I first became acquainted with the “Keep Calm and Carry On” craze when my sister-in-law got me a calendar for Christmas that had a variety of riffs on the now-famous phrase. My calendar is long gone, but a quick visit to Etsy confirms that the meme lives on with phrases like “Keep Calm and Drink Coffee” or “Keep Calm and Play Ice Hockey.” Clearly, this is a trend that is far-reaching and much-loved. I, for one, experienced great joy as my calendar walked me through the year. Every month, I received a delightfully frivolous reminder of the small daily pleasures out there for me to enjoy. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the story behind the iconic poster.
“Keep Calm and Carry On” was part of a three part propaganda campaign in WWI-era Britain. The posters followed strict stylistic guidelines to prevent counterfeit, including use of a “special and handsome typeface” and the emblem of the crown of King George VI. The first poster read “Your courage, your cheerfulness, your resolution will bring us victory.” The second read “Freedom is in peril. Defend it with all your might.” The third poster, the “Keep Calm” one, was produced in a quantity of 2.5 million for use in the most dire of invasions. As such, the poster was never officially issued and was not viewed by the public until an errant copy turned up over fifty years later in an unexpected place.
Barter Books, a secondhand book shop located in northern England, was once a victorian railway station. Today, books stand where the tracks once were, but there are still many reminders of what the old building once looked like. The owners found the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster in an old box of books they received from an auction. They fell in love with it, framed it, and hung it near the store checkout where customers regularly viewed it. The poster grew so popular with customers that the owners began reproducing it, and its popularity went global.
What accounts for the massive popularity of this poster, decades after and miles away from its original creation and intent? Initially, I tend to think it was the beautiful simplicity of the message and the design. We here at Capsule certainly appreciate the value of simplicity in message and design. But the poster’s appeal goes beyond that. I believe that we as human beings are inherently drawn to things that are “special.” We seek out little nuggets of value in our daily lives that make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. For example, I love putting on my lululemon running clothes that have a secret, motivating message embroidered in the hem. Someone has thought hard about how I will use these clothes, and knows that I, like thousands of women out there, sometimes need that extra little bit of encouragement to get out for my daily run. When I don my lululemon running shirt, I am wrapped in something special.
Similarly, I believe that people are drawn to the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster because of its storied history. Commissioned in an age where the elegant world of royalty was much more prevalent, the poster carries a symbol of its era of origin. Furthermore, the poster was crafted for a very serious purpose. Its message may be widely applicable today, but fans will always know that the words were once meant to calm and comfort a frightened and grieving nation. Finally, the “Keep Calm” poster was lost for years. Although now ubiquitous, it was unearthed as a precious gem never before seen by the general public. Combined, these things cause the souvenir you purchased from the local boutique to carry with it mountains of intangible value, far beyond the paper it was printed on.
At Capsule, we believe in finding that special element in everything we design. It might be the delicate intricacy of letterpress on business cards. It might be the hidden meaning behind a corporate mark that tells the story of a company’s rich and proud history. It might even be the discovery and use of our very own “special and handsome typeface.” No matter the brand element, Capsule knows that if it carries with it something intrinsically special, people will respond to it emotionally and form an internal bond with the brand that will keep them coming back for more. The key is to justify their loyalty and keep delivering special elements in everything you do. And under no circumstance should you forget to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”