by Prashant Nair
The tough part -
Many clients approach us to make a brand logo in 2 days and few of their demands baffle our creative core. Brand logos have become like a mandatory business chore and it is no more than a nocturnal being that lives by the night and never survives to live the next day, mostly. The shelf lives of most modern logos maybe fractions of a century and its impact, well…. barely better than a humming bird singing to herself. Logo humari priority nahi hai but we want a great branding done. End of story.
The big-bang part -
Let me give you a visual tour of the fabulously sordid tale of the man called logo. The birth of this man is known to have been traced on the buttocks of cattle around 950 A.D. The cattle were marked by burning wood pieces to help identify them by their masters. When mankind evolved a little further, crude logos were used as signatures by thatchers who were largely scattered around parts of Britain and South-East Asia. Thatching was renowned as a rare craft and to sell or immortalize their work, thatchers used peculiar symbols on the sides or top of the thatched houses they used to work on. I encountered plenty of them on my way to the popular world heritage site Stonehenge outside the city of Bath via Lacock Village, Wiltshire.
The curious part -
By the 1300s, the child called logo has now grown to be a more recognizable part of our lives. Symbolically or otherwise it became traceable on daily assets. When the continents started opening up to neighbouring lands, and when oceans were the mysterious heavenly bodies across which curious explorers found fellow beings and virgin lands; values of culture and trade were exchanged freely. This may have sparked the initial narrative for a commercial sense of identity among humans. From the names of voyages to crudely naming the ship, from naming the consignment to vague symbols on sacks, slaves and wooden planks, humans wanted to reach out to the unknown geographies in a wriggly manner.
The period was creatively naïve and we were in a race to “recognise” the world we live in. The chaos had an unsettling order and this presented an incredible opportunity for people. A mere handful of companies back then including Den Hoorn Tavern, which is now known as Stella Artois, carved its first brand identity in 1366. The Den Hoorn brewery in Leuven, Belgium, made beer and stood out for four centuries until Sebastien Artois took over in 1708 and took Stella Artois “the Christmas beer” to greater heights.
There is an interesting paradox in history here; while Belgium was brewing fresh Beer for the world, Mughals were glorifying Indian history under their own majestic symbol – Lion. Lion is the literal translation of the word Babur (the first Mughal emperor) in Persian scripts.
The purposeful part -
It was 1700s and the man called logo now seek a greater purpose in its lifespan. Forms of logos were more prominent on factories, taverns, chalet, and blacksmith shops across Europe and parts of USSR. People were gradually exposed to recognizable symbols, ornamental figures and aristocratic fonts on shop fronts and factory gates. The era leading up to 1900s belonged to the makers of products – The inventors. Qualitative breakthroughs or inventions were lauded by communities and cost to value became a talking point among households. How many pennies for what? Ever since, Currency was the ultimate value that one could have exchanged for a proposition or a product. The rich and the poor were differentiated on the basis of possessions.
The world was in the middle of industrial revolution and people were recognizing more canvases to advertise themselves locally. Shoe makers and Banks were witness to everything that happened. Few of the shoe makers and banks are relevant to even today. Deutsche Bank and Lloyds TSB are testament to those times. However, there is one brand in particular that intrigues me – Shell Oil.
Shell Oil announced its arrival in 1833. Marcus Samuel started shipping kerosene to India and brought seashells to Europe for sale. This approach brought fortune at an unprecedented scale. The name “Shell” was adopted in 1897 and the initial mussel shell symbol looked something like this –
The shapes of crown, nature, impressive buildings and enticing imageries of luxury were selling the goods. The shoe makers advertised like this–
The flamboyant part -
We were knocking on 1900s and logos became real money spinners. The art of making a logo was now a recognizable craft at least in the showbiz capitals - London and New York. The rich automotive brands had posters of their Limousine on high street banners. The Cigar manufacturers and general shops played on discount pricing. Nevertheless, the world was starting to get spoilt with choices. It was the century of glitz, glamour, innovations and naked preposterous attitude. Some say, an era of patents.
From an advertorial in New York Times to the shabby Casino offers, the man called logo was getting all the attention he needed. In all regards, our logo man was on a purple patch with his hat and scotch on offer. While the pace of innovations in transport, communication and heavy industries gathered momentum, the forthcoming decades saw emergence of brand rivalries at a mass level. Which meant crowding of industries with various brands. The 1950s saw many brands using colours and symbols for logos. These were the times when the art of simplicity by Paul Rand and Peter Birkhäuser illustrated magical imageries for brands and their campaigns.
The “cool” part -
Now the man called logo was high on Jazz and classic rock. Through the 70s and 80s, developing brand identity was dominated by VIBGYOR style gradients, lending abstract shape attributes to typography, fonts, and a content heavy brand identity unit. When the world was consumed by rock era and the east was waking up economically, the 70s and 80s stood for a starkly divided world. The developed “West” and the under-developed “East”. Consumer choices in Europe and the American continent was a cocktail of sophistication, recklessness and grandiosity, during the period 1950-80. From WAL-MART, FORD to NIKE, PEPSI and SIEMENS all major brands were creating a popular recall through their unique logo identities.
During this period brand logos gradually began replicating extension of consumer personality traits, which hardly was the case before the First World War. PEPSI, COCA-COLA, and IBM lead the way. The subject of consumer psychology was given a much appreciated academic status at prestigious universities. From the 1300s, when a handful of businesses were shaking hands across continents, to the 1970s when consumers were hoarded with commercial Ads and attractive ways of life, aspirational propositions were selling BIG and advertising became a recipe for success. Conversations between brands and people were becoming ever-so creatively interesting then.
Finally the Abstract part -
A part that most of us relate with. The journey of the man called logo has seen voluminous leap in mankind and the way our species have been interacting with the material and the living. The era of 1990s onwards was dominated by the abstract brand logo systems. The era of creative abstract in logo development was sparked by the artists like Paul Rand, Peter Birkhäuser, and Emil Cardinaux in the 40s - 50s and it was carried forward by creators of Apple into modern times. Marketing the intangible became the new challenge.
This idea of identifying with your consumers through brand’s identity started giving way to brands who looked to create their own niche or encourage a ‘fan-base’ culture. The advent of internet, mobile phones and introduction to social exchanges over internet-enabled platforms increased sharing of designs and values, therefore changing consumer perceptions. The core brand values that were identified uniformly across a wide range of demography in the 70s and 80s were now disseminated and distorted over a wider and fragmented geographical pockets in the remotest parts of the world.
Post 2007, the burden of tracing these consumer centric nuances and carving out an identity that resonates with the current era, falls back upon the man called logo again. But it is an era of technology innovations and disruptive thinking peppered with multitudinous creative abilities. Even small business process innovations by way of technology is now a saleable market commodity. New businesses are formed on the basis of small innovations to existing processes. Consumers are driven by social marketing and spontaneity in advertising.
It is more challenging to develop a brand identity in an era where mobile apps, new brands, sub-brands, industries are mangled up and create a perceptual clutter for audiences. When you use an abstract logo you need to believe in the consumer’s ability to interpret the logo. It is a creative gamble of sorts.
Unknowingly perhaps, the man called logo once marked the beginning of human curiosity towards fellow beings and the history of civilizations. Unfortunately, it is now being perceived on a much smaller scale, projected for a much shorter vision and valued against much smaller odds. But a man called logo is born every century to mark the course of humanity and the way it consumes products, services and content as we know it.
And to those who still think it takes 2 days for successfully lending character to the man called logo, I have some special advice for you.
“ The time window of consumption may have reduced but the art of design still takes time.”