NEW YORK – In almost every corner of the world, golden arches symbolize something. So does a red bulls-eye. The same is true for a half-eaten apple. Ditto for the well-known swoosh.
The most iconic company logos such as those of McDonalds, Target, Apple and Nike are visual cues that are seared onto peoples consciousness without their even realizing it.
That kind of influence has always been valuable, but now its priceless. Companies are fighting for the shrinking attention spans and wallets of consumers who increasingly get their information on tiny cellphone screens. And as companies expand into emerging markets, images matter more than words. The brand identity that a logo brings can pay off, and companies know it.
Thats why Ford executive chairman Bill Ford described the day that the automaker got back its signature blue oval as one of the best days I can remember. The company gained back the logo along with other assets in May after having used them as collateral for a $23.5 billion loan six years earlier.
Logos are a symbol of who you are, a rallying point, an identification of the company that lets you stand out from others, said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys Inc., a New York customer research firm that measures company image.
And people like logos. LogosQuiz, a smartphone application that tests peoples knowledge of company logos, is one of the top free games on Apples iPad tablet and iPhone. And a short animated French film made up of nothing but logos called Logorama won an Oscar in 2010.
That kind of hype translates into dollars for companies. Interbrand, which tracks brand values, of which the logo is a key part, values Coca-Colas brand at $71.86 billion; McDonalds at $35.59 billion, Nikes at $14.53 billion and Fords at $7.5 billion.
Here is a look at how some companies create and maintain iconic logos.
Target Corp.s bulls-eye was born when department store operator The Dayton Co. decided to open a discount chain in Minneapolis in 1962.
Stewart K. Widdess, Daytons publicity director, was given the task of naming the company so shoppers wouldnt confuse it with the department-store chain. After considering 200 other names, Widdess came up with both the name Target and the now ubiquitous red-and-white bulls-eye.
As a marksmans goal is to hit the center bulls-eye, the new store would do much the same in terms of retail goods, services, commitment to the community, price, value and overall experience, Widdess has been quoted as saying.
The company at first considered using a bulls-eye with a few bullet holes in it. That, however, didnt seem appropriate for a family store.
The first logo had the name Target written in black over a red and white bulls-eye with three red circles and two white circles. The stores first print ad campaigns used the Target as their theme with the tagline: Aim straight for Target discount stores.
The bulls-eye was simplified in 1968 with a red center, one white circle and one red circle, without the name on top of it. Experts say that logo stuck because it embodies the two hallowed traits of a good icon: its simple yet distinctive.
Its incredibly eye-catching in general and its a simple, clean design, said Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor Associates. Its one of the strongest brandmarks in the marketplace.
Of course, Target had something else on its side, too: time. Its more difficult to come up with a memorable logo today than it was 50 years ago because many iconic symbols – such as the bulls-eye – already are trademarked.
Would McDonalds Corp. be the worlds biggest fast-food chain if it kept its original symbols – the McDonald family crest or Speedee the chef – instead of the Golden Arches?
McDonalds was started in 1948 in San Bernardino, Calif., by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald. But by the early 1950s, the Oakbrook, Ill., company began to franchise and grow rapidly when businessman Ray Kroc bought the company.
In 1953, architect Stanley Meston designed the first franchised building, in Phoenix with red and white tiles and a sloped roof. Dick McDonald thought the design was a bit boring, so he sketched in the now-famous yellow arches, dubbing them the Golden Arches, according to Mike Bullington, McDonalds archivist.
But Meston didnt like them. So McDonalds hired sign maker George Dexter to create them. He added in yellow neon, and the arches soon became emblematic of McDonalds restaurants.
Still, they werent yet part of the logo. Originally, McDonalds used the McDonald family crest, a shield with a dragon, fish and boat icon on it, as the logo. When it began to open franchise restaurants, road signs incorporated a single arch along with a chef character called Speedee, which was intended to represent McDonalds Speedee Service System.
It wasnt until 1968 that the double arches became the companys official logo. It was designed by Paul Schrage, then McDonalds chief marketing officer, and DArcy, their advertising agency.
Ironically, that was about the same time actual arches were disappearing from stores, as the company expanded and remodeled old stores. Most arches were gone from McDonalds locations by the end of the 1960s, but the Golden Arches of the logo remained. In fact, theyve become such an icon that theyve hardly been altered since 1968, and are easily recognized globally.
As a symbol, its simple and sticky, says Adamson, the branding expert. Show the logo to kids without the word, and theyll know its a hamburger and French fries.
Gap’s blue square
Not every logo is a hit, of course, especially when a company tinkers with a beloved one. In 2010, without any announcement or warning, Gap Inc. changed its white type-on-navy blue square logo, which it had introduced more than a decade earlier. The new logo had a lowercase gap with a blue box in the right hand corner.
Officials revamped the logo at a time when the retailer, which had brought khakis to the masses in the 1990s, had lost its fashion edge. Sales were slipping.
Gap officials were hoping the new logo would communicate to customers that it was updating its image with more modern designs of jeans, pants and other clothing. But that message was lost on customers.
After the new logo was out, Gap fans voiced their discontent with it on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. A fake Twitter feed, @GapLogo, even was created to lampoon the move (it currently has more than 3,600 followers).
Our Creative Director just quit, the ACD is in a corner drinking and muttering to himself and Jenna the intern is softly crying. JUST GREAT, the feed tweeted humorously the day after the flap.
About a week later, the retailer decided to reinstate its old logo.
The lesson? Its tempting for a company with a well-known logo to want to tinker with the image to boost a sagging reputation. But thats often a mistake since logos become more recognizable, and thus more valuable, the longer theyve been around. And of course, a logo change cant solve all of a companys problems.
We remind clients that a logo is not going to change peoples minds, but it can stay in the mind and burn into memory, said Sagi Haviv, a partner at Chermayeff & Geismar, a firm that designed the Chase bank logo, among others.