News & Views

Opinion / The Death Of The Logo

by Contagious Contributor
Patrick Llewellyn, CEO of graphic marketplace, 99designs on why brands should strive to be distinctive enough to resonate without their logos

In 2009, the Los Angeles clothing company Freshjive decided to take a new approach to branding. They got rid of their logo – and the funny thing was they didn’t replace it.

From 2010 on, no insignia would appear on their shirts, labels or website – anywhere. Ten years after the publication of Naomi Klein’s award-winning book No Logo, Freshjive were to be a brand without a mark, ready to prove that it could be done.

Not only did Freshjive’s gamble work, but it seems to have set a much larger trend.

Consider Abercrombie and Fitch, a much larger player in the apparel industry. Americans who spent their teenage years in the 2000s remember Abercrombie’s logo – a silhouette of a moose, embroidered onto everything from t-shirts to underwear. Fifteen years ago, the mark carried immense symbolic value. Not any more.

Last year Abercrombie’s CEO announced that the company would be removing its logo from all products sold in America. Not only had the moose image lost its cool, but the very fact of having a logo at all was apparently preventing the company from selling clothes, as young consumers gravitated toward less logo-centric brands like H&M and Zara. Now all that remains is the company’s stately word mark.

The no-logo phenomenon is spreading beyond fashion. This summer, Coca-Cola stripped cans of their iconic word mark in Middle Eastern countries, replacing it with the phrase ‘labels are for cans not for people’ – or with nothing at all.

This follows a similar campaign in Western markets, where Coke replaced the logo on its cans with the phrase Share a Coke with, followed by a name or phrase (eg. ‘Emma, ‘a friend’, ‘superwoman’, etc).

Finally, let’s have a look at the latest MacBook Pro. You may have noticed that the brand mark, which until 2013 was printed squarely beneath the screen, has disappeared. All that remains of overt branding is the apple symbol on the reverse side.

But do a few examples necessarily mean there is a real shift underfoot?

Using Google ngram, we graphed the usage of the word ‘logo’ since 1900 to see if the results would accord with these striking new case studies. The word started to take off in the mid 1970s and climbed precipitously over the next three decades. But its peak occurred in 2008 – right before Freshjive ditched its mark – and since then it’s been in decline for the first time in history.

So what does this mean for brand designers?

When thinking of branding, the mind often jumps directly to the logo. Indeed, it’s common for graphic designers to start here and work outward. But a brand consists of so much more – colours, patterns, typefaces, shapes, textures, service and attitude.

Freshjive and Abercrombie apparently realised that, of these brand elements, their logo was no longer the most important – in fact, it was bringing them down. Meanwhile, Coke and Apple have done such a good job creating defined brand aesthetics, they no longer need to rely on actual logo marks anymore.

The red can and ribbon make it clear what you’re drinking – the slim aluminium shell and high-resolution vista of Yosemite Valley make it clear what computer and operating system you’re buying.

Plenty of other companies have succeeded in creating such multivalent brands. You’ll have little or no trouble identifying the companies responsible for the products below:

Burberry’s actual logo is a jouster. Who knew? They have linked the beige tartan pattern so strongly with their company that it serves as a de-facto brand mark.

No actual fast food hamburger is going to look anything like this – but all the same you immediately know whose product this is. The red gradient background and even the photography style leave no room for confusion – this has to be McDonalds.

Doors that swing up? Car body that looks like molten lipstick? This product carries the Lamborghini brand far more effectively than the company logo, which is near identical to Ferrari’s anyway.

Ikea has demonstrated that even a typeface as seemingly vanilla as Verdana can become a key part of a brand aesthetic. Even without that, though, their identity would be perceptible in their Scandinavian, space-saving furniture designs.

Logos will no doubt stick around for years to come, but their heyday seems to be over.

To stay current, designers have to embrace branding in the more expansive sense, finding new ways to establish identity and trigger consumer memory using a variety of visual (and other) tools.