Rebranding Kalashnikov: would you?

It’s been hailed as a design classic, and blamed for the deaths of millions. Now Kalashnikov and its parent company has announced a rebrand and an ambition to become as big as Apple. Would you help them?

It’s been hailed as a design classic, and blamed for the deaths of millions. Now Kalashnikov and its parent company has announced a rebrand and an ambition to become as big as Apple. Would you help them?

 

 

At a launch event in Moscow, the Rostec State Corporation announced a name change and rebrand for its collection of firearms brands which will henceforth be known as Kalashnikov Concern (which sounds like some kind of 80s art/rock outfit). The Siberia-based manufacturer has three strands – Baikal, which produces hunting weapons and equipment, Izhmash, which makes sporting weapons and the eponymous Kalashnikov, developer of the AK-47.

 

The group will now be represented by a red and black, double-K device (the colours being a reference to the flag of Udmurtia where the Concern’s main factories are located) while Kalashnikov itself has a logo incorporating the weapon’s trademark curved clip. The work was carried out by Moscow-based Apostol (which was reportedly paid $380,000) and ties in with a 4.5 billion ruble expansion plan, part of which is the aim to “expand military sales to more countries”.

 

 

A chilling press release states that “Eighty percent of all of Kalashnikov output is exported. One of Concern’s priorities is finding new and increasing its share of existing markets. This approach was used to pick 50 countries that have the most potential acquiring Kalashnikov military products. Concern already started new market penetration, mainly in the Asia-Pacific and African regions. The most promising markets for Kalashnikov are India and Egypt. Contracts with Thailand and Indonesia were signed recently, and Concern is in negotiations with South American countries.”

As Russia Today reports, “The firearms producer also has a new slogan, or rather two different slogans. In English, it’s “Protecting Peace,” but in Russian it translates as “Weapons of Peace” or “Weapons of the World,” depending on which meaning of the Russian word “mir” is used.”

At the launch, Rostec CEO Sergei Chemezov reportedly told RIA Novosti, “A brand is a considerable asset for any leading company, although we have a long way to go to Apple’s $100 billion brand. I hope Kalashnikov will become as recognised and valuable.”

In 2011, the Design Museum attracted widespread criticism when it acquired, alongside a Sony Walkman and copies of The Face, an AK-47 for its permanent collection. Whatever the horror it is responsible for, the reasoning was, this is a ‘well-designed’, incredibly successful product.

More than that, the Kalashnikov has also become a cultural symbol thanks to its associations with freedom fighters, national liberation and, yes, terrorist groups. It’s more than just a gun.

So how would readers feel if this brief came through your door? It’s a killing machine that has, arguably, brought freedom to millions. It (or at least those using it) has directly caused incalculable suffering and yet it could be argued to have played a greater role in protecting the vulnerable than any other product. The Telegraph reported the following statement from Kalashnikov Concern in relation to the rebrand: “The idea is that weapons should help keep the peace, uphold justice, dignity and the right to life. Weapons make a man [sic] courageous, alert and create high sense of responsibility. Weapons protect the weak from the strong.”

Would you take the job?

 

 

  • NO

  • jeffrey

    No, god knows what would happen to you if the solution was not to their liking…

  • Mark

    Definitely not. In my view weapons, if we have to have them should only be controlled by democratic, responsible governments (idealistic I know) and not treated as a commercial products that require branding. Having said that I do like that Kalashnikov logo!

  • My answer is ultimately no, but this isn’t without some hesitation. In terms of my personal ethics I wouldn’t be happy working on this project, however professionally this would be a truly fascinating project and a really stimulating challenge to undertake.

    If we ignore the subject matter for a moment, as a brand consultant this would be up there with the ‘best’ briefs going: completely redefine an entire brand from the top down, refine the brand architecture, produce a new corporate masterbrand and roll it out through the relevant touchpoints, and then redesign the identities of all sub-brands, and roll these out through all relevant touchpoints. A huge, challenging and expansive project.

    However, as soon as we consider the subject matter, this professional challenge pales into insignificance — if the project was a success and I’d ultimately helped them to ‘expand into new markets’ (which really means I’d be contributing to the killing of people) I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.

  • I would have loved to work on this project. In the end it’s really no different that rebranding a pharmaceutical company or a new prescription drug. Those companies play with the lives of people every day and yet we look at them as “good guys” and a company such as Kalashnikov as the “bad guys.” AK-47’s are used as peace-keeping weapons in the same way as a new drug is used to help save a life. Sure, the guns that are produced can be used to harm people but drugs can also be misused in ways that end up harmful.

