Similar to the age old chicken and egg idiom- analyzing a brand’s logo can be an exercise in philosophy and understanding. Is a logo great (or terrible) from the moment it is created? Or does it grow with a brand and eventually become a representation of how the brand has performed and what it represents? Essentially the question is- does a logo make a brand or does a brand make a logo?

The answer here is not the chicken or the egg. If I had to relate the answer back to the classic idiom, I would say it is a strange, disturbing chicken-egg hybrid. As in all design work a logo should strive to be simple, clear, memorable, and timeless. It should also be able to be expressed in a variety of mediums and contexts while also representing exactly what its creator intended. Whether we’re talking about a twitter avatar, a billboard, or an embroidered baseball cap a quality logo should be easily identifiable in any situation.

Sure, there are key design elements that go into creating a fantastic logo, but the best logos from history each come with a unique and vast story behind it.  Take for example the iconic Nike swoosh:

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Iconic in nature and synonymous with modern athletic apparel the Nike swoosh was not always seen as the smashing success that it is today. The logo was designed by Carolyn Davidson in 1971 while she was a graphic design student at Portland State University. She was instructed to design something that conveyed motion and would look good on a shoe. The initial impression from Phil Knight and co was one of trepidation- “I don’t love it, but maybe it will grow on me.” They compensated Carolyn with $35.00 and let history take care of the rest. Yes, $35.00.

The Nike logo works because it is a testament to simplicity and can stand on its own. If we apply this idea to other popular logos today we can see the evidence everywhere. From Apple, to Coca-Cola, to FedEx it is clear that simplicity rules. A well designed logo is only half the battle though. It’s the story and the marketing efforts of Nike that have made the logo symbolic of all things athletics, urban, and everything in between.

Not all that different from Nike it is the same reason that religious symbols are so powerful. It is not the basic shape or lines of these symbols that make them dominant, but it is the years of meaning and stories that people have attached and empowered these shapes with. In a way a logo acts as an empty vessel until it is filled with purpose by an outside source.  Note that a quality design is required to achieve this level of engagement.

A popular misconception about logos is that they must be unique in order to be successful or to convey the right message. This could not be further from the truth. Take for example the logos for Campbell’s, Kellogg’s, and Coca-Cola.

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Notice a trend here? The cursive script invokes emotions of nostalgia and a trustworthy brand- something that each of Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, and Campbell’s have all achieved through their product and marketing efforts over the years. Coca-Cola in particular has established itself as a global leader and in turn is also known for having a classic, iconic logo. The fact that all three logos share a similar cursive script and bright red font does not subtract from their impact in the marketing world. A logo is only one part of a brand’s identity. Communication, product, and service are all key in aligning an organization with a consumer’s ideals.

The Coca-Cola logo has for the most part remained intact since its inception save for some minor alterations, but when we look at their biggest competitor Pepsi we see that their logo has changed many times over their existence. Why is this?

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Pepsi started off by trying to emulate their competitor Coca-Cola; however this was not a viable long term strategy because both brands are attempting to sell very similar products. This only works with Kellogg’s, Campbell’s, and Coca-Cola because their products are all unique and difficult to confuse with one another. Pepsi has been attempting to find an identity over the years that capture their beliefs and values while also standing on its own from branding perspective. The latest iteration of the Pepsi logo has been simplified in order to better represent their brand and consumers while hopefully standing the test of time.

A logo is the strongest symbol of a brand. And brand and design are more important today than ever before. So what does your logo say about you?

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