My family vacation and road trip through the heartland this past week has yielded a few photos for discussion. For example, here is a captured pair of non-verbal logos that can stand alone, without the need for any words.

As you may recall, one of my previous blog posts (April 9, 2009) discussed non-verbal logos that can stand alone, and one that can’t. There, I asked the question: “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?” Like, Nike’s “Swoosh,” and McDonald’s “Golden Arches.” Well, a couple of weeks later, the LogoBlog asked a similar question, “Do Logos Need Words to Market Themselves?

What do you think? How important are names and words when it comes to brands?

You might say the photographed logos shown above are without words, but the famous brands they represent certainly are not speechless. They stand for, represent and say a lot, in fact, without any text or words.

Having said that, logos with text and words can stand for, represent and say a lot too:

See full size image

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So, it got me thinking, which format is better from a marketing perspective? Your thoughts?

Just so you know, later this week, I’ll take a crack at the pros and cons from a legal perspective.

  • The pros of non-verbal logos are obvious and if a logo is done right, the iconic value can propel a brand beyond it’s own indigenous realm into something more meaningful such as Apple, Nike, Mercedes and a wealth of other brands have succeeded at. Conversely, a logo that has a vague, cryptic or enigmatic visual can be very counterproductive. Any misinterpretation devalue the brand integrity currency. So using a non-verbal symbol is not as big a challenge as some might think.

  • That is an interesting question! A strong visual symbol is always a good idea, especially if you are branding across a variety of consumer touchpoints. However, you must have the budget to build meaning and awareness through repetition. The iconic Nike “swoosh” has been very effective. Over time, the mark has perfectly captured the spirit of the brand and of those who love it.
    I think “Google” is unexpected and brilliant. It is an invented word that has morphed from the name of a start-up internet site to a verb that is now a part of our cultural lexicon. The choice of an invented word works so well in this situation because it is impossible to confuse it with anything else.
    Been Googled lately?

  • I think, for brands that are international, being speechless is a must.
    Also, I think that at some point, brands such as google, and coke with such great exposure become non-verbal logos. As soon as you see them, even though you can read them, you know what they are.
    My new favorite, is apple. Although I have been using macs since 1988, I am really enjoying, seeing their logo more and more!

  • Basically, a “swoosh” only makes sense After the brand is widely known. (Though making your swoosh and adding the company name to the logo is wise. The company name is simply dropped [also giving a free PR opportunity] After the brand is fairly well known.)
    Google’s logo(s) are stylized text. Brilliant in a web page format (1. “It’s pretty” and 2. “what’s that URL?”), and also because the site is almost entirely text-based. And of course the true brilliance of google was that when it was launched, dial-up was common – low bandwidths – and sites like yahoo and excite, et al, tried to be “portals” with slow loading and content unrelated to the users’ need to search. I went google-only Early.
    Bing! is a step backward for every reason above except now high bandwidth is common!

  • Stephen, interesting indeed. But from a brand standpoint, you don’t get that stand alone logo by just having a creative design one. It still needs to be nurtured and grown into a brand. It is at that point your non-word logo becomes more than a brand…it is an icon that speaks what the mind already knows about it.
    But that doesn’t mean that design does not play a big part. Know your brand from the beginning, believe and stick to the message, and then everything else falls in place.
    Can’t wait to see your legal ramifications next.

  • Properly speaking “logo” is just the word. I would rather use the word symbol to describe Nike swoosh, etc
    It is difficult to imagine a brand without naming it! (there is a chinese proverb: without a name, things do not exist). So, I would say that there are no “non verbal logos”.
    Symbols can be very powerful….but we always name the the brand!

  • A number of years ago, I was shopping at a mall in a smaller town in Russia. The Russian language is very foreign to me, but it was easy to recognize global brands like Nike. I was struck at that moment, why an icon-only logo like Nike’s Swoosh makes so much sense for a global brand… you never need to change the language of an icon.
    This idea has been in use for decades with automobiles. All of the little icons associated with fuel gauges, headlight switches and wiper toggles speak well in any language.

  • If the brand is wearable, it may be preferable to have a non-verbal mark. It looks cooler (depends on the design) and some folks prefer not to wear an obvious name. There are also times when a mark is known to a certain segment (say, skateboarders) and the ambiguity of the mark is desired. Only those “in the know” can identify the brand.
    If the client doesn’t have a healthy budget to promote the mark in all their marketing, it would be preferable to have the mark and logo as one, to promote the brand name.

