Note to critics – a logo is not a brand

Headlines that read “Verizon / Google reveals new brand” are “fundamentally wrong”, says Brand Union’s Toby Southgate, who argues that the long term strategy behind rebrands is often overlooked or misunderstood.

Google's new identity
Google’s new identity

Another day, another new logo. Google and Verizon in the same week. Imagine!

The news provided endless opportunities for marketing industry commentators not just to subtly trash their competitors’ work, but also to talk and write about something that’s not advertising or paid media or ad-tech related. What joy.

The sad fact is that all this discussion is largely meaningless and certainly transient. It exposes advertising and marketing (and the press that covers these industries) as a shambles of jargon, labels and misunderstanding.

Headlines that read “Verizon / Google reveals new brand” are fundamentally wrong. It’s a logo. Nothing more.

The new Verizon identity, designed by Michael Bierut
The new Verizon identity, designed by Michael Bierut

It might represent more; it might have a deeper explanation or solid strategic rationale. But the interesting stuff – the enterprise-level decision-making that finally, eventually, one day manifests in a new logo – isn’t covered. It’s not spoken of in corridors or written about in the trade publications.

The reason for this is simple. It’s part of long-term and directional business strategy that sits in or very near the boardroom. And if Verizon publicised it, their competitors would lap it up and use it against them.

This is not like the advertising world, where pitches are news and leaking work is now called “seeding strategy”. A million YouTube hits pre-broadcast would excite most CMOs and likely get the brand manager promoted. But if their agencies told the full story or leaked it in advance, they would be fired.

Brand strategy and design is different. We exist in a murky part of an already murky world. We accept that much of what we do is either misunderstood and misreported, or poorly judged (without strategic context nothing else is objectively possible) and forgotten before it is proven wrong.

Michael Bierut, who designed the new Verizon logo, was asked earlier this week by Fast Company to comment on the new Google identity. He said: “I’ve declared a temporary moratorium on commenting on new logos in the press. I find that my first impressions are too often superseded.”

I love his comment; it’s a plea for sanity.

The New School identity, by Bierut’s fellow Pentagram partner Paula Scher, launched earlier this year and was exposed to the same subjective critique as Google and Verizon this week. As was Wolff Olins’ identity for the London 2012 Olympic Games upon its reveal in 2007.Paula Scher's New School identity

Paula Scher’s New School identity

In just the same way as the Olympics identity did, the New School work gets stronger and stronger as it comes to life. Like all great brand design work, it lives and breathes in the real world, not on a blog or on a white background in a press release.

The Olympics design was so strong and so powerful that multiple other agencies could take it, execute it and create a completely immersive brand experience across the world’s biggest sporting event. The press and armchair enthusiasts that slated the work in 2007 were praising it (or hiding) in 2012.

There are several challenges here for the industry in general, for all of us working within it, for our clients and for the press that covers it.

But there’s also a fundamental question that same industry and same press has a responsibility to address: is a logo and a brand the same thing? If we were to believe most of the coverage we’ve seen this week, the answer would be yes.

However, the true answer is no, not ever. The two are entirely, fundamentally, perennially different.

Discover more:

• Google has a new logo – we look at how it was designed

• US telecoms giant Verizon rebrands with new Michael Bierut logo

• Paula Scher uses “revolutionary” typeface in rebrand of The New School


Toby Southgate is worldwide chief executive at Brand Union.

Hide Comments (4)Show Comments (4)
  • C G September 5, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Funny how the article considers the ‘misunderstanding’ of a logo vs brand then describes the ‘logo’s’ in question as being an identity. It’s the random use of these words which create these problems in the first place!

  • Nick Bowman September 7, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    No doubt (I hope) Toby Southgate is preaching to the converted. It is hard to imagine a design or marketing professional that doesn’t understand the difference between a ‘logo’ and a ‘brand’. But the reporting of a new brand is often in the broader media which neither understands, nor wants to understand the difference. And if you’re sitting at your computer, and what you see is an updated logo, why would you care about the strategy behind it, particularly if no one wants to talk about it? Google used their communication to explain they wanted a logo that would work across all platforms…now is that a brand strategy or an updated logo design?

  • Alex Tomlinson September 8, 2015 at 3:03 pm

    I’d say Google 100% has unveiled a new brand, because they haven’t just shown a logo. Yes thats what the press are commenting on, but the dot motif and the movement and the indications for how it moves in a fluid way between applications inherently reveals the strategy behind the design and all the write ups that Google have themselves provided point to this very much being the unveiling of a brand rather than a logo.

  • Neil Littman September 9, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    I dispute that the Olympics logo got stronger. I thought it was rubbish when it came out and it was still rubbish when the Olympics started. I have never changed my view about it. Recently I saw it on someone’s bag or t shirt or something and it actually provoked a severely negative reaction after three years.

  • Post a comment

Latest articles

From the archives: Picture Post

As we head back into our archives, here’s a gem from March 1990. Jane Lewis looks at the creative ways design firms promoted their services through mail-outs.