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Brand Identity

Days Of The Logo Numbered


“Make it bigger,” the executive screamed from the corner of the room as I desperately sought a sign-off for an ad featuring a major fashion brand. This wasn’t the first time such a situation came up. In fact, every meeting I had always ended up in discussions about the placement and size of the logo – it was as if that one by one inch space, over time, had become the holy grail of branding – the rest was more or less an ad-on.

Let’s be frank – we live in a logo obsessed world. Pay a quick visit to Times Square and you’ll see what I mean. But is the magic still in the logo as we are exposed to some 2 million television commercials throughout life until we reach the age of 66 – or do we continue to be caught up in a format which once worked but, with the passage of time and the changed media picture, is now out of date?

I decided to find out. Over the years I’ve been stunned by the fact that we smoke more – not less. Admittedly the biggest increase of new smokers takes place in Asian and Eastern European countries. That said, even in the U.S. increases in smoking remain steady – not decreasing as we all want to convince each other it is, and all this despite the fact that we all know it is unhealthy. It is almost impossible to light up a cigarette indoors. Remember that advertising in most countries were banned decades ago, still brands like Marlboro rank in the very top, over the most expensive brands in the world – why?

The only way to find out was to understand what really goes on in our subconscious mind. Project Buyology – the largest NeuroMarketing project of its kind in the world – scanning some 2,000 consumers worldwide – wanted to answer exactly that question. What are the tricks the tobacco industry knows which the rest of the world somehow has missed? Estimates today claim that 85 percent of everything we do, every minute, takes place in our subconscious mind. Was this where the battle was taking place?

The answer was to be found in a small region in our brain called the neuclus accombens – also called the craving spot. It is a small area in our brain which controls our pleasures – and addictions too, such as smoking. It is a lie detector. It may be that you claim not to be affected by ads for tobacco smoking – the neuclus accombens however will tell you the truth.

Over the years I’ve observed (and admittedly admired) the way tobacco companies have crafted their clever brand strategies. Marlboro’s solid sponsorship of the European Formula 1 – a race somewhat similar to Nascar race in the U.S. – had become iconic for the brand with it’s red Ferrari cars. Can cigarette cravings be triggered by images tied to a brand of cigarette but not explicitly linked to smoking—say, the sight of a Marlboro-red Ferrari or a camel riding off into a mountainous sunset? Do smokers even need to read the words Marlboro or Camel for the craving spots in their brains to compel them to tear open a cigarette pack? In the U.S. the cowboy did its job. Joe Camel or the Camel Trophy race – not to mention the Camel or Marlboro merchandising line – all seem to play an important role in building a brand  under circumstances where advertising was totally banned. But how powerful was it?
With the support of one of Britain’s leading scientists, Dr. Gemma Calvert, of Oxford – and by the using the MRI – arguably the most sophisticated brain scanning technique in the world our objective was to discover the answer.

One by one we would expose smokers, former smokers, and people considering smoking – in short a raft of different scenarios all with some relationship to smoking to the iconic pictures while we scanned their brains in order to understand the activation in the neuclus accombens.

Over a two-month period, our smokers filed in and out of Dr. Calvert’s Oxford laboratory. What parts of their brains would light up as they watched these logo-free images?

All of our subjects were asked to refrain from smoking for two hours preceding the test, to ensure that their nicotine levels would be equal at the start of the experiment. First, both groups were shown subliminal images that had no overt connection to cigarette brands—the aforementioned western style scenery, including cowboys, beautiful sunsets and arid deserts. Next, to establish a comparison, they were shown explicit cigarette advertising images like the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel on his motorbike, as well as Marlboro and Camel logos. Dr. Calvert and I wanted to find out if the subliminal images would generate similar cravings to the images generated by the logos and the clearly marked Marlboro and Camel packs.

To no one’s surprise, the MRI scans revealed a pronounced response in the volunteers’ nucleus accumbens—the area we now know to be involved with reward, craving, and addiction—when they viewed the actual cigarette packs. But what was more interesting was that when the smokers were exposed to the nonexplicit images—the red Ferrari, the cowboys on horseback, the camel in a desert—over a period of less than five seconds, there was an almost immediate activity in the craving regions of their brains in the exact same regions that responded to the explicit images of the packs and logos. In fact, the only consistent difference was that the subliminal images prompted more activity in the volunteers’ primary visual cortex—as might be expected, given the more complex visual task of processing those images.

