What MacGyver Can Teach Us About Branding

If you were born anytime after the 1980s, you may not be familiar with TV’s most inventive action detective. Armed with only a Swiss Army Knife, a roll of duct tape, and a can-do attitude, MacGyver was known for taking what little he was given and making the most of it. The man literally made a lie detector out of a blood pressure cuff, a stethoscope, and an alarm clock! If that isn’t resourceful, I don’t know what is.

But how can you channel your inner MacGyver when designing your brand? What can the big guy himself teach us about resourceful branding?

In this guide, I share three crafty branding tips worthy of MacGyver himself.


Do you think MacGyver worked out how to make a defibrillator out of candlesticks, a microphone cord, and a rubber mat on his first try?


He experimented. He tried things and embraced trial and error. Endless people got electrocuted unnecessarily, I’m sure — but he got there in the end.

When designing your brand, it’s important to experiment as much as possible and be open to new ideas during the development process. No one expects a brand to find its feet immediately, so leave wiggle room to chop and change when you see fit.

Small-scale experimentation with your brand could end up saving you a lot of time and money.

Consider McDonald’s pizza — a product launched during the 80s when MacGyver was at his peak. The company spent millions adapting their kitchens to accommodate pizzas and thousands more on branding and advertising. When launch day came, they were horrified to find that no one actually wanted pizza from Mcdonald’s. The company experienced huge losses.

These days, the same company makes use of digital ordering systems. McDonald’s tests demand new products by offering them on the order screen and seeing if people want them. This negates much of the risk of rolling out new products that no one cares about.

When designing a logo, for example, try experimenting with a couple of different options to see which one people respond to. Design a selection of logos and share them with a small group to get their feedback. If there’s a clear favorite, then all the better – you know which one to go with.

Seek Solutions

Picture the scene: MacGyver has been captured by pirates, he’s tied to the mast, and about to be fed to flesh-eating piranhas. All is lost, but does he give up? No! There’s got to be a paperclip around here somewhere, he just has to find it.

Metaphors aside — creating a successful brand, especially in an oversaturated market, may require a little inventive thinking. If you are struggling to stand out, look at what’s being done already and ask yourself what’s missing. Is there a way you could come at this from a different angle?

A great example of on-point branding is Woodlot, a small Canadian cosmetics company. This husband and wife duo knew that selling soap and candles would have some stiff competition, so instead of trying to make customers care about their products, they used research to find out what was important to their audience and built their brand around that.

From creating awesome offline experiences through savvy social media marketing to launching an online store to capitalize on the sizable gap in the market for affordable Canadian body care, Woodlot has seen awesome brand growth in a tough market.

In keeping with its focus on simple, quality ingredients, the brand is suitably minimal, using lots of white and soft, botanical accents, with no unnecessary clutter.

Be Brutal

MacGyver is a good guy. He’s brave, has a head full of glossy blonde hair, and as we’ve covered already, he’s very resourceful. But MacGyver is a secret agent with a job to do: he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty.

When setting off on a branding exercise, it’s important that you are brutal with your decisions; being honest with yourself and your team about what is (and isn’t) working.

Let’s say you’re designing a logo. You’ve spent some time messing around with it, but it’s not quite coming together. What do you do?

Sometimes it’s better to cut your losses and start again from scratch, instead of moving forward with a concept that doesn’t quite work.

When building a brand, you have to think about the customer experience:

  1. Evaluate each asset as objectively as possible — get people you respect to give you feedback or submit it on design forums
  2. Ask yourself, are all of the design elements consistent? You might need to run some small focus groups to see how people are reacting to your new direction

If your brand elements are not quite resonating with customers, then judo chops them right outta there.

Branding can be as challenging as it is necessary, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Standing out, finding an original angle, and mastering the perfect brand identity take time and are rarely achieved on the first try.

Instead of aiming for perfection, be sure to do plenty of research into the brand’s target audience and come at it from their point of view. Leave room for experimentation, and never jump in head-first without first seeing what else is out there. And be honest with what isn’t working — know when to scrap ideas and start again.

We may not know how to fashion a jet ski out of a beach umbrella or be able to pull off a camel jacket quite as well as MacGyver does, but following these three tips could get you on the right track to better, more resourceful branding.

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