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When it Comes to Logos, It’s Always Open Season

There certainly seems to be a lot of interest in logos these days! As evidenced by Pepsi, GAP, Starbucks and others — people love to shoot down logos.

I find this phenomenon fascinating. I always thought logos, as important and visible as they are, were mostly ignored by the public at large. Vying and wrestling for our attention, they are just there, in all their crass glory — contributing to so much of the visual clutter we see every day. People generally tend to program themselves to tune out distractions — as a kind of coping mechanism.

It’s no secret that social media has given voice to the legions of people looking to express themselves. But where is this passion for logos coming from? Is it new or has it always been there? We know how much brands can mean to people, but logos? Has our capitalistic society so consumed our consciousness that we are now “one” with our consumerism, and logos really are like old buddies?

Or is it something else? Is it simply a herd mentality that mobilizes and propels us to start throwing darts?

It’s all in good fun, right? Logos are easy targets — simple, little defenseless visuals that they are. If we know and relate to a brand, perhaps we feel it’s our god-given right to criticize. After all, it’s our hard-earned dollars that made them who they are, right?

I’m guilty too

When it comes to logos, I’m as critical as anyone. With the GAP debacle, I was right in the thick of it and spewing my opinions. As a professional designer/creative director, there were real concerns — not just about the logo per se, but also about the process itself and how a major corporation was going about its rebranding while devaluing the design profession.

Recently, Starbucks has also raised passionate discussions about their plans for a logo change. Again, the comments have been overwhelmingly negative and harsh.

But I find something here very telling: with Starbucks, those in the professions of design and branding seem much more measured in their criticisms. The broader public, though, seems just as angry and snarky as they were of GAP.

It’s open season on logos again — no distinction is made between the two experiences although both are somewhat different. I have witnessed this same behavior on several of my own logo projects over the years.

Pros and cons(umers)

As professionals, we are analytical in our assessments — exploring the rationales behind the solutions; paying attention to the overall objectives and strategies. But for casual observers, the reaction is just a natural response. They either like it or they don’t.

Are these opinions then “more real” in a sense? Aren’t these the same people who will be reacting in the marketplace and making purchasing decisions? They certainly won’t be giving logos very much thought when buying their jeans and Grande Lattes.

Do the experts really know something more?

I think what it comes down to is this: When a logo and new identity program is rolled-out, it is usually done in a strategically deliberate fashion — planned just as carefully as the design phase. Logos usually aren’t just foisted on the public who are then asked what they think. At least that’s not how it used to happen.

Recently though, and partially enabled by Facebook and Twitter, some companies seem compelled to let the cat out of the bag early, before the logo has been given a proper introduction. Surely, companies know this will invite criticism, especially in this climate of logo-bashing.

Maybe all they want is early buzz, even if it’s negative. They probably see no harm in crowdsourcing opinions in order to head off any problems early on. But does this in itself invite problems? At the very least, it is likely to produce inaccurate feedback.

Give change a chance

Whatever the case may be, it is clear that people have fun shooting down logos. But if people were given the opportunity to let them breathe, the result might be different. People don’t like change, so abruptly foisting a new logo on someone cold welcomes a negative reaction.

It is common for logos to grow on people with time. As they gain familiarity, good logos fit naturally with the rest of the branding strategy and then all the rest starts to make sense, propelling the brand to new successes. When executed well, the change is noticed but not obtrusive. Hopefully, it’s never off-putting.

Many companies, especially larger ones, are notorious for possessing insecurities, particularly around identity change time. They like to test the waters. Understood. They also like publicity.

But perhaps these branding changes would meet with less resistance if companies stopped jumping the gun. And for those who just like taking aim at logos, maybe they’d be a little less trigger-happy if the poor little things were given more room to live.


Article by Paul Biedermann.
Elmer Fudd character © Warner Bros.

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