current writings on all things

Unum Goes Human, Sort of



In April, Unum, a leading employee benefits provider in the United States and the United Kingdom, unveiled a new identity in an attempt to better communicate the company’s core competencies and focus. Formerly UnumProvident, the company’s new logo, designed by The Gate Worldwide, is visually superior to the old — while at one time the highly patriotic logo probably appealed to companies based largely in the United States who desired to “buy all things American” (and who doesn’t love the logo’s ode to “Ole’ Glory’s” stars and stripes?), the company’s products and services have expanded well beyond the borders of this country and into Europe. And in today’s geo-political climate, looking “American” might be considered a liability and unpopular with an international audience.


By adopting an identity that incorporates more of a European design aesthetic, Unum has distanced itself from its more American heritage. While the refreshed logo uses a contemporary, stylized typeface and simple shapes to communicate the company’s image, is it really effective at telling their story? To someone not in the insurance or benefits industry, this critic included, there are no visual clues as to what the company does. What is slightly more puzzling is the fact that a new tagline, “Better Benefits at Work,” was also adopted the same day as the new identity, yet is noticeably absence from the logo and company web site. This vital piece of information would have been incredibly helpful in communicating the company’s message.


According to the press release and Joseph Foley, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, “The new Unum brand represents a shift… from being an insurance company to being a true employee benefits partner.” Oh, well — why didn’t you just say so, perhaps by using a tagline in conjunction with the logo?


Once you realize what the company does, and the fact that they are supposedly “focused on people,” the logo begins to make much more sense. The rounded, lowercase letterforms are fun and whimsical (maybe too “fun”, resembling something more suitable for a toy company), and offer a refreshing change from the Palatino-like typeface used before. There are three business units within the company, represented by three circles; closer scrutiny reveals that these shapes also visually complete the bodies of three highly stylized figures, perhaps distant cousins of the ubiquitous Helvetica Man. However, these gender-neutral people look more politically correct than those adorning bathroom door signs, and therefore more appropriate for a professional office environment.


While a vast improvement over the old UnumProvident logo, one that is unique and memorable (perhaps for all the wrong reasons), the new identity fails in communicating the company’s core competencies. Perhaps the designers of this new brand assumed that everyone knew what Unum was, and the products and services it provides. Or perhaps the thought of “ruining” the European-inspired simplicity of the mark with something as mundane as a tagline was unbearable. Regardless of the reason, it leaves one to wonder how much more effective this identity could have been.


—Ryan Hembree, principal/creative director (originally posted on