After a period of quiet self reflection, news breaks from Utopia’s Swiss eyrie that it’s pondering ditching its exhaustingly eager hot pink “saviours of a broken music business” techbro brand and pivoting to a less shouty and altogether more considered style. 

Utopia has not had the smoothest of rides. After a fairly disastrous 2023 that saw the self proclaimed unicorn begin to unravel in a series of divestments, the original founding team was ousted in a boardroom coup. That coup - efficiently organised by key investors, seemingly frustrated by chaos at the company - marked a key turning point, and gave Utopia the opportunity to sit down and take a long hard look at itself.

Part of the new post-coup narrative is that where Utopia was a founder-led company, it is now an investor-led company - and with that shift, the unspoken narrative that the adults are in charge, and it’s turning itself into a proper grown up operation. 

But… Utopia! What a brand! What a word! And really, what does it mean? What actually is Utopia? The Cambridge Dictionary tells us that utopia means “a perfect society in which people work well with each other and are happy”. What a vision! As a brand it means everything, and nothing at all. It’s a utopian vision, a dream, a perfectly unachievable world.

A lot of Utopia’s articulation of its brand back in the day involved bold statements, bold colours, and bold interior design. Hot pink! Aspirational loft-style office space! Big monstera plants, contrast lighting and gritty concrete walls. It was a techbro dream of what work could look like, if only there was a limitless pot of money and no one actually had to come up with a business that worked.

There were photos of an executive team posing awkwardly that looked like they’d been taken in a very expensive - but possibly not very good - sex dungeon, and a founder who hopped around Bitcoin conferences in Mr Spock-styled leather jackets with glittery wings embroidered on his t-shirt. 

Now, obviously, an ill thought out brand isn’t necessarily an indication that a company is going down the wrong path, but Utopia was clearly going down the wrong path - and now the adults are in control.

In an email seen by CMU, investors in the Swiss music tech company are being asked to vote at an upcoming AGM on a proposal to adopt a new brand - and brand identity - across the business. And a proper, grown up brand identity it is too. 

To give it the full on brand wank treatment: out with the hot-mess-pink hyper-modern Utopia logotype where the letters crush up together in a chaotic agony of fat rounded vowels punctuated by ascenders and descenders aggressively slashed off on the diagonal.

In its place a steady and well paced march of modern measured capitals - not shouty, not showy - simple sans serif calm, set in APK Protocol, a typeface created by typographer Peter Korsman and refined by Swiss type designer Maël Bächtold. A small graphic element gently nudges up against the text, a picton blue lozenge which - according to design site everycolor - communicates “calm, competence, loyalty, peace, productivity and trust”. 

APK Protocol describes itself as taking the “characteristics (neutral, rational) of a modern day grotesque to the extreme”. The message is clear: this is calm, grown-up, rational branding, and an absolute contrast to what came before. 

Alongside that new brand identity Utopia Music AG - assuming investors agree at that AGM vote - will become Proper Group AG.

London ad agency Howell, Henry, Chaldecott, Lury and Partners (or HHCL) isn’t a household name to many people, but they’ve left an indelible mark on British culture. Its famous “You know when you’ve been Tango’d!” adverts for fizzy drinks company Britvic see a burly, semi-naked man covered in orange body paint run up to a man drinking a can of Tango and delivering a double-handed slap to his face.

A storm whipped up by British tabloids - who claimed that children were being sent to A&E with perforated eardrums because of playground copycat “Tangoings” - saw the advert banned. It was later voted the UK’s third best advert of all time, and has been credited as influential in establishing viral and guerilla marketing. 

HHCL went on to create another seminal advert for another British brand - quick drying preservative wood stain Ronseal. The slogan created for Ronseal by HHCL was “Does exactly what it says on the tin”, and has entered popular culture. 

The Cambridge English Dictionary lists “does exactly what it says on the tin” as an idiom that indicates that something does exactly what it is intended to do. It is a phrase that has (in the words of Ronseal itself) “come to represent a product or policy that is open, honest and delivers against its promise.” 

Proper Music Distribution - one of the companies that Utopia acquired and didn’t subsequently de-acquire - was a company that followed the Ronseal rule: tell people what you’re going to do and then do it well. In recent conversations with the new leadership of Utopia, it’s been clear that the new team in charge recognise the value of the Proper brand, and recognise the huge amount of trust, authority and brand equity that Proper has, particularly in the UK.

Utopia’s plan to step away from their mad Hoxton-loft-meets-sex-dungeon aesthetic is undoubtedly a good move, and a much needed break from the Utopia of the past. That said, even though there is new leadership, a new direction and a new brand, the company - whether called Utopia Music AG or Proper Group AG - is still ultimately the same company, and that company still has a number of legacy issues that it needs to address, relating to the unravelling of the earlier Utopian fever dream. 

Only time will tell whether it can successfully deliver a new strategy and put those issues of the past to rest, but with the new brand seems to come a rather more humble approach by the company, and a rather more considered view on the company’s prospects from the new executive and leadership team. Gone are the hooting claims of unicorn status and with it the “spend money as fast as we can raise it” mentality. 

Of course, this still needs to be approved by the company’s shareholders - and who knows, maybe they’ll decide that they don’t like Ronseal, and that the thing the world really needs right now is another photo shoot taken in an upscale knocking shop. It’s unlikely, but with Utopia you just never quite know.

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