    More to the weapon-specific issue, is it OK to rebrand Remington but not Kalashnikov? Should we not invest any design resources into our military operations and recruiting? Where do these imaginary boundaries lie? The weapons that are produced can be beautiful and artistic. I would proudly display an AK-47 on my wall as an art piece because it is an amazing piece of work. I’m not going to limit myself or my design choices based on what someone CAN do with a product. In the end, these companies aren’t in the business of killing people. They are in the business of creating firearms used for multiple purposes and that distinction cannot be overlooked.

  • Jonathan Turner

    Very nicely done branding but personally I wouldn’t touch it.

    Milton Glaser gave a great D&AD lecture several years ago titled The Road to Hell that has always stuck with me. He listed a series of questions and asked the audience how far they would be prepared to go on the list.

    Here is the series of questions that become more difficulty the deeper you go. The first couple are easy, would you—

    1. Design a package to look larger on the shelf?
    2. Do an ad for a slow-moving, boring film to make it seem like a lighthearted comedy?
    3. Design a crest for a new vineyard to suggest that it’s been in business for a long time?
    4. Design a jacket for a book whose sexual content you find personally repellent?
    5. Design an advertising campaign for a company with a history of known discrimination in minority hiring?
    6. Design a package for a cereal aimed at children, which has low nutritional value and high sugar content?
    7. Design a line of T-shirts for a manufacturer who employs child labor?
    8. Design a promotion for a diet product that you know doesn’t work?
    9. Design an ad for a political candidate whose policies you believe would be harmful to the general public?
    10. Design a brochure piece for an SUV that turned over more frequently than average in emergency conditions and caused the death of 150 people?
    11. Design an ad for a product whose continued use might cause the user’s death?

    I have to admit that I have in the past worked on things that I should have refused on ethical grounds, and looking back wish I had. The question of personal ethics in design is one that should be discussed more in design education.

  • John

    WHAT ABOUT THE KERNING????

  • Stephen

    A rebrand feels a little bit of a waste of time. Who are they carrying out the rebrand for? Who do they really think is going to fall for the “Weapons of Peace” slogan, when the companies top selling product is, along with the Toyota pick up, the freedom fighters, terrorist and oppressive regimes go to weapon.

    For every advert featuring a couple of models seductively enticing punters with there latest firearm there is a 24hour news channel showing men with beards shooting in the air over some bloody conflict.

    The problem I would find with working with the Kalashnikov Group is not an ethical one regarding their guns, But an ethical one regarding their clients.

  • John D

    I think the issue of ethics/responsibility in design is somewhat trite.

    I’ve seen some great designers talk on this subject & similar (e.g AGI Open Barcelona 2011) and always feel disconnected from the lecture. Maybe it’s an issue which becomes more significant as you progress in your career, but for the most part the people who lead the discourse on such issues as ethics and social responsibility in design are established designers who have the luxury of picking & choosing their clients, not struggling recent graduates in the height of a recession. It will be awhile before the rest of us catch up & start chasing that white pencil…

    Yours etc.

  • fi3b3r

    no – what a question…

  • aubo lessi

    NO

  • Bob would walk away

    “In the end it’s really no different that rebranding a pharmaceutical company or a new prescription drug.”
    @Edward.

    “I think the issue of ethics/responsibility in design is somewhat trite.”
    @ John D

    Wow, and Wow again.

    We’re not talking a poster campaign for a sugary cola drink. These are guns, they are a tool for killing people. The rebrand is to help the company that sells guns (that kill people) to sell more guns (to kill more people). Regardless of whether they are sold to legitimate state forces (police/army etc) or to gun dealers for resale. They are guns. They are designed for one purpose.

    If you think having a part in enabling that intent to become a reality is neither an ethical choice you can afford not to make or no different from working with a large pharmaceutical company, then I’m honestly shocked. If you do a good job, more people die.

    Whilst you are both free to hold these options – and please don’t think I am simply picking a single sentence from your comments for ease of making my argument – I really hope you are both, playing devil’s advocate and don’t actually believe that.

  • Chilly Willy

    “Weapons protect the weak from the strong”?? “Weapons for Peace”?? Sounds like Big Brother’s “War is Peace”… No, I don’t think I would take such an assignment. Kalashnilkov, whatever… If it were the actual Thought Police, I’d take it, because then no matter what I designed, whoever thought badly of it would get arrested and tortured… no death involved, so much more ethical. And job security, too.

