zealand, Norway, and Israel and in several states in the U.S.

According to the archives of British Telecom, in 1980 there were an estimated 80,000 red phone boxes throughout the United Kingdom.

Clearly, the red phone box as a “power brand” has stood the test of time, something of a rarity today. So what can we learn from its success? Here are three “take it to the bank” takeaways…

Lesson #1: A superior brand builds an emotional connection

The red phone box was born of functional roots. Not only was it a phone booth, many boxes also dispensed stamps. And yet even as the use of phone booths waned, the red phone box has become a beloved part of both the culture and the landscape.

As such, when threatened with demolition, the populace rallied, sought and won many phone boxes being declared historical landmarks.

Conversely, if the red phone box were seen as representing a faceless telecom company, no such emotional connection would have been possible and the red phone boxes would have ended up in the trash heap years ago.


Lesson #2: A superior brand can overcome perceived (and real) obsolescence

Does anyone use a phone booth anymore? Especially since mobile phones are so common? So why are the red phone boxes still here? Here’s one reason why: because the brand was more powerful and enduring than the original function and purpose of the actual box to begin with.

The red box is seen as part of the cultural landscape. So while some boxes have been declared historical landmarks, others have evolved into Internet kiosks and one into a book exchange/mini-library.

In essence, the brand, representative of the red color, shape and crown, was deemed more valuable than the function it was originally intended for.



Lesson #3: A Superior brand can bridge geographical and cultural barriers

The countries and locales mentioned earlier in this article had a choice with their phone booths and boxes. They could have designed and painted them differently.

Yet, they choose the iconic red box. In so doing, the red phone box design bridged different languages, cultures and environments.

In fact, telephone kiosks are manufactured as flat-packs by commercial vendors and are shipped around the world for installation in such places as bars, restaurants and offices.

Obviously, these uses are not as functioning phone boxes and yet fully representative of the brand, its mystique and remarkable staying power.


What does this have to do with Online Publicity?

Plenty. Especially if your product, service or company could benefit from accelerated visibility. Online PR and publicity is one of the most effective and credible methods to gain mindshare and visibility of your brand. And more.

And like the red phone box, online PR and publicity can overcome geographical and cultural barriers, as well as help successfully define and differentiate your brand and positioning.

Again, what made the red phone box such a success was transforming the generic and common and tranforming it into a brand with personality. (Red is a color of action and attention –look no further than stop signs as to a reason why.)

Which is all the more reason to have a real idea or story as the primary driver of your publicity rather than disposable announcements.

Here’s a thought…where’s your “red phone box” idea waiting to be discovered? An idea that will effectively differentiate your message and emotionally involve your audience? (After all, people buy on emotion and justify with logic.)

Like what you’ve seen so far? Give you an idea or two? If you like this, you’ll love my new web site. It shows exactly how to get lasting web site traffic and media exposure. It’s called Online PR Made Easy. Check it out now. I enjoy sharing these articles and videos and look for more very soon.

Enjoyed this article? Share your thoughts on the “red phone box” in your marketing.


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