Case Study: Brand Identity and Unintentional Negative Messages

Hey there Business Bloomers!  Today I’m presenting a case study in brand identity and unintentional negative messages, and providing 2 simple tips to help you avoid falling into their traps.


Let’s start with a little background information.

I live in a quiet little desert town that, twenty years ago, was plagued with gang and drug problems (can you say desert meth lab?).  Oh and law enforcement had a habit of dumping off parolees in the desert, where the Palm Springs celebs and golfers wouldn’t see them, at a rate much higher than the drop offs in any other city. With a population of only about 20,000 this led to a disproportionate amount of criminal activity and economically disadvantaged residents.

But over the past ten years there’s been lots of change, as city officials, activists and local law enforcement worked hard to improve conditions and break out of the horrendous reputation this little jewel of a city acquired back in the bad old days.  Talk about Breaking Bad!


Wait..that doesn’t sound great – did you really just say Jewel of a City?

Why yes, yes I did, and I meant it!  Desert Hot Springs (DHS) is not the dumping ground it used to be.

Many public agencies came together to stop the disproportionate number of parolees dropped off in DHS, they did a few big crime sweeps that removed a lot of gang members (and yes, those just happened to be well publicized and near election time, unsurprisingly) and some really great education programs were put into place that encourage local youth to go into a renewable energies career path, creating a workforce that will attract the renewable energy industry, which had previously indicated that the lack of trained workforce was a problem for them locating here despite the fact that we are in one of the brightest spots on earth.

Additionally, we sit atop a natural, hot mineral water aquifer and have a bevy of spa resorts, from boutique-size to larger hotels, that drill their own wells into that aquifer and pump the water into their hot spas and pools. People come here from around the world to soak in the healing waters!


Miracle Springs Spa Resort

Water Jewel of the Desert

poster design by Meilani MacDonald


We also have the best views in the whole Coachella Valley! Desert Hot Springs is 1185 ft. above sea level, as compared to the 487 ft above sea level that our neighbor Palm Springs sits at in the lower valley, or Palm Desert’s even lower 225 ft above sea level elevation. In fact I have a rather nice view of the valley from my back porch!  The higher elevation also makes the climate just a tad more temperate. It may be only a few degrees difference, but let me tell ya in the hot, desert summer the difference between 117 degrees and 120 degrees is a lot more than it sounds!


Blooming Business Stock Photos - Spring Collection


Now you’ve had the history…what about today?

Today we have a dedicated group of city reps and ordinary citizens who really care about our little town, voluntarily sitting on committees dedicated to helping DHS shed the lingering vestiges of the bad reputation it earned 20 years ago, voluntarily helping to plan new projects and events that show off Desert Hot Springs properly.

One of the challenges DHS faces is that the big winds that regularly blow through (we are in a “wind tunnel” and there are several wind farms in the area) bring with them trash that gets caught in our sticky desert brush and cactus, leaving empty lots and other spaces strewn with annoying trash. (On a larger scale, for some reason people think it’s ok to dump trash in the desert, as if we have no people here, as if our precious environment doesn’t count, because we aren’t a big city.)

Ready to meet that challenge, DHS now has a volunteer  Saturday Pick Up DHS Crew who brave the heat to go out and clean up the trash.  Wow. That’s awesome!


Ok but what does all this have to do with branding?

Oh I’m so glad you finally asked!  I saw a flyer for the pick up crew posted on FB the other day, and first let me say it was not done by a professional designer, but by a wonderful volunteer who just wanted to help out, and they are awesome for it!  Here it is:




Note that at the very bottom of the flyer, we see the web site for this event,, which I LOVE for its wonderful community mindedness. Now look at the web site address at the bottom of the flyer.

The color scheme was green and black, and that was pretty much the only direction the flyer’s creator was given. You can see the designer used them mostly wisely, to make headlines stand out. But when they used both colors in the web site address, there was an unintended consequence.  Do you see it?


PickUpDHS treatment


That’s right… it says “P U DHS.”  This is not really the right message for a city working hard to shed a bad reputation!  This was totally unintentional, and may not even be noticeable to some. But it was glaring to me, a bold negative message, couched inside a project with positive intentions.

In this case, the flyer made local rounds only and the event is over, and that flyer will not be recirculated or remembered much so there was no lasting harm. But you definitely wouldn’t want this type of thing to happen often.  It does make a great case example, lol. 🙂


2 Easy Tips to help avoid unintentional negative messages


1. Do your research!

Whatever your organization or project, look at the branding going on around it, before you begin your project.  DHS is branding itself as the spa city, for example, and is known world-wide for its award-winning drinking water as well as its natural hot mineral soaking waters.  Ask partner entities what messages and reputation they are working together to embody and portray, and incorporate those into your piece if you can. Reinforce the positive branding elements at every opportunity.


2. Have a 2nd, 3rd and even 4th set of eyeballs check your piece.  

Often times when we work on something we’ve stared at it so long we start to miss things. While P U DHS stood out a lot for me, it never even occurred to the creator of the flyer that people might read it like that.  But, given that it is a rather common graphic device to send an extra branding message, it is safe to say that many viewers could pick up on the green letters and get that second branding message. Pass your piece around to your trusted comrades for their feedback before you release it.  Ask your friends and colleagues  to be your proofreading and focus group minions.

Proper preparation beforehand, and good proofing after will help avoid many easy-to-miss mistakes!


Need help nurturing  and strengthening your brand identity? Contact Meilani!

Do you need help cultivating and nurturing the positive brand identity and reputation you deserve?  Contact me, I can help you identify your messages, opportunities to send them, and design your pieces so that they are in alignment with and reinforce your positive brand identity!

Did you find this post helpful? Do you want to learn more about branding your business, and how to spend your social media time on purpose, with purpose?

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