The logo is dead, long live the brand world

Logos with no relevant context risk alienating consumers and staff alike. Simon Manchipp thinks it’s far better to create a brand world

I know, I know – it’s an emotive subject, but increasingly I think we are flogging a dead horse when it comes to just creating yet another witty symbol for yet another company, product or service.

Yes, logos have been around for forever and, yes, I, too, like the story of hieroglyphics. Sure, the Nike swoosh has, through hundreds of millions of pounds of investment, established itself as an elegant shorthand for sportswear. But who has that kind of budget now? What company knows it is not going to be bought/sold/merged/bankrupt in three years? The truth is that logos are now a red herring. The ones that survive are the exception, not the rule.

Just so we are all clear, when I say logo, I mean the squiggles, animals, lines and swishy bits designers like to revel in. For example, take the MSN butterfly – really, exactly what is going on in the odd picture below?

Logos are a hangover from another time. They need to be shaken off, moved away from, de-focused. Here are four reasons why:

First, public desire. No member of the public thinks that spending £70 000 on a new logo is a good idea. In fact, they think companies that spend more than £500 on one are fools. Everyone thinks they are a designer now – after all, they have all chosen their curtains, their shoe colour, their haircut – and how hard can it be to design a logo, anyway? Companies are making people redundant, then coughing up for pricey doodles. It doesn’t make sense. Newspapers hate new logos – when was the last time you saw a broadsheet or tabloid sing the praises of a new logo? Logos are seen as a waste of money.

Second, public need. A million people have never marched in support of ’more branding’. Pubs used to rely on logos, on pictures to ensure the illiterate could find the right boozer. Illiteracy is not really a major factor now, and so the logo isn’t as necessary or as useful as it once was. New logos are not useful, they are confusing. Why does the Argos brand think that a ’smile’ added to its name will make it more relevant? The smile doesn’t help the public – the store isn’t better, and the goods are not cheaper because of it. Nothing has changed, yet Argos has a new logo. Why? What’s going on? Logos are just seen as decoration.

Third, commercial need. A new logo for any company scares its staff. They ask, ’What’s wrong? Why the change? New management? Is my job safe?’ It’s not good. Sure, brands and their branding exist where competition arises. They aim to create a monopoly, to eliminate their rivals. Yet brands need to connect with people – emotionally, culturally, economically and clearly. But a logo alone fails nearly every time, because it needs an explanation. I’m an MSN customer, not a lepidopterist, so why is a butterfly relevant to me? You’re a tour operator called Thomson, with a wink as a logo – a wink, as in ’We’re dodgy’? That can’t be good. So new logos confuse staff and their customers, too.

Fourth, new digital needs. Nothing but the simplest shapes work at the new, digitally prescribed sizes. Twibbons, favicons, mobile screens, PDAs – small screen-based branding is a nightmare for anything more complex than a heart or a cross. Digital is the new fax, the acid test of visual branding.

When you look at brands like O2, you’ll discover its success lies in the richness and depth of its ’brand world’, which features bubbles, colour, photography and typography. This forms a flexible branded platform that is instantly recognisable – you could remove the logo and still know the brand. The logo in itself is not the ’hero’ here. So while we acknowledge that the logo is not about to disappear – and that it is still an important part of any brand toolkit – there is a case for applying more emphasis on brand worlds (see box below).

Simon Manchipp is founder and creative director of Someone

New thinking

Word marks work – type it out, give it a colour and a good typeface. Perfect. Perfect because we are increasingly search-led consumers. Perfect because it works internationally – no matter what the multilingual barriers are, retailers will always accept Visa to pay for Sony products

Brand worlds are where the smart money is going – they add depth to the brand name. They are the Adidas stripes down the side of the shoe or the leg of the tracksuit, at the entrance to the store and on the endframe of the TV ad. They are the O2 bubbles rising from the press ad, the decor inside the stadium, the animation on the mobile phone

Brand worlds are coherent – they’re coherent (not just consistent) universal branding systems. They cannot be missed in the clutter of 20 million (and growing) cheap logos. They distinguish a product or service more completely, more deeply than any one-dimensional clip-art could ever hope to do. They are varied, rechargeable, developing tools for brands

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