Logos are dead (the postmortem)

buyology book cover head barcode price tag martin lindstrom neuromarketing subliminal advertising“Logos are dead. And, logo designers are just being defensive and in denial, as this assertion sort of spell out an end to their livelihood.”

Talk about a kick in a logo designer’s baggy pants!

With the passing of each day, and browsing around the internet, I run into more and more “logo obituaries.”

While reading Buyology, a very insightful book on neuromarketing by Martin Lindstrom, I once again stumbled upon the assertion that “logos are dead.”

With this title, the author spends the book analyzing what makes people buy.

The author dedicated the fourth chapter of the book to subliminal advertising, and he discusses how companies selling cigarettes now rely on it to lure smokers, seeing that the government banned ads selling cigarettes.

Ironically, the ban (or rather: the reaction to it by cigarette brands) of cigarette advertisements seems way more profitable, to companies that sells cigarettes, than the return on investment that they saw from their advertising efforts before subliminal (and cigarettes) advertising was declared illegal.

Brief summary of the study:

A group of smokers were used to test the efficiency (or lack thereof) of subliminal advertisements.

From the study, the finding was that smokers respond profitably when a cigarette brand’s logo is not shown in their advertising. Aparently, the moment they see a brand’s logo, they see that as what it is, an ad, they deliberately ignore the ad.

That’s due to their conscious state of mind, which allows them to be rational.

However, smokers fell into the advertiser’s trap when the ads didn’t have the logo of the brand being sold. The advertisers strategically included things that they have, over time, built association to their brand around.

Malboro went as far as sponsoring Ferrari’s racing cars, after sometime, consumers have subconsciously associated “Ferrari Red” with that of Malboro. After that, a brain scan revealed that the sight of a Ferrari trigged whatever is responsible for a smoker craving a puff — all this is subconscious to the smoker.

So what the ads did was, not to sell the smokers smokes but, to trigger whatever is responsible for them to crave a cigarette, by merely showing something that the smokers have subconsciously associated with a particular of a cigarette brand.

Below is an extract from the study:
“In 1997, in preparation for the ban on tobacco advertising that was about to come into place in the United Kingdom, Silk Cut, a popular British tobacco brand, began to position its logo against a background of purple silk in every ad they ran.It didn’t take long for consumers to associate this plain swath of purple silk with the Silk Cut logo, and eventually with the brand itself.

So when advertising ban came into effect, and the logo was no longer permitted on ads or billboards, the company simply created highway billboards that didn’t say a word about Silk Cut or cigarettes but merely showcased the logo-free swaths of purple silk. And guess what? Shortly after, a research study revealed that an astonishing 98 percent of consumers identified those billboards as having something to do with Silk Cut, although most were unable to say exactly why.

In other words, the tobacco companies’ efforts to link “innocent images” — whether of the American West, purple silk, or sports cars — with smoking in our subconscious mind minds have paid off big time.”

(Martin Lindstrom’s conclusion)

“For companies, the logo is regarded as king, the be-all and end-all of advertising. But our study had just shown with what my research team assured me was 99 percent scientific certainty, the logo was, if not dead, then certainly on life support; that the thing we thought was most powerful in advertising was in fact the least so.”

Did the logo really lose its “magical” powers?

I think Martin is right. But, on a wrong expectation. A logo never had such power to sell, by simply dangling it in the eyes of consumers. And, it’s impossible to lose something you’ve never possessed.

A logo was, and should always be, used as a tool used by the owner to mark their products. That’s the most important responsibility of a logo.

Although, companies like Apple’s products can be identified with ease even with their logo out of sight, a logo is Apple’s way of saying “we made this,” which will attach whatever emotions and expectations you have in Apple’s products to any product that bears their logo itself.

In the context of branding, a logo will identify the brand it stands for, but it can never, at least solely, capture or communicate the entire brand story or philosophies.

What a vast number of people, like Martin, are expecting the logo to do is comparable to a job seeker expecting their identity (just the name – not their reputation) to sell them to the interviewer without them having to show their resume, their portfolio, or even utter a word.

The challenge is that an identity, verbal or visual, of a person or business, carries with it a reputation. But, what is supposed to make the sale is the reputation, memories, and experiences that a logo is meant to evoke, and not the logo itself.

Conclusion and a simple solution:

A logo is nothing but a visual brand name, and not a sales pitch. Furthermore, the term “logo” should be replaced with a more meaningful word.

A word that bespeak the role which the mark should be expected to fulfill.

In my next writing, I’ll explain and share what we as “logo designers” should do to move forward, and how colleagues like Andrew Sabatier are doing their bit to advocate branding led identities.