Branding Animal Style

How close is too close? Can a design or presentation remind you of another design without triggering a lawsuit? What’s ownable and what’s up for grabs? Who decides?

BURGER EXPRESS of Boise, Idaho opened their doors for their minimal menu burger joint just a few weeks ago and was immediately hit with a legal threat (view PDF) from IN-N-OUT for stealing their look.

IN-N-OUT Burger, based in California with over 250 locations in five states feels BURGER EXPRESS crossed the line with their similar menu, interior, exterior, signage and logo. The news broke in the Idaho Statesman and FOX news Idaho and since then it’s been spreading like frysauce. Apparently, the bad news has been great for business. But owner Larry Squillace has until August 5th 2011 to comply with IN-N-OUT’s demands or face a lawsuit.

The case has since been settled. – Get the latest UPDATE from the Idaho Statesman.

After reading a few of these stories, I couldn’t help but create a few new sculptural motifs for BURGER EXPRESS that I feel would be even better than IN-N-OUT’s ‘bent arrow’. See three of them below.

Now let’s be completely honest: Joints like BURGER EXPRESS and GRAB-N-GO are clearly imitating IN-N-OUT. They want customers to know exactly what style of food they’re getting just by looking at the sign. And they’re also hoping to hook hungry customers by capitalizing on IN-N-OUT’s perceived value.

When it comes to 'look and feel', McDonald's and IN-N-OUT have been imitating each other since the '50s. Both began using red and white in their branding and buildings but it's harder to determine which was first to incorporate a golden object in their signage. IN-N-OUT's famous yellow arrow debuted in 1957, around the same time the first Golden Arch sign appeared. Was the arrow a response to the arch? Was it the other way around? Neither company has sued the other as far as I can tell.

So, is it possible for a burger joint to appease IN-N-OUT’s lawyers with anything that includes a red box, san serif letters and a yellow shape? Or does IN-N-OUT own that combo in the fast food universe?

I sent my designs to the owner of BURGER EXPRESS to get his feedback. Meanwhile, please vote on your favorite red, white and yellow alternative or suggest an entirely new motif below. These new designs below keep the McFastfood colors but each employs a unique shape.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Scroll down for large images and explanations of each design and comparisons.

VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE or suggest a new motif.

Halo Arrow ‘Burger’



Branding commentary by Andrew E. Clark