Unraveling The Logic Behind Logos

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Published January 24, 2013

| FOXBusiness

The Sirens in Greek mythology were dangerously devious creatures similar to mermaids that lured sailors close to shore to be shipwrecked.

They also sparked Starbucks’ (SBUX) twin-tailed mermaid logo that is now renowned across the globe, helping to attract millions of people to the high-end coffee shop daily and devouring them with the café’s ambiance.

Logos are the heart, mind and soul of a company’s brand. For the lucky ones, whether it’s a word, color, picture or phrase (think Nike’s “Just Do It”), the logo might even be an emotional token to the customer, evoking a heightened sense of brand loyalty.

That’s one reason why customers often respond with initial rejection, perhaps even outcry, when companies undergo major logo changes. In some cases, like Tropicana, the backlash can be so overwhelming it prompts the company to revert back to its old ways.

“Whenever there’s a new logo rollout half the people freak out,” said Steve Douglas, founder of Logo Factory.

So, why do it? In the successful cases, like Apple (AAPL) and Starbucks, logo changes can provide a key to a fresh new start.

“A logo change is always a great way to control-alt-delete when it comes to customer perception of a brand,” said Keith Rogers, an independent consultant who helps build brands and is currently consulting several startups.

Starbucks, for example, not only switched around its colors when it unleashed a new logo in March 2011, it also famously dropped “Starbucks Coffee” from the image, giving it the ability to diversify beyond coffee should it choose to do so.

Transforming the brand allows companies to refresh their image, move into new markets, create a new image or simply just shake things up, Douglas said.

“A logo can get dated over the years -- if a design was created a long time ago different design sensibilities come into play,” he said.

Apple may have maintained its half-bitten apple logo over the years, however its color changes – today it boasts a sleek silver one – have changed over time to meet the changing tastes of consumers.

It's important to remember, however, that changing a logo too many times can send mixed, almost “schizophrenic” signals, Douglas said. It could also lead to wasteful spending as the company is constantly updating its inventory – from pens and paperweights to pricey headquarter signs or paint jobs.

Usually, though, logo changes carry lengthy, well-thought-out back stories. Take American Airlines as an example. The carrier, whose parent is analyzing a potential merger with U.S. Airways (LCC), unveiled last week its first new logo since 1968.   

See the picture carousel above for an evolution of American’s logo

The Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier dropped the traditional eagle and double “A” from its logo and instead adopted a sleeker, more modern image while maintaining the patriotic red, white and blue colors that have become so identifiable with the airline’s name and brand.

The carrier said the work to develop a “fresh, new brand” began nearly two years ago when American placed the largest aircraft order in history of 460 Boeing (BA) planes. It is hoping the change shows customers just how much it has evolved through its court-supervised overhaul.  

The logo, an American spokesperson said, is designed to symbolize its “passion for progress” and marks the “next step” of its journey as it becomes a "new American." The company unveiled the logo just weeks before the first two aircraft of the massive July 2011 order are expected to enter service.

American's modern design – as well as its silver-clad jets painted with rigid-looking American flags on the tail – makes the airline's fleet look newer and safer while evoking a sense of patriotism.

“American Airlines’ image has been damaged,” Rogers said, and this is one way to help mend the blemished brand. “This makes the fleet look newer, so even if it’s the same old planes, you feel safer,” he said.

At the same time, its simplicity and modern design gives the airline greater branding options should it combine with US Airways.

Google (GOOG) in many ways revolutionized logos when it launched in 1997 with just one simply-typed word in four primary colors. Since setting the stage, several companies, especially those in the tech world, have similarly simplified their logos.

Taking a page from that playbook, eBay (EBAY) did just that in October when it unveiled a more mature-looking logo, dropping the silly font and funky alignment for the first time in 18 years.

Today it’s “not how much you can cram into a design but how much you can communicate with how little you put in,” Rogers said, who has previously done branding work with Starbucks.

EBay said the changes better reflect “the new eBay” and its evolution as a marketplace while symbolizing a “dynamic future.” The logo, which still boasts the same four colors on its web site, honors the company’s heritage, a spokesperson said, but expresses a more modern design to match today’s “more contemporary and consistent shopping experience” and eBay’s “leading role” in the “future of shopping.”

“Changing our logo was not a decision we made lightly,” she said. “We recognize people feel a special connection to our previous logo, but too often it reminded people only of what eBay was, and not what eBay is today: a modern global marketplace.”

Of course, not everyone always agrees. Douglas said the eBay logo “lost a lot of its character” when it matured. However, in eBay’s case, it is trying to change the way people view and perceive its brand, so perhaps that’s a good thing.

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