Band extension

The top-selling group Keane hired image consultants before they'd even released a single, writes Ian Burrell
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The Independent Online

Beautiful, fascinating, honest, youthful, innocent, passionate, expansive. These are the seven buzz words - or "characteristics" - that were carefully selected to shape the identity of Keane, widely regarded as the outstanding British band of 2004.

Beautiful, fascinating, honest, youthful, innocent, passionate, expansive. These are the seven buzz words - or "characteristics" - that were carefully selected to shape the identity of Keane, widely regarded as the outstanding British band of 2004.

Boring, safe and middle-class might have been included in that list if some of the band's critics had got near it, but Keane are hardly likely to care - their decision to hire a branding company before they had even released their first single has paid off handsomely. The band currently tops the British album charts, yet again, on the back of a double triumph at the Brit awards earlier this month.

Keane's successes are all victories for Moving Brands, the company they hired in 2002, even before they signed to the independent record label Fierce Panda. Moving Brands was tasked with giving Keane a "coherent identity", from its CD covers and videos to its websites, posters and T-shirts.

Ben Wolstenholme, the company's creative founder, agreed to work for the then penniless band for free, so impressed was he by the demo CD he had been presented with by Keane's manager, Adam Tudhope. Wolstenholme remembers: "As a punter, I just loved the music. I was listening to Muse, The Strokes, Radiohead - and then when I got this, it became the thing I was into."

He decided to invest his time in the band and went to work with James Bull, Moving Brands' creative director. They sat down with Keane and drew up the list of buzz words. "We literally went through an identity process with them, establishing characteristics," he says. "The three that remain the most important now are 'fascinating, innocent, expansive'."

For Wolstenholme and Bull, it was important that Moving Brands had responsibility for the whole Keane presentational package, unlike other bands who risk muddling their message by allowing one agency to lay out their website and others to design the album covers and the merchandise. The music alone is no longer enough, it seems.

Wolstenholme says: "There are increasingly different channels on which music is distributed, and it is really important that the Keane experience is undiluted by anyone else interpreting the brand."

One person the pair are prepared to work alongside is their long-time friend and fellow former graduate of Central St Martins College of Art, Alex Lake, who has been Keane's photographer from day one. Whenever photographs of the band appear on official products, they have been taken by Lake.

The photographs will almost always depict Tim Rice-Oxley and the other Keane boys at work, either in the studio or on stage. Again, this is all part of the careful, deliberate branding of the band.

Not only have Lake's photos been integral to the Moving Brands scheme; his much-admired skills as an illustrator have been deployed as well. "We really love this idea that we can create a look and have it run consistently across everything," Wolstenholme says. "When we did the first single, we were already thinking of other ways it could reiterated."

Right from the beginning, he says, Keane themselves "understood the value of having a consistent anchor". When the band left Fierce Panda and signed for Island, Keane insisted that they should retain control over their branding. Their new record company said they should at least put the work out to tender. Moving Brands were obliged to re-pitch for the business, and were successful.

The colours used are important, too. They have to be "flat" and "rich" and "have depth", Bull says. For the British version of their chart-topping, award-winning album Hopes and Fears, the band asked Moving Brands to computer-generate for them their own shade of sludge green, after rejecting every pantone of the colour previously available to them.

"They wanted something with a more classic feeling, to go with the music," Bull says. "That colour could be on the shelf for 10 years and not date; it could be from the Sixties or from the Nineties. We have always been trying to create a classic, timeless feel."

The same could be said of the simple, now distinctive Keane logo (or "wordmark", as it is known), which was chosen after initially showing interest in an abstracted letter K, resembling a "less than" sign. For the album, Moving Brands also created a "crest", based on the hammer functions of Rice-Oxley's Yamaha CP70 electric piano. The wordmark and the crest are both crucial "anchor marks" in distinguishing Keane product.

Photographs of the band (who, it is fair to say, are not the most photogenic in the history of popular music) don't appear on the front of CDs. The pictures are tucked inside, in the sleeve notes, for the fans to pore over once a purchase has been secured.

And the band's followers are especially devoted. They should be: Moving Brands has been nurturing the fan base, using the internet to secure a database of hardcore aficionados and then treating them with cleverly branded postcards - containing lyrics and the "wordmark" - to alert them to forthcoming releases. These fans have also been sent a limited-edition box in which to store their Keane seven-inch singles, a canny exploitation of an ancient format to attract an internet-savvy customer base.

"Keane have diverse fans," says Bull. "City guys buy them, indie kids buy them, my mum buys them." This explains why Moving Brands has designed similar-looking display adverts for the band and placed them on the pages of the Daily Star and amid the share prices of the Financial Times.

Recent Keane releases have seen Moving Brands switching to a slightly more narrative-led design. The fourth single, "This Is the Last Time", featured a silhouette of a bloodied and dying bull, an image considered both beautiful and sad. But the muted colours, the wordmark, the absence of band picture - all recalled previous releases. "Darkness with a bit of light is generally the theme," says Wolstenholme, adding that the Hastings-based band have deliberately avoided any pretence of urban roots.

For Moving Brands, which operates out of London's fashionable Shoreditch media village and specialises in taking branding from its traditional static print format to the new-media-friendly moving identities known as mnemonics, the Keane experience has been instructive. The company, founded seven years ago, has assembled a client base that includes Vodafone, British Gas, the media buyers Carat and Kevin Spacey's Old Vic theatre.

As Keane set about conquering America, Britain's most beautiful, fascinating, etc, etc, etc musical combo will not want to give up their branding gurus just yet.