Pro-logo versus no logo

Guest blogger Lloyd Northover co-founder John Lloyd joins the logo debate and argues that the logo still has a central role in brand building.

Logos are back in the spotlight. Creative Review is on a quest to find the creative industry’s favourite logos while more and more voices are raised to declare the demise of the logo; even D&AD is asking ‘Is the logo dead?’

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, graphic designers working in the field of corporate identity (‘branding’ is now the favoured term) were labelled ‘logo-louts’ by an often hostile and uncomprehending media who accused designers of exploiting clients and extracting from them huge fees for what journalists saw as trivial and easy work.

In the intervening years, branding has gained more respect; it has evolved into a subject worthy of academic study and research and its proven effectiveness and value are better understood.

John Lloyd
John Lloyd

But, today, it has become fashionable again to knock the logo; and now the ‘logo-louts’ are frequently found to be those people working in the branding and design industries. We are told that branding is no longer about logos and design – it is about everything else; it is about corporate behaviour, customer service, product design, product performance, environments, customer communities, consumer experience, consumer power, integrated communications. Of course it is; it always has been. Nobody I have met who has worked in branding over the past 30 years has ever claimed that branding is all about logos. But, there is no doubt that the logo has played, and continues to play, a central role in brand building.

As products become more alike – take, for example, consumer electronics – it is the logo that signals the differences; when products are invisible (as petrol and financial services are) it is the visual identity that makes them tangible. Not just the logo in isolation but the logo as the core element in an integrated visual identity and communications system.

IBM is a good example
IBM is a good example of a brand that endures even when the company experiences a revolution. IBM doesn’t manufacture anything anymore – it is now a research and consulting business. But, the IBM brand values, encapsulated in the retained brand logo, persist and apply with equal effectiveness to a radically different business. With a brand value of 33 million US Dollars, IBM is still number four in the Brand Finance League table of the world’s most valuable brands.

To begin to appreciate the value of logos, imagine the world without them. What would Coca-Cola be without its wordmark and visual identity – just another sweet brown fizzy drink? Imagine Nike without its tick (all sports products look alike), and imagine Apple without its cool livery.

Brands aren’t just useful identifiers; they are also highly valuable assets. In 2010 the Coca-Cola brand was valued at 33 million US dollars. That’s just the brand: the name, the logo, the identity system and the associated goodwill; if you wanted to buy the tangible assets too: the factories and other physical assets, you would have to pay a great deal more.

And, brands aren’t just valuable assets; they also add value. A plain baseball cap can be bought for as little as £1; add a Nike tick to the same product and it will cost you £10.

Not only do brands add value, they also give good value. As product life-cycles become shorter and products come and go, the brand endures and provides continuity; it is a platform on which to launch new products, it reassures customers and it provides a guarantee of quality. And, at the heart of the brand promise is the logo.

By all means give credit to the researchers, analysts, strategy developers, marketers, behavioural scientists, advertising and PR specialists, webmasters and viral communicators, but please don’t underplay the role of brand designers. Corporate design isn’t easy; it takes a great deal of talent and hard work to create a branding system that will last.  So, let us stop knocking logos and logo designers. Let us celebrate the essential contribution of the designer to the building of brands. Let us be pro-logo rather than advocating no-logo.

Hide Comments (11)Show Comments (11)
  • Derek Johnston November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I couldn’t agree more with John if I tried.

    Logo bashing is a re-acrruring subject that seems to appear when not much else is happening to talk about. A brand IS a logo, or at least the visual face of it. Of course there has to be much more to back up a brand; service, attitude, values etc, etc, but fundamentally consumers have to be able to recognise one product or company from another within an instant.

    I would have thought that these days, with a greater pressure to grab people’s attention more quickly, higher volume of communications and the ever increasing use of mobile devices as a means of interface with audiences that the short form for a brand, or logo was more relevant and essential today than ever.

    Moreover, who really does trust or respect a company without a good looking, relevant and aspirational identity – I bet most people.

