When ads for the Netflix show “Stranger Things” first appeared in 2016, the glowing, blood-red, unevenly shaded font that spelled out the title told viewers exactly what they could expect. The retro typeface — and a haunting, one-minute title video — became synonymous with the supernatural thriller series and, as the show gained in popularity, memes centered largely around its instantly recognizable title have become plentiful.
“You’re dealing with text and how people respond to the font,” said Peter Frankfurt, executive creative director on the “Stranger Things” project and founding partner of Imaginary Forces, a visual storytelling and brand strategy company. “None of us ever conceived this would ever be the phenomena that it is.”
Hollywood has long known this marketing trick, with movie studios strategically choosing fonts, colors and lighting for a film title that will reflect its tone and genre.
And in a crowded marketplace, many mainstream consumer brands — like Southwest Airlines, Remax and Domino’s Pizza — have placed more focus on fonts as a crucial part of their marketing.
“It’s becoming more and more important,” added Steve Matteson, creative type director at Monotype, a company that creates, licenses and designs fonts for brands.
When Southwest Airlines revamped its brand in 2014, it overhauled its font and logo as part of the upgrade. It wanted to create the image of an airline that cared about customer loyalty — one that had heart.
So, Southwest changed its all-caps Helvetica font to a thicker, custom-made Southwest Sans font that included lowercase letters — changes meant to convey a softer, friendlier tone. It also added a tricolor heart to the logo, along with the tagline “without a heart, it’s just a machine.”
“Now we have a unique font that really embodies our personality as a brand,” said Helen Limpitlaw, director of brand communications at Southwest Airlines. “We’re in a very competitive category and we’re trying to avoid that sameness.”
The new typeface now appears on Southwest’s planes, ads, airport signage, uniforms, website and in-flight items.
Before, the colors and fonts used by the airline varied from platform to platform. “The voice felt very fractured, it was a disconnected experience,” said Rodney Abbot, senior partner at Lippincott, a brand strategy and design firm that worked with Southwest.
A survey of Southwest customers showed that 95 percent found the new identity appealing, according to the National Brand Monitor in 2014. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in revenue, an increase in bookings and brand momentum,” Ms. Limpitlaw said.
Font style, size, shape, thickness, color, and depth all tell a story.
“The typeface is an expression of the tone of voice,” Mr. Abbot said.
Experts say the right fonts can help brands stand out in a competitive market. But they need to know who they’re targeting and what they want to say.