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US insurance group MetLife rebrands – and parts ways with Snoopy

MetLife

Founded in 1868, MetLife is one of the world’s largest insurance providers with 100 million customers in 50 countries.

For the past three decades, the brand has been synonymous with Charles M. Schultz’s Peanuts characters: cartoon dog Snoopy has appeared on branded blimps, marketing campaigns and even employee business cards. Today, however, it announced it would be ‘phasing out’ the Peanuts gang in favour of a more streamlined identity designed by consultancy Prophet.

The Metlife Snoopy Two blimp. Image: Matt Field
The MetLife Snoopy Two blimp. Image: Matt Field

The MetLife logo has also adorned the 200 Park Avenue building in New York since 1992 – previously known as the PanAm Building.

A new brand mark features a pair of overlapping Ms: one in MetLife’s trademark blue and another in a bright shade of green. Prophet says the symbol represents the idea of a lifelong partnership between MetLife and its customers – an idea also reflected in its new strapline, Navigating life together.

In addition to the logo, Prophet has created a design system for MetLife’s internal creative teams and external agencies. The system includes new typefaces (Circular and Utopia), a suite of icons, a motion graphics toolkit for digital communications and guidelines on using photography and illustration.

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Speaking about the decision to drop Snoopy and co from its branding, MetLife CMO Esther Lee says: “We brought in Snoopy over 30 years ago to make our company more friendly and approachable, at a time when insurance companies are cold and distant…. However, as we focus on our future, it’s important that we associate our brand directly with the work we do and the partnership we have with our customers.”

Howard Pyle, SVP of customer experience and design, told CR that the rebrand forms part of a wider initiative to simplify MetLife’s offering and create a more streamlined customer experience. The company says it is making ‘substantial changes’ to every aspect of the customer experience – from the sales process to the way people browse products on its website to the service they receive when they contact call centres – ‘to ensure a more focused, simplified interaction’.

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“The insurance industry is one that is known for its complexity – for having a wide range of products that people have a hard time understanding,” says Pyle. “Becoming a much more focused company is one of the key strategic initiatives that we’ve prioritised in the past few years.”

This desire to create a simpler customer experience is driven in part by the success of companies like Uber and Airbnb, admits Pyle. Digital startups and smaller brands are finding success by putting customer experience and design at the heart of their business – something that larger and less agile corporations are struggling to do. In the banking sector, for example, digital brands like Monzo, Atom and Starlight are rivaling traditional high street banks with simpler offerings and a more efficient, transparent service.

“Simplicity is, I think, the mandate of most modern corporations,” says Pyle. “We’re going to be 150 years old in two years, and I think like many large companies, we’re faced with the problem of having lots of different departments in different markets with different agendas all engaging with customers…. The reason smaller companies are able to run rings around larger ones [when it comes to design and innovation] is because they have smaller teams. If you’re smaller, you can implement the product, the sales, the marketing but at a larger company, it’s much more difficult,” he adds.

The new identity isn’t a radical departure from the old – MetLife has retained its bold sans word mark and the bright shade of blue that is central to its branding.

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“We weren’t going to move away from the past and turn the company bright pink,” says Craig Stout, creative director at Prophet in New York. “Blue has a universal meaning of trust and stability and that’s still core to what MetLife does, so we didn’t want to move away from that.” Instead, Prophet looked to ‘breathe new life’ into MetLife’s branding with the colour green, a shade associated with energy and vitality.

With the word mark, Stout says the aim was to create a memorable icon that tells a story – in this case, the idea of MetLife being a trusted partner with whom its customers can navigate life’s challenges.

“We looked at thousand of different ways of reflecting the idea of partnership, but this one was the most clear and resonant and capable of standing the test of time.”

The new system also aims to declutter and humanise MetLife’s branding – Stout says it places more emphasis on photography and telling human stories, reflecting the idea that MetLife is sympathetic to people and their needs.

The system has so far been used to create a new MetLife website and a series of print ads, which will appear in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times from October 21. A new TV ad will air in the US in December and marketing campaigns will also run in Mexico, Korea and Japan.

The design system is still a work in progress: Pyle describes it as an open-source one that will evolve and grow over time to suit different markets and products.

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“The idea is that it offers a strategy and a hierarchy to the way you would do visual storytelling – you can create assets that work for those cases when you want to tell more human stories, so you’re going to use more photography, or when it’s a much more complex or technical idea, so we might use illustration,” he says. “The idea is that you can walk people through it who aren’t designers, using the logic of, ‘if you’re going to tell this story for these audiences, then the design might end up looking something like that.”

Prophet has created a number of initial executions, including the print ads launching this week, but internal teams are also working on a range of applications, says Pyle. Applications will be tightly controlled in the early stages of the rollout but teams will eventually be given more freedom to produce their own communications.

“I think what we have to do initially is go out of the gate with very tight governance and more control than we would like to have in the future,” says Pyle.

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“We’ve got designers internally that are working on executions of this system based on their experience of working for MetLife for many years, so are testing it through applications and potential uses, and Craig and the team at Prophet can look at [those executions] and say, ‘should this become part of the system, part of the core language?” he explains.

Before the rebrand, Pyle says design teams had few guidelines beyond the logo, the brand colour and core elements such as Snoopy. The introduction of the system represents a major shift in the business.

“We’re not just talking about [introducing] a new logo but an entire design system and tone of voice,” he adds. “We’re just starting the planning of what that might look like and how it might work. The initial rollout will be in marketing and over the next couple of years, we’ll be really making sure that this is used in the right way, down to every possible piece of communication, but there’s a lot of logistics involved in those changeovers – we send out millions of pieces of mail in the US every year, so we have existing printing facilities and inventories of card stock … we haven’t even gone down that road yet,” he says.

Announcing the launch, MetLife chairman Steven A Kandarian says the rebrand signaled the company’s shift “away from a traditional product-development model to one driven by customer insights.” Pyle sees design and customer experience as key to achieving this shift – “My philosophy is that your relationship with a brand is the sum of all your interactions with it,” he says. “We want to redesign the customer experience and visual design is an important part of that.”

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