  • It would be repellent for me to be involved with such a project. But it does open up a whole can of worms. For example, everyone holds up the inventors and designers of say the Spitfire, the Hurricane, the bouncing bomb, the Lanchester etc. All were made as machines of destruction but they are remembered with warm nostalgia? What about the many ridiculously violent games that are designed and packaged for the ever growing gaming industry who’s products that fall into the hands of very young impressionable children? I think we need to look and think more deeply, at what we are helping to promote as designers, we are part of a chain of events that we sometimes close our eyes too.

  • I find it staggering that the question even needs to be asked.

    This is a product that’s designed to kill and injure in the most effective way possible. But some folk can ignore that because it’s a tempting creative challenge? That’s shocking.

    Even to see a distinction between personal and business ethics is grossly misguided.

    And it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in your career – you presumably wouldn’t accept money to kill someone personally, so why accept it to help someone else do so?

    As designers and advertisers we have a responsibility for the effects our designs and advertising campaigns have. We help sell stuff. So we need to think carefully about what we’re helping to sell.

  • James Howley

    there is no ‘debate’ here.

    any designer that would even consider working on something like this should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

  • Red Snapper

    It would be interesting to sit in on the CEO’s debrief after the rebranding launch…”I am delighted to report that the rebranding has helped us to exceed sales targets for the first quarter of this year with the Kalashnikov now being the weapon of choice for more rebel armies, insurgents, gangsters and terrorists than any other firearm on the market. The current death toll, which I can tell you is a direct result of the increased popularity of our entry level product in particular, currently stands at almost 200,000, with a demographic that includes men, women and children. Our global TV campaign, with the strapline ‘Trust Kalshnikov to see them off’, launches in the new year and I’m confident it will see us reach even more of our target (no pun intended) market”

  • Rob

    To answer simply, i think we should look at the question simply:

    If the intention of the rebranding is to increase market share of Kalashinkov’s products (aka sell more guns) are you, as a designer and as an individual, prepared to be implicit in the deliberate killing of another? If your work helps to sell one more gun which is used, deliberately, to kill one more person, you are indirectly responsible for that person’s death.

    To which i do not understand how anyone can answer anything other than a straight up HELL NO.

    Yes, we can be reductive (to the point of sociopathic) and highlight the professional benefits of working with a brief like this, which are there to see. But, come on. It is our responsibility as people to allow for fundamental morals (such as human rights, equality, the rejection of oppression and murder etc, y’know, the classics) to effect how we approach business and our professional lives. Whats more, this is not about changing the nature of Kalashnikov’s business. It’s just about changing how people perceive them. Oh yeah, did i mention that there core business is filling men, women and children with lead?

    Now there is a fair comparison to working for, say, a tobacco brand. We know, as scientific fact, that smoking kills people. However, i think the moral question revolves around the intention of that product, as well as the personal choice of an individual. An individual chooses to damage their health by smoking (yeah, yeah i’ve heard of passive smoking too) but no one chooses to be shot in the face with an automatic firearm. So, where is the line? That is a difficult question and a debate for another time, but i can absolutely say that Kalashnikov is very much on the “very, very bad” side of that line.

    Which leads me to two more points I want to make, because theres a couple of comments above I actually found pretty crazy:

    @Edward – Sorry, but that is an awful comparison. The morality of the pharmaceutical industry is also murky and one i personally would try to avoid, but fundamentally they put lives at risk by not making their products – designed to help people – available, for various reasons complex reasons. Guns are designed for one thing: to kill. Medicine is designed to help people and save lives. It’s the opposite. You also compare AK47s to medicine because you state that they “keep peace”. Yeah ok, I’ve also heard that CCTV reduces crime but it does not cure crime or the causes of crime. I hope you can make the comparison there too between the key difference between medicine and guns.

    @John D – Are you serious? The ethics and responsibility of design and designers should be paramount because our work can, on occasion, directly effect peoples lives for better and for worse. No, graphic design can’t change the world, but business and industry does and that is why you need to ask essential moral questions when you choose to involve yourself with those businesses or industries. As i said above, you are implicit in the actions and effects of that business if you choose to support them. I did enjoy the irony of your use of the word trite though, because it’s so painfully trite to dismiss the informed discourse of others based on the “luxury” surrounding their achievements. It’s irrelevant here: We as people living in a free society ALL have the luxury of being able to make moral choices, no matter if you’re a “star” designer or flipping burgers. Don’t worry mate, you’ll get paid. Another job will come along. Hopefully one which doesn’t result in the slaughter of thousands, even millions, of people.

