Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thoughts on Logos and Brand Identity...

When I worked in "the private sector" (we say this in education as if it's some tour of duty in WWII), I toiled in marketing / advertising / communications. Regardless of what you call the department most of the work centered around getting creative people, or whole agencies for that matter, to turn art and words into business-like brochures, packaging, advertising, etc...

The process of marrying business and art was difficult, and I doubt it is better now. We would take some high-level branding strategy from management, pair it with an overly wordy set of product features and benefits, and meet with the "creatives" to kick off a project. From that point on, the type A business folk would pace the halls like an expecting parent while the "creatives" would work their alchemy. Sometimes magic would occur, collaborative bliss would spread, and product and monetary success would follow. When the process failed, it got ugly. Corporate failure on any level brings out the worst in people - lots of finger pointing, revisionist history, and general paranoia.

I think logo development is the highest-stake game in the field. Companies spend a lot of money for these brand marks, and they have to serve many purposes (packaging, ads, broadcast, web). Although logos look simple they are hard-fought projects. Let's take a look at some famous logos and their transitions over time.

This company has seen some lean and prosperous times over the past 30 years, but they are gods of advertising and branding. Apple has one of the most iconic logos ever created. That said, it has changed over the years at the hand of graphic artists with a sense of what's hip. From these pictures it clear to see that Apple can't stand wearing last years' fashion.

You can't talk about logos without mentioning Nike. This is arguably the most easily recognized symbol in the world. So much so, that they've dropped out the company name in a lot of their advertising. Let's not forget that Nike has spent billions over the life of the company to etch this symbol into our brains. To be honest, it's memorable but not really that interesting from an artistic standpoint.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi
These cola titans have different strategies when it comes to branding. Coca-Cola has primarily stuck with their original scripted logo in a red or white combo. Pepsi has stayed with their red, white, and blue palette - but they've taken more risks with the brand mark.

The FedEx mark is a great example of a simple image that can be easily modified to convey a set of differentiated services. I like the flexibility here. Plus, they get a bonus for subliminalism. Have you ever noticed that the "e" and the "x" make an arrow pointing right in the space between the letters?

Kentucky Fried Chicken
In my conspiracy-laden mind, "Extra Crispy" and "Soylent Green" have always had something in common! I'm including KFC because of the oddity of Colonel Sanders, a.k.a. "The Colonel". I think it's fascinating that we can all recognize this man, but we know very little about him. His highly stylized image means chicken, and I guess that's all that matters. I like how he's now wearing an apron, as if he's in the kitchen with the other teenagers brewing up his secret recipe.

Not sure how to wrap up this wandering blog, except to say that I've worked with some immensely talented designers and writers and they don't paid enough for the work they do. Well branded companies make a lot of money from strong logo work. Carolyn Davidson created the original Nike logo in 1971 for $35.00! Later, Phil Knight made ammends - but it just goes to show that good designers can be worth billions in the bank.

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