NHS branding – the history of a huge success story
Today we see the NHS as a large cohesive organisation that has a uniform look throughout England. Interestingly, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a different version of the NHS branding. But this change in the public’s perception of the NHS as one large organisation has come relatively recently.
When the NHS was born in 1948, it was not created from scratch but had inherited a large number of hospitals and buildings that were well-known to their local residents. Although the creation of the NHS was heralded with great political publicity, the reaction of the public at large to the new health service was quite subdued and it seemed to some that in many ways little had really changed, even though it was the world’s first healthcare system to be provided on the basis of citizenship rather than, as before, on insurance.
The NHS acronym was not in use early on and people were told about the ‘new health service’ – note at this stage not referred to as The National Health service. In terms of branding, there was virtually no universal branding in evidence across the service for many years and many hospitals continued to use their own logos for signage and so on, but all done on a local basis. The Great Ormond Street Hospital weeping child logo is a good example.
In the 1990s a new way of working was introduced called the internal market, which meant that various parts of the NHS competed with each other for business. In order to stand out, some sections devised new brands and at one point it was estimated that there were around 600 different brands and sub brands linked to the NHS. The new Labour government at the end of the 90s decided on a move to a single identity so that people could be clear on NHS services as opposed to other outside commercial companies.
It was also intended to inject a modern feel to the branding whilst becoming an important feature of design, marketing and communications. The first step was the introduction of the NHS ‘blue lozenge’ logo, with the backgound in blue Pantone no. 300, 2.4 times wider than the height, and the white capital letters in Frutiger Bold Italic typeface.
There were also clear rules on size, position, exclusion zones and so on. It would become and remain the visual and unmistakeable symbol of our National Health Service. Blue Pantone 300 – interestingly, one of five different shades of blue used by the NHS – has become known as NHS blue although other large corporations such as Roche Holding AG, GE, Bendix and Pepsi all use the same shade of blue. We’ll be looking at the importance of blue as a branding colour in a further piece.
The new style guide played a major part in reinforcing the concept of the NHS being one entity by ensuring that the various parts of the organisation were always clearly labelled as part of the umbrella organisation. This simplified appearance made it much easier for the media to consider that the old health service had now truly become the National Health Service, and the NHS acronym was used more and more. The media and the public began to view the NHS as a source of reassurance, safety and pride as well as offering treatment free at point of delivery, and an example to most other countries.
The popularity and affection for the NHS grew such that it seemed to symbolise the very best of British endeavour, and this was then validated during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic games in London with Danny Boyle’s tribute to the spirit of the NHS.
And if there was ever any doubt about the British love affair with its NHS, the pandemic of 2020 demonstrated the deep-seated faith, trust and admiration for the staff of the organisation behind the ‘blue lozenge’ logo that quietly, but determinedly represents a truly world-class brand.