Into the world of post-logo branding

Alex Bigman

In 2009, the Los Angeles clothing company Freshjive decided to take a new approach to branding. Specifically, 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 shirt fronts, their labels, their website—anywhere. Ten years after the publication of Naomi Klein’s No Logo, Freshjive were to be a brand without a mark, ready to prove that it could be done.

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

Consider Abercrombie and Fitch, a much larger player in the apparel industry. Americans who spent their teenage years in the 2000s surely 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.

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Not any more. In 2014, 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 “logos are for cans not for people,” or with nothing at all.

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This follows a similar campaign in Western markets, where Coke cans replace the logo script with the phrase “Share a Coke with,” followed by a name or phrase (i.e. “Emma,” “a friend,” “superwoman” …)

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.

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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. As you can see below, the word started to take off in the mid 1970s and climbed precipitously over the next three decades. But sure enough, its peak occurred in 2008—right before Freshjive ditched its mark—and since then it has been in decline for the first time in history.

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What the heck is going on, and what does it mean for designers?

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

Freshjive and Abercrombie apparently realized 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 soda you’re drinking; the slim aluminum shell and high-resolution vista of Yosemite valley make it clear what computer and operating system you are buying.

Plenty of other companies have succeeded in creating such multivalent brands. Surely you will have no trouble identifying the companies responsible for the products below:

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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.

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No actual fast food hamburger is going to look anything like this. But you know exactly who this one belongs to, just the same. The red gradient background and even the photography style leave no room for confusion: this has to be McDonalds.

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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 basically identical to Ferrari’s anyway.

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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 will 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.

What do you think… is the logo dead? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Featured image: “Share a Coke with ___” campaign (via Creative Guerrilla Marketing)

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