The Madam logo is designed to look like an imprint stamped on to bare flesh and appears in full-bleed on the company’s website (below), stationery and promotional material.
“We were very inspired by the name – the brief was quite open but it had to be unexpected and have a sense of humour. It would have been easy to create something tacky and downmarket but the imprint makes it classy, and communicates the company’s emphasis on craftsmanship and skill. It’s more Agent Provacateur than Ann Summers,” says BETC ECD and co-founder Neil Dawson.
Madam was founded earlier this year by Pippa Bhatt, Carly Stone and Michelle Stapleton, who worked together at Crossroads Films but felt they had “reached a ceiling” at the company. Its roster includes Mike Leigh, Maximilla Luckas and photographer Rory Carnegie, and it’s worked on projects for Johnson & Johnson and the BBC.
The name, explains Bhatt, is a reference to “strong, successful businesswomen” and is intended to poke fun at production companies’ reputations for “bending over backwards for clients”.
“At the time we were setting things up, Madam was used on some documentaries I was watching and the word really resonated with me. Throughout history, madams have been these incredibly successful businesswomen who understand the market and create environments where people come to have fun. Having a name that reflected that was really appealing and as we’re all women, it fitted nicely,” she explains.
“It’s also a tongue-in-cheek hint at the stereotypical perception of production companies “pimping out” their directors. Of course, it’s an unusual name so we knew it would help us stand out, but that’s not why we chose it. It has substance because it works on a lot of levels,” she adds.
Keen to create an “provocative, inspiring and interesting” brand image, Madam approached BETC and proposed that the name’s risqué associations formed the basis of its visual identity.
“It’s a name you can have a lot of fun with, so we wanted to embrace this. We didn’t want anything too girly, though – too “boudoir-y” or too voyeuristic. We just wanted it to be evocative. We gave the team at BETC pretty free reign and they came up with this amazing central image of our logo printed on flesh,” she adds.
The logo type took a while to perfect, says Bhatt, to ensure it remained a tongue-in-cheek reference to sex and sauce instead of one that risked making people think of branding, ownership or slavery. The flesh imprint, says Dawson, is intended to represent the company’s focus on craftsmanship and attention to detail, reflected in the web address, madebymadam.com
“People will make up their own minds, but we wanted a positive image of the female body that in no way denigrated it. That’s why we opted for torsos and legs instead of knicker lines or wrist ties. We wanted to use beautiful imagery of the female form and a subtler suggestion of femininity,” she adds.
BETC’s imagery is certainly striking and memorable while additional details – such as referring to founders as Madams and the company “a house of repute” – help to create a strong and coherent brand image.
However, as Bhatt points out, people will draw their own conclusions and these may be entirely different to BETC’s and Madam’s. A flesh stamp on a thigh may be a sensual image to some but for others, it will be less appealing, and while it’s intended as a reference to craftsmanship and a playful take on stereotypical perceptions of production companies, any reference to the sex trade – however light-hearted – is likely to make a lot of people think of ownership, abuse and servitude.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to celebrate femininity and the female form, or to create an identity that’s provocative, but for a company whose roster is largely male, is this wholly relevant and does it really communicate the brand’s approach to its work? On first glance, people may be convinced Madam specialises in raunchier commercials than the bright and breezy TV spot for Johnson’s baby oil that features on its website.
BETC has produced some lovely design touches and strong imagery in response to Madam’s brief, but I’m not convinced the company’s identity really escapes the “seedy” connotations it’s owners say they want to avoid.