More fascinating still, when Dr. Calvert compared the brain’s responses to the two different types of images, she found even more activity in the reward and craving centres when subjects viewed the subliminal images than when they viewed the overt images. In other words, the logo-free images associated with cigarettes, like the Ferrari and the sunset, triggered more cravings among smokers than the logos or the images of the cigarette packs themselves—a result that was consistent for both Camel and Marlboro smokers.

But why is that? Come with me – we have to go to the doctor’s office – let’s say you have a terrible headache. Let’s imagine we enter the consultation room which to our surprise is packed with Panadol logos, on the wall, on the desk, there’s even a neat decoration of the latest Panadol packs displayed behind the doctor as he’s sitting writing notes wearing a Panadol hat. As you explain about your terrible headache – the doctor in response replies – “hmmm – I’d probably recommend Panadol to you.”  What would your reaction be? Guards up! That’s exactly what happens in today’s world of advertising. In order to survive our guard goes up – this is not just the case with tobacco smoking, but for almost every category – this is our defence mechanism.

So what does this mean in practical terms? Let’s take an express train back to the year 1915 – the year the original counter Coca-Cola bottle was invented. The original brief was to develop a bottle so smart that if you dropped the bottle on the floor and it smashed into thousands of pieces of glass you’d still be able to recognize the brand.  Grab any iPod and you won’t be able to find the logo on the front – yet the iconic look is enough for you to know what brand it is. The same is the case with any picture from United Colors of Bennetton, a McDonald’s roof, a Tiffany’s rubine blue box or Marlboro’s cowboy.

I call my theory Smash Your Brand – a theory which simply aims to move on from the logo – and begin to have what I call “Smashable” components. A color, a shape, a sound, a smell – you name it – indirect signals which all tells a story about the brand – without having to show the logo. So why is this so much better – because you bring the consumer with you on a journey – you engage the consumer in figuring out who’s behind the message – and most importantly you talk to the subconscious mind. The logo is not yet dead but I would claim that its days are numbered – the fact of the matter is that the battle ground is no longer to take place in our conscious mind – instead the true decision making process will happen at a level in our brain which, until recently, was impossible to reach – thanks to the marriage of science with marketing we’ve now finally begun to understand what our true Buyology is all about.

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Gabriel Rossi- Branding on July 03rd, 2009 said

Nice article. Thanx!

Don’t brands that are built through archetypes have an advantage on this?


sherisaid on July 03rd, 2009 said

I wonder…all the brands in this experimentation have been ingrained into our culture for a hundred years. Would a new brand be able to establish such a strong mental association, given the intensity of today’s competition?

Emily Brackett on July 03rd, 2009 said

Interesting question. I was recently talking with a potential client, who is a small business owner. It’s a new business that needs a web site and print collateral. We were talking about the steps from logo to print to web site, to build a cohesive branded identity.

Then, as I thought about it, I was convinced I could build a compelling and cohesive brand without designing a logo. This was shocking to the business owner. I think it’s just the typical first step for a start-up: you need a logo.

But from a design & identity standpoint, there are many other elements that can be used to create a memorable image: color, type, graphic elements, shape of your bottle, etc.

I would still, however, recommend a logotype treatment for the brandname.

Ernst on July 03rd, 2009 said

I disagree with the headline – the logo’s days are NOT necessarily numbered. I would agree with a headline that reads “a logo may not be necessary.”

The logo is but one of many tools that can help communicate a brand. If you can create a logo that helps communicate the essence of your brand and makes it more memorable, then by all means do so! The Apple logo (apple with a bite out of it) is remarkably simple, memorable and in keeping with the Apple brand.

The essential keys to branding are to ensure you have a compelling and differentiated focus (usp, brand driver, essesnce – whatever you want to call it), the linkage you create is remarkably memorable AND and that all your efforts (both as an organization and the communication of your brand) are consistent and that nothing you do, or communicate, is out of alignment.

And that includes your logo. Right?

Carolin Dahlman on July 04th, 2009 said

I adore Buy-ology and the work of you, mr Lindstrom (as a Swede I would call you Lindström though… 🙂

A brand that knows its heart and soul will touch the heart and soul of people. If you are aware of your values you will live as the true you in all touch points – may it be customer service, the cafe toilet, the bag you carry your new stuff in or THE LOGO. The logo is not what you are, it symbolises who you are.

Just like with humans. We are not our job, our car, our house, our Gucci bag. We are a bundle of values and beliefs. Love is created between heartsouls, in business as in life.

Ha en bra dag, hoppas att vi kan jobba ihop i framtiden 🙂

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