When developing new brands for clients, I often hear phrases, “We really like the Nike swoosh” or “Can we get something like the Apple logo?” Although it would be ideal to simply create a logo that commands such recognition and respect before the ink dries, we have to remember that these are established brands—and the affect they have on the buying public wasn’t accomplished in a day.
In fact, both Nike and Apple are 40+ year old brands that have been built and established through campaign after campaign, and have been funded by billions of dollars over time. And, yes, they’ve experienced some good luck along the way. But they’re more than their logos.
Flag-Waving and Symbolism
I’ve always been drawn to the comparison of a logo to a flag. Merriam-Webster defines a flag as, “A usually rectangular piece of fabric of distinctive design that is used as a symbol (as of a nation), as a signaling device or as a decoration.” There is no mention of a flag carrying meaning. It’s merely a symbol of something that has meaning.
In the U.S., we love our flag. It’s everywhere. Nearly every public building displays some form of it. There is even one on the moon. Anyone growing up in the U.S. has at some point attended a sporting event or public gathering where the national anthem was performed. As tradition dictates, you turn to face the flag and remove your hat, come to attention and placed your hand over your heart.
For me it is when the anthem hits the point of, “Oh say does that star-spangled banner…” that I get that little tingle running up my back. That tingle could be called pride or nationalism, but it’s also a brand.
Paul Rand, best-known for creating logos for companies such as IBM, UPS, Westinghouse and ABC, wrote:
- A logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon.
- A logo doesn’t sell (directly), it identifies.
- A logo is rarely a description of a business.
- A logo derives it’s meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around.
Let’s get back to the flag on the moon. If some intelligent being from a distant planet were to land on the moon and come across the American flag, would it have any meaning to them?
The flag is an abstract arrangement of geometric shapes and primary colors, but any meaning would be based solely on this being’s opinion of these elements. No where does the flag say, “In order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Without supporting brand elements, the flag could be meaning literally anything—or nothing—to someone who has no context about why it exists.
Let’s look at America’s branding elements:
- Brand pillars: The U.S. Declaration of Independence & Constitution
- Advertising: American History classes
- Brand spokespeople: American historical figures
- Jingles and theme songs: The National Anthem, God Bless America, and many more
- PR firm: U.S. Department of State
The U.S. has had more than 200 years of these branding elements all working together to establish that story that exists in my gut, which causes that tingling feeling I experience.
There’s More to the Story
Nike and Apple are great, aspirational examples, and it’s not necessary to spend billions of dollars starting your new brand. What is important is to look at your brand’s goals and remember there is more to its story than just making a logo and hoping people respond positively to it.
Approach the process of logo design by starting with a foundation of clear brand goals, then build strong supporting elements along with a logo, and your brand will be on the path to success.
If you’re considering a new brand or logo, we’d love to chat! Drop us a line and we’ll be in touch.