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This startup wants to make buying a used car cool

And they hired Pentagram to help them do it.

The stereotypical used car salesman (and by extension, the entire customer experience) seems untrustworthy, disingenuous, and downright slimy. The new e-commerce startup Vroom, which focuses on selling high-end used cars, is trying to restore trust in used cars by taking the salesperson out of the picture entirely–and reframing the experience with a punchy, irreverent identity.

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The six-year-old company’s new brand identity, courtesy of Pentagram, aims to transform the image most of us have of buying a used car into something a little more fun and glamorous. And in doing so, it subtly nods at some of the most successful car branding in the world, including Corvette and VW.

[Image: courtesy Pentagram]
The company’s new, slightly slanted logotype was designed to embody the feeling of driving fast down the open road, with little flags on some of the letters to emphasize speed. The bright red makes a perfect match–to many, red is the color of premium cars, from Tesla to Corvette.

“There’s a bit of glamor there,” says Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, who worked on the project with designers Britt Cobb and Tess McCann. “From ‘Little Red Corvette’ by Prince to a lot of other cultural significance, the idea of the red sports car is I think one of the ideals of what driving can be.”

[Image: courtesy Pentagram]
According to Bierut, one of the biggest challenges of the project was simply deciding whether to brand Vroom as a tech company or a car company. Many startups opt for branding that feels techie–full of whimsy and humor and clean lines–regardless of the industry in which they operate, but Bierut decided it made more sense for Vroom to present itself as a car company. After all, that’s what it does. “What we came to believe was that it was really about the car,” he says. “Really in the classic marketing sense what we’re selling is the putting the key in the ignition.”

The branding also tries to overcome people’s reservations about used cars by focusing on the excitement of getting behind the wheel of your own vehicle for the first time. This is mostly articulated through the company’s advertising, particularly in the short, quippy tagline, “Get in,” which features heavily in all of Vroom’s ads. It makes the act of buying a car sound thrilling–nothing like the dreaded hassle many people perceive it to be.

“On one hand, you’ve got this legendary suspicion that people have of used car dealers,” Bierut says. “On the other hand you have the idea of getting a car–particularly your first car–as a rite of passage in the U.S. It enables you to do fully partake of American life as you’ve always intended.”

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[Image: courtesy Pentagram]

Bierut points to the classic 1960s VW posters by the ad agency DDB, where straightforward shots of the Beetle were accompanied by the caption “Think Small,” as inspiration.

“Almost every designer in the world, even if they don’t like cars, has a real affection for the original VW campaign from the ’60s,” he says. “There was something very forthright and honest about that. [The ad’s art director] Helmut Krone had picked Futura as a non-glamorous typeface that spoke in a deadpan way. How can we make sure we’re trying to evoke the fun of driving but not in a way that’s aggressively hyping this up?”

From the color and feel of the logo to the historical references to the name itself, Pentagram’s branding has done the impossible: Made used cars look cool.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and sign up for her newsletter here: https://tinyletter.com/schwabability

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