A company’s logo is half mission statement and half advertisement—this is what we do, this is who we are, and this is how good we are at graphic design. As an expression of the company’s “personality” and corporate culture, logos often feature a winking references to the company’s purpose, city of origin, history, and perhaps most famously whether or not they are the willing thralls of Satan.
Procter and Gamble (old logo)
Depicting the man in the moon watching over thirteen stars, the original P&G logo dated back to at least 1851 and its Star-brand candle distributor—the stars represented the original thirteen colonies, while the kindly moon-man was just a kindly moon-man with no particular symbolic value.
At some point during the eighties, however, the rumor started that the man and his stars were a Satanic parody of a passage in Revelations and that the curls of his beard were in fact a reversed 666; this was because Procter and Gamble were a world-spanning Satanic cult. Despite the rumor making even less sense than most accusations of Satan-worship, P&G had enough and scrapped the logo in ’85.
The allegation still persists, apparently spread by representatives of the Amway multi-level marketing company, ironically a company that is itself frequently referred to as a creepy global cult.
The famous “Pepsi Circle” came about during WWII, when Pepsi (like Coke) was primarily known for the script version of its name. Pepsi decided to start making bottlecaps where the Pepsi name was on white, surrounded by an abstract but patriotic red and blue swirl. The cap became hugely popular, outlasting both the war and the script logo, and eventually moved off the cap to be the main feature of the wrapper.
The circle remained largely unchanged until 2008, when branding consultants the Arnell Group took millions of dollars and most of a year to totally revolutionize the Circle, resulting in… another circle. Or as they insisted, the “Pepsi Globe,” a claim they backed up with a multi-page document showing that the newly asymmetric flow of the red and blue segments represented the magnetic fields of the earth, the theory of relativity, the Golden Ratio, the theory of sacred geometry, and presumably a lot of chutzpah.
The white area in between is now referred to as the “smile” and its width and angle changes depending on which Pepsi product you drink, but given that the diet variants tend to have a smaller smile than the regular types, some have chosen to interpret it as the amount of soda-gut showing on the typical Pepsi drinker.
NBC has been represented by a peacock ever since early NBC star Milton Berle bit the head off of one on a live broadcast—oh sorry, that was actually a pheasant. NBC’s real peacock connection began in 1956 with a brightly-plumaged eleven-feather bird created to show off NBC’s color programming (and advertise owner RCA’s new color televisions).
Oddly, it wasn’t until thirty years later that the peacock became the official NBC logo, at which point the tail was trimmed down to six feathers to represent the then six divisions of the company. The beak was also moved to the right side, so that the bird would be “facing the future” or possibly just scanning the horizon for a hungry Milton Berle.
When you think about it, a river (or possibly a savage female warrior) doesn’t have a lot to do with selling books or MP3s or Segways or whatever, so Jeff Bezos’ decision to name his online startup “Amazon” would be a little hard to explain if you didn’t know that his principal goal in finding a name was to get one that would appear early in alphabetic order.
In that frame of mind, it’s easy to see the joke that appears in the logo—an arrow extending from “a” to “z” that conveys the idea of movement and shipping as well as Amazon’s claim that they have everything from a to z.
Ubiquitous today, the “abbreviated” FedEx logo and name was designed in 1994 by multinational branding consultants Landor and Associates, replacing a rather blah slanted treatment of the name that had been in use since the company’s birth.
The new logo was meant to celebrate the company’s expansion from airfreight to all types of courier services, and to do so it incorporated a clever use of negative space—the void between the E and the X is in fact an arrow pointing to the right, a visual trick that is almost impossible to stop noticing once you first see it. Later on the color of the Ex would be changed to show which part of the company the truck, office or airplane was associated with, with green for ground, gray for corporate, and orange for the planes.
The Big Ten (1990-2011)
First of all, for those of you who don’t know much about football but thought they were pretty good at counting, the Big Ten Conference consists of twelve members. Before this, the Big Ten comprised eleven teams in the time between the invitation of Penn State (1990) and the invitation of the University of Nebraska (2011).
Penn State’s addition caused a minor crisis, as although the conference had briefly been known (correctly) as the Big Nine during a period early in the century when Michigan was on the outs, it had been called and marketed as the Big Ten for over seventy years and nobody could get themselves used to “Big Eleven.” The solution: another deft use of negative space to carve the number 11 out of the G and the T.
It was replaced upon Nebraska’s addition with B1G, the G sort of looking like a clumsy zero and therefore reinforcing the false idea that the Big Ten Conference is a conference of ten members. For even more fun, wait until 2014, when Rutgers and University of Maryland are set to join the conference which will almost certainly still be referred to as the Big Ten, at which point all logic and reason will be banished from the universe forever.
Northwest Airlines (old logo)
Once the airline with attitude and now the airline with debt, NWA “updated” their logo in 2003 (possibly hoping to hide from creditors) by making it much lamer. Their logo from 1989 until then was a creation of Landor and Associates and was considered quite striking even without considering the nifty hidden elements of the design—the triangle to the upper left not only forms a W, but its position within the circle alludes to a compass pointing northwest.
The current design half-heartedly echoes the compass configuration, choosing instead to make us believe that the airline is in some way associated with Dr. Dre (a ridiculous assertion as Dre is on the board of directors for Air France).
Because triangular things just taste better, Toblerones are popularly considered an upscale candy for the elite to nibble as they view the Hershey’s-chomping hordes with thinly veiled disgust. But what if I was to tell you each Toblerone bar concealed a huge deadly animal, poised to leap out and cause lethal havoc?
Subtly hidden in the details of the mountain is a prancing bear, a popular symbol of the candy’s home town of Bern, Switzerland, which we can only imagine is a terrifying dystopia ruled by murderous bears, enslaving the Swiss by the thousands to manufacture their lucrative chocolatey treats. Probably should just stick to the Hershey bar in that case.
A minimalist collection of lines and letters above the blinking red light on your modem that means you need to call Comcast and pay your cable bill, the Cisco name and logo are a quiet tribute to its original headquarters in San Francisco.
The lines represent the supporting cables of the Golden Gate Bridge, and while today the company is run from San Jose, it’s said that in the early days of Cisco the engineers were so committed to their hometown that they refused to capitalize the company’s name in memos.
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While it’s fairly easy to spot both the letters and the face in the LG symbol, the meaning of the same is somewhat obscure. From the company’s “Our Brand” webpage: “Global, Tomorrow, Energy, Humanity and Technology are the pillars that this corporation is founded on; with the capital letters L and G positioned inside a circle to center our ideals above all else, humanity.”
Oh, okay. The real secret to the letters is actually that they stand for the two founding companies of the modern brand: Korean plastics pioneer Lak-Hui (or “Lucky”) Chemical Industrial Corporation and infamously shoddy electronics company GoldStar, two associations that the hip, modern cellphone company is not eager to bring to mind.