Even young children understand the power of brands and trademark symbols before they can read.

Years ago, when my children were at the ripe young age of wondering (and maybe caring) what my job was, I’d try to explain the kinds of things a trademark attorney might do. Of course, I didn’t tell them some view trademark types as “the most basic figure.”

It took a while to find a message that stuck with them. What finally got through was when I posed a hypothetical question, asking whether they liked eating at the Golden Arches, and what they would think if they couldn’t get a Happy Meal there because it wasn’t McDonalds after all, but some other restaurant using the Golden Arches too. They were outraged this could ever happen.

So, the Golden Arches can probably stand alone.

Here is another non-verbal logo that can truly stand alone:

Yes, it functions as an exceedingly strong and probably famous brand and trademark with no further explanation or word mark to support it (and to not undermine my point, I’ll refrain from uttering the four letter brand name firmly linked to it in our minds).

What do you think about this one?

(As you may recall, Dan previously posted on a different topic related to this logo here).

I’d respectfully suggest that when the hang-tag attached to the luggage item bearing this logo is closely supported by a lot of words like SWISSGEAR, WENGER, and FROM THE MAKER OF THE GENUINE SWISS ARMY KNIFE, the logo is having a tough time standing alone and probably needs a trademark support group.

By the way, anyone notice the resemblance to the flag of Switzerland?

How about the International or American Red Cross?

Last thought, for now, concerning non-verbal logos, really:

Don’t brand owners need to “name” their non-verbal logos, especially those that “stand alone,” otherwise how can anyone spread the word, so to speak?

For example, Nike seems to have figured this out, owning federal trademark registrations for the word SWOOSH (in connection with footwear and clothing items), separate and apart from what is known as the “Swoosh” Logo.

McDonalds similarly owns a federal registration for the words THE GOLDEN ARCHES for restaurant services.

I’m not sure there is a suitable, brief and unique name for the Wenger logo shown above, perhaps that is part of the reason for the “FROM THE MAKER OF THE GENUINE SWISS ARMY KNIFE” tag line?

Wenger describes their non-verbal logo in recent trademark filings this way: “The mark consists of a chrome colored cross on a red square with rounded edges, outlined by a chrome colored square with rounded edges.”

I think this just proved my point.

  • I think you make an interesting point and I agree that effective non-verbal logos have such strong and distinctive identity that they practically beg for a name of their own (and it would be an interesting chicken or egg discussion to learn the origins of some of those logos’ names). However, I think the vital question is how did the logo get that way? How did it achieve such distinctive stature? No single component alone can do the job – exposure alone won’t do it, graphic strength alone won’t do it, and fierce protection alone can’t get the job done (not to mention reputation, consistency and disciplined use) – to achieve the power of a non-verbal strength requires a blend of all of these factors. Likewise, a failure in any of these categories could critically hurt even the strongest of brands. Imagine if Nike stopped defending the Swoosh? How long before a million knock-offs would displace and diffuse the recognizability of the image.
    How far can you push the boundaries of a logo? Take a look at Snickers current ad campaign – this is testing the strength and limits of the non-verbal elements of the logo – the font, the color scheme, the motif, but it is a risky strategy. Once those elements are decontextualized from the word “Snickers” there is a threat to the ability to reassemble the parts. Is the color brown protectable? Does this open Pandora’s box for brand vandalism?

  • The things that make non-verbal logos work
    1. Consistency – There is a tendency to change for the sake of change – usually client fatigue or a changing of the Brand Manager or Agency
    2. Cool graphics – Art will always rock
    3. Relevance – if it really is a part of my life, I want the badge
    I knew the swiss army symbol instantly because the product has been relevant to me since I got my first good camping knife.

  • What we are discussing here are not logos but icons of a logo. The Nike swoosh, McDonald’s Golden Arches, The Target target, Apple’s apple are all icons. Their power is solely due to the success of the brand. They become so powerful that they become the logo, once the company name is dropped. Authenticity of brand experience is the sole reason for this phenomenon.
    None started out solo. As the brand gained power, the public comes to identify with the icon. That icon can be visual such as the examples above, scent oriented as in Cinnabon, Sound oriented as in the Harley growl and color as in brown for UPS.
    They take several years to grow in the minds of the public. Once there, because they are scensory they have a huge recognition ability.

  • Jay

    I believe it is the attitude and the value the non-verbal logo carries that makes it work.
    let’s not forget the Nike Swoosh conistently carried ” Just do it!” along with it, to reach this stature of stand alone.Now the non-verbal logo is a stand alone, cos the message has been transferred.
    with the Wenger Logo, its always been a sign of reliabilty and quality, attributed to Swiss products. Hence it is a stand alone.
    The Golden Arch has always stood for Happy Meal.
    Lets take an isolated case of Addidas for that matter. The three stripes. While the logo has been consistent with the brand message of ‘impossible is nothing’ , is new. The connection fails.
    Further, little or no effort has been done to carry the attitude in the logo besides the message. Hence, it fails as a stand alone.
    I claim to be no expert in the subject, but it the consistentency, attitude and value that bring the stature for a non-verbal logo.

  • ReginaPhalange

    That “Swiss” logo you show there belongs to one company: Wenger. There are two makers of so-called “Swiss Army” knives (which, btw, were nicknamed that by American soldiers around the time of WWII). One company is Wenger (the “genuine Swiss Army Knife”). The other, and first maker of these knives (the “Original Swiss Army Knife”), is Victorinox (which was founded in 1884–plenty long enough for people to make the association). Both are genuine Swiss Army Knife manufacturers, but they have different shields, both using the white cross. If you can’t tell the diff, the problem is yours, not the logo’s.

  • Sorry Regina, I think you missed the point of my post.