  • Lora Starling November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Without a logo a brand is like a person without a name or a signature. He/she can dress and make up differently but unless she/he creates these from their own home made source, others can turn up the same. A logo does much, much more than identify a brand and display its uniqueness. A logo expresses the soul of a brand and has a measurable energy of its own. Brand managers go to enormous lengths to protect this energy and the logo is paramount in staking out the brand territory. Think about the power of symbols, designers are modern shamans, designing a desired future for a brand and expressing it visually so that it might be shared with the world

  • Ricardo Martins November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Sorry, but this article is built upon falacies, oversimplifying something that is much more complex than this dicotomy: logo/no logo.

  • Miles newlyn November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It is weird that this even has to be said, but I suppose it is because there are so many people in working branding that don’t do branding, and it serves those people to grow the definition, though at the expense of clarity.

  • Simon Manchipp November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    on the other hand…

    Beyond the logo, written by ?John Lloyd, in 1985

    This and the following article were written for the Industrial Marketing Digest in 1985.
    A logo, says John Lloyd, can help to label a company’s possessions, but alone it cannot be expected to create an identity.
    Many companies and organisations think that a corporate identity consists of a logotype, symbol or visual device that is used to identify all the company’s visual manifestations. This visual device is normally seen as the central and most important element in a corporate design system which will also include a corporate typeface, corporate colours and design standards for stationery, signs, vehicle liveries, workwear and so on.
    These visual design standards are, in most cases, collected together in the form of a design manual, and once a company has such a document on its shelves and has implemented as far as possible the design recommendations contained therein it believes that it has acquired a new corporate identity.
    But a company’s true corporate identity is the sum total of all the impressions it conveys to all its audiences. A corporate image will be influenced more by the way telephones are answered, the performance and reliability of products, speed of delivery, the quality of after sales service, attitudes to the environment and personnel policy than it will by the logotype on note paper and truck sides.

    It is impossible to separate corporate identity from the rest of a company’s activities. Those operating in a single industry or product area such as computer companies, car companies and, in the financial sector, banks and insurance companies, project their corporate attitudes through everything they do and everything they produce.
    The style of a product from Volvo, Sony or IBM tells you something about the company that made it. In this sense the design of the product is an expression of corporate identity
    Reception areas, office interiors, showrooms, meeting rooms and staff facilities influence one’s perception of the organisation. The public spaces of a retail bank are as much to do with its corporate identity as the sign on the fascia outside. Natwest has realised this and is currently undertaking an exercise to improve its corporate image without changing its logo. Design consultants have been appointed to work on bank interiors, displays, posters and brochures as part of a long-term effort to upgrade its identity.

    No amount of tinkering with a logo will change an insurance company’s image if its printed literature remains visually uncoordinated and poorly written. The Sun Alliance Insurance Company wants to improve its image but realises that simply to change its logo and leave everything else the same will not create a new corporate identity. The solution for Sun Alliance will be to analyse all its communications requirements, to identify clearly all its audiences, to develop a policy towards the use of brand names and then to produce guidelines for the design, writing and production of all its communications. If all this is got right there will be a shift in the way it is perceived far greater than could possibly be achieved by a new logo.

    So what does all this mean? It means that corporate identity is not simply a matter of logos and colours.

  • James Huntly November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    If a brand doesn’t pride itself on the continued delivery of its brand promise then nothing can help them. In this digital age consumers are looking for transparency and authenticity, bringing brands down to their knees if they don’t deliver in one simple click!

    Coca Cola, Apple and Nike have all delivered for years, innovating and creating differentiating experiences and products to their competitors. They’re now working harder than ever to maintain their dominance and protect their hard earned brand equity and I think it’s fair to say that creativity and design are key to this.

    Of course well designed identities are a key part of their brand armory, but the iconic ideas, products and services companies offer have and always will need to lead the way.

    A well designed logo or identity can only do what it does best – be the shorthand for the brand if it delivers. If not, it’s game over for the brand and the logo!

  • Andrew Sabatier November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The only thing that has died is the term ‘logo’; not to what the term refers. To what the term refers has changed so much that logos no longer do justice to contemporary brand experiences.

    Pro-logo, that is, ‘professional logo’ and the use of the prefix as a declaration of logo advocacy is not a likely alternative to no logo because the problem is embedded in the term ‘logo’, no matter how it is spun. The catchy and clever ‘pro-logo versus no logo’ will only serve as an enticing headline to counter, to a minor degree, Simon Manchipp’s attention-seeking (and misleading) sensationalist declaration of the death of the logo.