    Also, the line “Kalashnikov and its parent company has announced a rebrand and an ambition to become as big as Apple.” really sums up the utter lunacy of the modern world. Its practically Brass Eye-esque.

  • James

    There is a debate James and Alistair, the ‘Great British Designs’ stamps series, designed by a well respected studio included a Spitfire, what is your opinion on this? Should it have been left off?

    The Kalashnikov has been involved in many ‘freedom’ movements and has helped fight against slavery and racism in what for many people was the only way possible. To people in a less privileged position to you it can be used as an important symbol of a way to make a better life for someone and their family, it is used a symbol of pride on the Mozambique flag for instance. It is involved in situations outside of your comprehension and has different values all over the world which as a designer you should strive to understand. Yes, it has been used in ways you would feel uncomfortable about, because of this you may not want work on the project, this is fair enough, but do not disregard the question or debate, because things exist outside your value system they are not wrong.

  • Joe

    To take the 380k or not to. Someone will.

    How many of you have worked on stuff for oil companies, fag packs etc. Where’s the line drawn? If it’s with a firearm then it’s with a firearm.

    Everyone has a drawer of shame somewhere.

    I don’t think doing this branding job is helping people kill people, whatever that mark those guns are still killing machines.

  • Ed

    You’d get better market share if you branded bullets instead. ‘Course it’d be 50/50 whether or not the audience would be alive enough to engage with the brand and tweet accordingly.

    But how does the new logo look on a t-shirt/billboard/mug? Would love to see how it looks in the hands of a child soldier. Maybe they could make baseball caps or something to appeal to the young-adult peacekeeper audience.

    Maybe, though, if it’s the last logo an awful lot of people are going to see, it should just say ‘SORRY’ in big fucking letters on the side of the gun? That’d be a start.

  • Too repellant to think about, but as Joe says,”Someone will.”
    This does seem to be a Chris Morris – style spoof, but if it isn’t it will be interesting, to say the least, to discover who takes the brief and what PR firm will be employed to knock out a couple of thousand words to say, “Well if we didn’t, someone else would.”

    The target market takes on a whole new sick meaning.

  • The real question to me is simply:
    “Would working for this brand fit with YOUR brand”.

    There is no designers’ equivalent of the hippocratic oath.

    Though perhaps we could all strive for “Truth in Design”.

    Our métier is to make our clients look good so they sell more. That’s what it boils down to – right? Their long-term sales grow from the price/quality/service they deliver under the veneer of branding we provide.

    The best work we can do reflects the true nature of the client’s product in the marketplace. [Then again – there’s a lot of business creating brand identities to sell more boxes of any given generic widget.]

    Our own moral or political outlook may, or may not, align with the client but at the end of the day – even if it doesn’t go in your portfolio – expect your work to haunt you. So best be true to yourself – right?


    @Jonathan Turner – thanks for sharing those Milton Glaser bullet points. Food for thought in there.

  • Tyler

    Yes. Liberal hippy never shot a gun haters are the only ones that don’t understand why guns are not the problem.

  • The incorrigible Mr. Toad

    I’d do it if I could rebrand the company as an Art-rock band from the 80’s (as mentioned in the article).
    Frankie says don’t shoot.

    Unfortunately, I don’t believe that would go over too well.

  • TD

    Would you do work for Samsung?

    They also make weapons: http://www.samsungtechwin.com/product/product_05_01_01.asp

  • Zero Deluxe

    Guns don’t kill people, brand designers do? Not sure about that, but to be absolutely sure I reckon it’d be best not to get involved. It would be a definite no for me, but I do wonder how many creatives out there consistently work on products or brands they don’t actually believe in or care about?

    There’s no denying it’s easier to be more selective with work the busier or more successful you are, but, although I’ve polished a few turds in my time, I believe if you’re ever in doubt about a job from a moral standpoint you either choose to sell your soul or simply say ‘no’ and move on with your head held high.

  • Stevie T

    I got half way down and realised I had to say something.

    I’ve never owned a gun, shot a gun or even handled a gun. I say that so you don’t jump to another conclusion and assume I’m a gun owning red neck.

