Do Logos Matter Anymore?

A recent study asked people to draw logos of well-known brands from memory. Most of them failed, but does it matter?

The study, which prompted drawings that ranged from nutty my-four-year-old-did-it, to the occasional picture perfect rendering, was conducted by signs.com, which is in the sign-making business. It was a brilliant PR stunt that got covered in Adweek, New York Times, and Daily Mail.

I’m not sure it tells us anything about logos, though. At least not directly.

It’s amazing that most people got the logos sorta right; although only 16% of the drawings were picture perfect, most of them were in the ballpark, so the survey results say a lot more about how few people possess artistic skills than remember logos. And who cares about recreating them accurately — does the Domino’s dice have two or three dots, or the Burger King hamburger use more red than gold? — versus the fact that most people recognize them.

Logos are shorthand for brands, like a catchy jingle only visual, intended to be a label or reminder of a company’s offering (just as an identifier gets burned into the rear-ends of cattle, hence the use of the word). They’re useful, if not outright necessary, in a world wherein consumers stroll down streets lined with shops, or peruse ads limited by available page space and convention, and have no other way to discern and locate differences.

We don’t live in that world anymore.

Some of the most successful brands today don’t really rely on logos; Google has one, but changes it daily just for fun, and I couldn’t even tell you if Airbnb has one (it looks like a destroyed paperclip). Since digital services are accessed via textual or verbal search, or by stored bookmarks, I remember that Amazon has that swooshy smile logo, but it’s irrelevant to my customer experience.

Brands mattered when they were static, limited in exposure to printed page, strictly metered TV buys, or a wash of facades in a shopping mall. Now, they’re explained and verified by ongoing virtual conversations among consumers, and between consumers and businesses, so they’re fluid in ways that can’t be captured by the shorthand of a graphic image.

Those connections are where brands exist today, which takes them out of the creative imagination of marketers, and puts them into the hands of diverse communities of stakeholders. The smartest companies today are trying to formalize those connections with smartphone apps, for which logos become nothing more than an entry points.

A logo makes a great smartphone button, but…

The button on Walmart’s smartphone app features its yellow asterisk logo (emerging from a little box), though it could just as simply be, well, a buttonwith the word “Walmart” under it. You don’t need the logo to tell you anything other than it’s the right button; everything that matters to you is communicated via other ways.

So brands might still matter, but perhaps in keeping with the original definition as identifiers that we use only if and when necessary. I want to make sure I jump into a Lyft instead of an Uber. The distant, glowing McDonald’s sign on the highway means I’ll find a clean bathroom.

But they’re no longer vessels for meaning that can be artificially constructed or perpetuated. What was once shorthand is now searchable and endlessly available. What we remember about brands has everything to do with how we experience them, not whether or not the referee in Foot Locker’s logo is wearing a hat (he’s not).

Just think how much money is still being spent presuming to make graphics mean something else.

Brand are just signs. Coming from a sign company, the survey was a smart bit of PR.

[This essay was originally published at Medium.com]