  • Catherine Cook

    I think we have a tendency to lock ourselves into rules or search for a formula to guarantee future success. That’s when we end up with ordinary, predictable solutions.
    A good designer approaches the problem intellectually, logically, analytically, every way possible and then after they think they’ve solved the problem, they relax, walk away let it mull around while looking at completely unrelated things and then with a little luck and an open mind, an “off the wall” idea hits and somehow relates and gives a whole new dimension to the brand.
    It doesn’t happen every time, but it’s something I always strive for. Sadly, some truly brilliant solutions have died in a conference room because they didn’t meet the predetermined, intellectual parameters of a group.
    For this reason, I would say, make guidelines, but not rules. Look for unexpected associations, and be careful how you judge the results. There is a lot of power in the unexpected.

  • Let’s talk fundamentals of communication:
    A non-verbal logo such as the Nike swoosh is easily understood from a glance worldwide. A brand name has trouble with pronunciation when considering global branding. Keep in mind literacy rates are not high world wide either. It goes back to the first evolution of languages used by cavemen…they were pictures and symbols not letters and words.
    Of course brand positioning, marketing, distribution, all come into play when branding a company and both Nike and Google have done a great job of this – however Google’s brand awareness worldwide is much lower than that of Nike. Of course it’s an oversimplification to attribute that to the logo. It’s quite relative to the market and target that you’re speaking to.
    Statistically the US has a relatively low broadband presence. Among the OECD countries the US ranks 15th in broadband penetration…

  • My 2¬¢: when you have deep pockets for the PR advertising and exposure needed to get the word out that the non verbal symbol represents your company/product.
    Also, if you need the mark to be instantly recognizable since the only exposure you’ll get is when celebrities or athletes wear your product. Case in point, Baltimore based UnderArmor which was built entirely on word of mouth. UA needed a mark that would be as compelling as the Nike swoosh.
    Exceptions would be if your company happens to be apple computers, shell oil, or chili’s restaurants. You still need the momentum behind the exposure but, it helps if your logo is your name.

  • Non verbal logos are an end result of years of brand building and acceptance. I think they’re ideal because they become iconic in the overall communications of the brand, but… not until after millions or billions of dollars in marketing those to become meaningful and well understood with a broad audience, consumers. Lots of brand building and close management of consistent brand communication over a long time. Apple good example, BMW, Nike, Disney’s mouse, NBC peacock, Mercedes. But all of these have years of establishing the mark to mean something that over time customer expectations were consistent every time they saw the mark so the company or words describing it could be dropped. Marketeers that often try to short cut the process fail to establish customer loyalty and meaning in the mark.

  • If you have the option, a graphic device tied to a meaningful brand name is the ideal, as in a best-case scenario it carries the weight of universal symbolic resonance. In most cases, however, a universally potent symbol is not developed, and great amounts of money are required to build the connection in consumers’ minds between the brand and what it is intended to represent.
    An effective method is to utilize a symbol and the brand name together, and then wean the symbol away from the name once research has proven that the target audience gets the connection, so that the symbol can be used alone, or in conjunction with the brand name.
    Clients often evoke the Nike swoosh, until they are reminded of how many millions of dollars it took to get to that point of ubiquity. And how many consumers are even aware of Nike being the Greek Goddess of Victory, the Roman Victoria – hence the “v” which was then given italicized treatment to evoke swift movement?

  • Consider our alphabet as a series of symbols that we have (as a society) infused unique meaning, of a long period of time. Brand identities or logos are much the same and require a certain amount of time to obtain the proper meaning in a broad audience.
    An answer to how long until you can use your logo without your name is, “it depends.” It depends on how large your audience is and how long it takes you to infuse the proper meaning. In the case of Shell it has been more than a century. McDonald’s might be less time, but they also likely spent more during the shorter time period.
    Functionally, the design of a logo to go with a word mark gives the brand owner the opportunity to do what Shell, McDonald’s and even the infamous Nike have done. The brand owners of Google on the other hand don’t have the option, but also don’t have to concern themselves with individuals doing it without their permission.
    Hope this adds something to the conversation. And, keep enjoying your productive vacations.