Context and Story Part 1: How a brand’s story became irrelevant.

Lately the idea of context and story has been popping up in every facet of my life: at church we’ve been talking about our story in the context of our relationship with God, in my guys group on Monday nights we’ve been hearing the amazing and very personal stories of each man there, in my personal life I’ve even been trying to figure out what my past has to tell me about my present and where it will take me in the future. But even more recently, the idea of context and story presented itself in the most unlikely of places, The Tamale Place.

new tamale place brand

Thanks to The Tamale Place for the logo.

If you aren’t from Indianapolis, or you aren’t familiar with The Tamale Place,  it’s one of the incredible culinary gems of our great little city. In case you couldn’t figure out from their name, they serve some of the most authentic, hand-made tamales you will ever have, and if you don’t get there during the lunch rush, you may never get to try them as they only make a certain amount daily. The Tamale Place, however, is not just tamales. They have the most divine selection of tacos, tortas (a sort of Mexican sandwich) and nachos.

tamale place brand signageI noticed, as I walked through the front door, that they were in the process of updating their brand. They had new paint on the walls, some new signage and some decals promoting their culinary treats attached to the entry wall.

Now, that’s all fine and good, however, the problem I had, was not that they were doing a great job of telling the incredible story of The Tamale Place, it was that it didn’t even seem that they were recognizing their heritage or story at all. That, in my opinion is bad for their brand.

The Tamale Place has the most compelling brand story. A company trying to make a living selling hand-made tortillas and finding themselves in tough times. In a last ditch effort they started making tamales, due to local demand and limited supply, and The Tamale Place was born. (You can see their compelling brand story here:


Thanks to Allen Peters of for the James Victore image.

They turned demand into their livelihood. They turned bad luck into great luck. There is heritage, passion, sweat and tears, bad times and great times in their story. Yet, their new brand has a sort of James Victore-esque feel about them. It feels almost anti-heritage and more about pretty design. Everything is hand drawn, which in and of itself is not bad, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect their story. There’s no reference to the start of a family legacy. The typography is hard to read and the overall feel is grungy rather than time worn. There’s really not even a reference to where tamales come from in the first place, let alone the amazing story that these particular tamales were born out of. To me, this is a disregard for story entirely. Or, worse the imposition of someone else’s story to fill some narcissistic endeavor.

Now, I will admit, as a designer, sometimes I can get so caught up in the story or style of a designer I admire that I will look for a reason to design something that is inspired by that person. But unless it make sense to that brand or their story, it just comes from a selfish desire to prove I can make something pretty, rather than making sure I am telling the clients story accurately.

Even though I like the look of it all (without knowing context) I wonder how rooted in The Tamale Place’s story the design really is (knowing a bit of their story already). It causes some concern as I have seen first hand how not being true to your own story can cause identity crisis and send a business spinning out of control. But that’s a story for another day.

I’m interested to hear what you think. Is context and story important to marketing a brand?

As a designer, how important do you feel the perception of a brand and it’s relationship to it’s story is to the success of that brand?

As a consumer, when you think about the brands you interact with on a daily basis, how important is their story to your decision to consume their products or services?

Do you need help telling your story through strong branding?
Yes! Let’s get started!

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