    Guns primary function is to be shot; their primary purpose are to provide security. Most the “hell no!”‘s assume every AK is going to be used to shoot up some African village. Please separate out the dilemma. As already well stated, moral question is who you sell the guns to? Not whether guns should exist. Pharma example well placed regarding the ‘use’ debate.

    Peace keepers carry guns, can you imagine:
    “lads, just stand over there will ya”
    ‘What do we do if they try and attack the other group’
    “Shake your fist or something, look really bad. Should do the trick”

    Let’s roll back a few assumptions. If we assume that better branding will improve sales due to confidence and desire in the product. Let’s assume they are then sold to morally justifiable customers. How do you think the soldier will feel with the AK in his hand? Probably feel it’s more reliable, accurate, fit for purpose in all conditions etc. Do you think he might be a better soldier as a result? Will he/she make better and calmer decisions because they have confidence in their weapon? If your still not sure, look at highly trained martial artists, they don’t fight, they avoid but don’t become vulnerable because they know they can handle themselves. (I’m not a martial artist either)

    There will always be bad people out there. They will always have access to guns. Countries will always require the need to have functional and proportional defence measure to protect their and other populations.

    Guns don’t kill people, rappers do.

  • rich

    no way, if we could turn back time to uninvent the gun – we would. you don’t need a gun to beat Kalashnikov – common sense and unity rather than bodycount and ignorant immunity.

  • Erik1803

    Tremendous blog item, with some really interesting points raised – on both sides of the debate.

    What interests me is some of the more ‘grey’ areas of ethics raised above (Kalashnikov, to me, is pretty black and white), even something as simple and everyday as alcohol companies; most of us ooh and aah over the latest packaging for a bespoke gin company or a small-run, hand-printed beer label, but do we consider the implications of making companies who sell alcohol appear ‘cool’ or aspirational? Rarely, at best.

    When all said and done, it’s a personal decision – and regardless of which side of the fence you sit, your opinion doesn’t make you ‘right’…

  • it’s a very well designed and reliable gun which is why people buy it, so yes. I would quote Goldy Lookin Chain to further the point but I’ll restrain myself…

  • Rob

    You are responsible for what you put into the world.
    Own the implications of your actions.

    Powerful and direct talk titled “How Designers Destroyed the World” by Mike Monteiro
    http://vimeo.com/68470326

  • It is highly likely I have consumed many things of dubious ethical production, hey I may even have done work for a client who may have a few ethical questions to answer… but not knowingly. Everything is so interconnected that you would struggle to work for anybody if you had to check out their moral code first. But this one is obvious isn’t it? Guns = bad stuff. They may arguably be ‘peace keepers’ but we know what the gun is designed to do and it ain’t pretty.

    I realise (unfortunately) we are stuck with armaments of all kinds in this messed up world, but there is a difference between being politically realistic and actively supporting something you abhor. ‘Weapons of Peace’ is an oxymoron – therefore dramatic – and possibly appealing to some as an advertising device. It is also naff. Will they be calling on my services for a more effective tag line..? I think not. Am i bothered? My phone is off the hook.

  • Maybe it’s an interesting project, but i would say NO, the world is fucked up with the weapons this and many other weapon fabrics made.

  • LP

    i’ll do it

  • Kevin

    Yes I would have loved this project. Without firearms the world as we know it simply would not exist, but then again I’m a gun geek so this would be inclined to say yes.

  • Jean

    The journalists and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo were murdered with Kalasnikovs yesterday.

    When asked how this was possible, the Paris Chief of Police replied that these were “very easy to acquire on the black market.”

  • Mac

    Wouldn’t touch it.

    Wonder how the designers responsible are feeling today?

  • Devil’s Advocate

    Bottom line: it’s a weapon. People have used weapons throughout history both for good and evil. The first rock that was used to kill an animal by a primitive human was likely used to bash in the brains of their competition as well. Kalashnikovs (and guns in general) are analogous with violence/war, but they are what we, as people, make them out to be. They’ve been used for good as well.

    Would I work on a project of this caliber? (pardon the pun) I don’t know. I’d have to take a long hard look at the company: in this case, Kalashnikov, but also applicable to any other examples that others have posted, such as pharmaceutical companies & companies that make tobacco products. If I were to do it, it certainly wouldn’t be just because of money. Besides, it would be one hell of a challenge to take something that has had a negative connotation and turn it into something positive.

  • Chris Kelly

    no