Logo-Less Has No Legs

Written by Jason Tanzer


When customers frequently purchase a product, they become accustomed to that product’s design. In fact, they actively look for the familiar image when shopping. It doesn’t matter what the image actually is, as long as it is positively identified with a brand. What happens when the company decides to modify its brand, changing iconic logos to unrecognizable designs? Sometimes, disaster.

As just one example, take Tropicana. In early 2009, the broadly recognized orange juice underwent a design change, from the identifiable orange with straw brand symbol to a more generic, blander logo. What happened? Customers were outraged, even though the juice was absolutely the same. A number of customers had trouble finding the orange juice on shelves, confusing the new logo with discount, generic brands. Many customers were vocal and complained directly to the parent company, Pepsi. As a result of the backlash, and sales plunging almost 20%, Pepsi had to backtrack a bit.

In 2010, The Gap also badly miscalculated when it changed its long-time logo, going from a serif font on a solid blue background to a bulky sans-serif complete with a small, gradient blue square floating behind the name. What on earth did it mean? A clothing chain without direction? Redesigning logos is not cheap. This looked like a graphic designer out of grade school had fun with the system fonts. Needless to say, the new logo flopped. Customers stormed to Facebook and Twitter, complaining bitterly about the redesign, with good reason. The identity of a clothing chain catering to youth was wiped out, replaced by a hideous block of text without purpose.

Recently Starbucks has updated its logo, to less fanfare than either the Tropicana or Gap debacles. At the start of 2011, the 40-year old coffee chain introduced its new look, changing its logo to omit the words, “Starbucks Coffee” from cup packaging. The logo itself has been tweaked four times now, but this is the first time that the company name has been left out entirely. Coffee drinkers are not exactly inspired by the change and some were actually quite angry, as evident from user comments on the chain’s website. And those are just the fans of Starbucks, the long-term customers who don’t mind shelling out four bucks a cup, at minimum.

Which leads me to this question: What if someone new to the brand is unable to identify the product? Yes, Starbucks is ubiquitous, with a shop on every corner it seems, so it’s hard to get away from the brand. But that doesn’t mean the company should take its audience and potential market for granted. Also, what does Starbucks plan on selling if not coffee??? Sometimes broadening a name allows a company to be more encompassing, especially when that company is in a leadership position. In this case, Starbucks eliminated its name from packaging because it might venture in other fields aside from coffee. Sometimes going in too many directions, or far afield from your core business, is completely ill-advised. We’ll see which way Starbucks goes.

June 15, 2011

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