13 Oct What’s the going rate for your currency’s brand?
Unless you’re an economist, you’re unlikely to have any idea about how currencies are valued. Having just returned from overseas, spending too much time in airports exchanging cash, it got me thinking: is there more to the value of currencies than just gross domestic product, commodities, government policy and complex graphs? Do currencies have their own intrinsic brand value in the same way that a consumer brand does?
Currency is more than banknotes, it’s the intangible monetary system of a country or region; the stores of value subject to trading between nations in foreign exchange markets, for example, the US dollar, the Yen, the Euro and the Pound.
I see currencies and currency symbols in particular as brands. Currency symbols like $ or € are powerful, in the same way that trademarks or logos can be. They evoke feelings, they attach sudden, real meaning to numbers. They represent something that some people have a lot of and others have very little of. When you think about it that way, currency is much like a status symbol consumer brand.
The trouble is, unlike traditional brands, these currency symbols have become very widely used by multiple nations over the years. There are over 30 nations that use the $ symbol, most commonly for “dollar” or “peso” currencies. More than ten use the £ symbol.
Luckily, in 1978, the three-letter system of codes ISO 4217 (AUD, EUR, USD, AED, GBP), was developed and agreed to internationally to define currencies, to help overcome confusion over shared currency names or signs that all had wildly differing values. ISO 4217 codes are used on airline tickets and international train tickets to remove any uncertainty about the price.
The Euro symbol and currency is the obvious case study. Multiple currencies, together with their symbols (and identities, to a lesser extent), were rendered obsolete by the adoption of the euro in 1999.
The EU had to create a new brand identity for its unified currency, and the symbol was instrumental in this. It needed a symbol that the people of the initial eleven member nations, as well as the rest of Europe, and the world, could identify with, understand, easily write, and importantly, like.
The European Commission considers the global recognition of the euro sign (€) part of the currency’s and the Eurozone’s success. It’s not just a symbol, it’s a brand that represents a unified Europe, hope, freedom of movement, newfound wealth, and ease of travel for tourists.
Naturally, a lot of planning and thinking went into the design of the euro symbol. There were reportedly thirty proposals, which were shortlisted to ten candidates, all put to a public survey.
The European Commission (EC) chose the final design, which was created by an anonymous team of four. The official line from the EC was that the winning design was inspired by the Greek epsilon (ϵ) character, crossed by two parallel lines to ‘certify’ the stability of the euro. This is brand identity talk ‘101’.
Kenyan-based design agency Ark has come up with a brand identity or symbol for the nation’s fledgling currency, the Kenyan shilling, in an effort to boost the currency’s status and familiarity on the world stage. It’s a stylised “K”, and they are plugging it to the Kenyan central bank as an alternative to the current, clunky and un-stylish sign, KSh.
The space to watch here are the “new global currencies”, which are private, decentralized trust networks that are based on reputation of commercial products, for example, Bitcoin. Bitcoin’s owners have requested that their currency be added to the ISO 4217 standard using the currency code BTC. This has been declined largely because large media organisations are not reporting on the Bitcoin currency, but when this changes, you can bet they will be asking again. It hasn’t stopped the Bitcoin community from using the symbol B⃦. Just don’t confuse it with the Thai Baht symbol, ฿.
According to Ken Carbone from the Carbone Smolan Agency, brands should unify, simplify, and amplify. David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance says brands should navigate, reassure, and engage.
This is exactly what currency symbols do, in one keystroke, or a simple handwritten mark that anyone can write, and hopefully have plenty of in their pocket.