    On the surface neither option appears a likely way forward. A fundamental change to the whole brand-handling set of tools is necessary. This will be achieved by adopting a more effective language with which to handle not only brands but everything (in every sense). We need to change how we talk about brands so as to best represent all the non-logo things and gestures that make up brands, their identities and experiences.

    Brand experiences are comprised of marks, every type of mark: material, linguistic and gestural. There will always be a requirement for one type of mark to be primary. A single mark will always be required because its use enables the least amount of effort to tag and cue the richest experience of a brand. This might often mean only the linguistic mark (the name of the brand) and as Mr Manchipp would have it, presented in a nondescript typeface so that the mark doesn’t appear as a conventional logo.

    However, linguistic marks are not always the most effective way to carry the non-verbal aspects of a brand experience. Some visual marks have the added benefit of also carrying the name with minimal effort – think of Apple or Target’s bullseye. Other symbols are visual marks to which linguistic marks are not inherent but that are closely identified – think Nike.

    And so, I propose, based on Hilary Lawson’s Closure (a story of everything), that brands be handled as coordinated sets of marks (brand-marks) and that that the primary mark that has traditionally been referred to as the ‘logo’ be treated as one of many interconnected brand-marks, and that it be written as one word (brandmark) to denotes its status.

    This is not just a semantic variance on brand-handling systems, it’s a fundamental shift in the reality mediating, thinking and doing force that is the use of language in a particular way. A new language that alters fundamentally how things in the world are grasped and understood. Leading this change should be the most powerful agents to achieve this, commercial brands.


  • Brian Webb November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    ‘not just a semantic variance on brand-handling systems, it’s a fundamental shift in the reality mediating’


  • John Spiegel November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    You really told them like it is, John!
    Thank you for telling the”new comers” what “branding” is all about, and how it all started! You’d think THEY had just
    created this NEW thing called “Branding”

  • Darren Scott November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    A company without a logo is like a person without a face.
    Bland and devoid of emotion, personality and individual character.

    The very essence of any brand is it’s ‘Brand Mark’, the mark used to identify and symbolise the company’s assumed level of service or product quality.

    It all go’s back to cattle!

  • Simon Manchipp November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    When did rebranding start? Pretty shortly after branding, I imagine. It must have been an uncomfortable feeling for those early cattle, still smarting from having the first mark seared into their hides, to notice the iron-age farmer firing up the furnace again on the advice of a trendy neighbour:

    “Two straight lines is all very well, man, but I think if you added another one and a squiggle, you’d be projecting a much more powerful image.”

    “Would people think my cattle were more modern?”


    “I like that bone you’ve got through your nose.”

    “Thanks – it’s the new ‘scourge of my enemies’ chic. Makes you look like you’ve killed a chieftain, although in fact it’s a badger’s tibia.”

    I suppose there was a rebranding explosion when Europe Christianised: loads of mosaics having to be relaid, crosses nailed on to temples, altars altered. Plenty of lucrative work for artists who specialised in making Jupiter look like Jesus; and then, when the Vikings came, look like Odin; and then, when the Vikings converted, look like Jesus again. There can’t have been a bigger payday for the rebranding industries until the Royal Mail became Consignia for a few months. Think of all the business cards that must have been printed and thrown away.

    The first rebranding I was aware of was when Marathon became Snickers. It was a profoundly unsettling moment. The manufacturers were trying to mess with something inside our heads: the noise we associated with a certain object.

    It’s like when you start worrying that blue looks yellow to everyone else and that, when they say “blue”, they’re thinking of yellow and vice-versa. How can you check? How do you describe blue? The mournful one? Aqua-brown? Red’s old sparring partner? Ultimately it’s just “the same colour as all the other things that are blue” – which, as I say, might look yellow to everyone else. When Marathon became Snickers, blue became yellow and words suddenly looked as flimsy as capital in the credit crunch. We’re only two confidence tricks away from grunting and barter.

    So I’m suspicious of rebranding. Last week the abolition of antisocial behaviour orders, asbos, and their replacement with, among other things, criminal behaviour orders was dismissed by Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of the Children’s Society, as “more of a rebranding exercise than anything else”. Well, unusually, it’s a rebranding exercise I’m in favour of because, unlike Jif becoming Cif, it actually means something.

    David Mitchell

  • Post a comment

Latest articles