Philips, Innovation and Me

Since yesterday Dutch electronics company Philips has a new logo. It is a redesign of the shield that was introduced in 1938 – in the past decade or so the company only used the word ‘Philips’ without any visual decoration. When the shield was conceived it was to communicate Philips’ innovative core business; the stars stood for Philips’ lighting – its very first product group – the waves for radio transmissions – “the first major communication platform” – and the circle for the world and the people who’s lives Philips touched. That’s a pretty good story to incorporate in your logo, so I fully understand that they’ve taken the dust off the old shield and redesigned it into a more modern logo. Quite handsomely done, I have to say.

Together with the redesign, Philips has also adopted a new pay-off: “Innovation and You.” This new pay-off is also consistent with the past because it means Philips still operates where innovation and people intersect. This is an attractive place to be, since it made Apple, another (consumer) electronics company, the most valuable company on the planet. There is an important difference though; Apple actually didcombine technology with an intuitive consumer experience. The reason is Steve Jobs; this historical leader made sure that every single department (such as research, design, production, and marketing) worked very closely together. Apple’s creative process was concurrent, rather than sequential – which is the only way you can make products as smooth as Apple’s.

For Philips making smooth products has always proved difficult. Not just because in the recent history it has never had a Steve Jobs who was able to make every department equally important, but also because its divisions (today Lighting, Personal Lifestyle, and Healthcare) – in the best case – merely overlap. Philips’ different divisions have never naturally converged into a single-minded vision; a million dollar MRI scanner is clearly not the same as a toaster. What’s more, the company has never been able to choose between B2B and B2C, so that it always needs to safely position itself in between serious and sexy. And marketing is all about daring to make choices – as we all know.

On a positive note, the pay-off is much better than “Sense & Simplicity,” since simplicity is clearly something Philips has not been able to incorporate in its brand. I have a Philips TV (with a remote control that I still don’t understand beyond the numbers that indicate the channels), a landline-telephone (that is utterly incomprehensible), and I once bought a lamp that looked quite nice, but had an essential technical flaw so that the bulb didn’t fit properly in its holder – I had to return it. These products are everything but simple.

So, I’ll be definitely looking forward to a Philips that actually improves my life. Whether it will be able to, or whether this new pay-off is yet another case of hollow marketing lingo remains to be seen. But Philips’ powerful ‘new’ shield conveys a hopeful signal.