Why more brands are going to wordless logos

This year Mastercard joined a long string of iconic brands in moving to a wordless logo. What’s behind this trend?

New challenge for visual search

We recently wrote about the increasing importance of visual search as part of social media listening. We said, “With the massive increase in the use of images and less dependence on text … social search is racing to keep up”.

As brands are less mentioned, but more photographed, any text in the logo is of great assistance to the accuracy of visual search and recognition. But the trend to wordless logos has recently taken on new meaning, and we’re likely to see more and more brands doing it.

This, of course, reinforces the future need for very effective visual search capabilities as a part of social media monitoring, as with Sprinklr Visual Insights. But why are brands doing it, and why the increasing momentum to do so?

Starbucks Wordless Logo

It is almost by definition that when a brand image becomes iconic i.e. a representative symbol of its category and associated experiences, that any associated words could be deemed to be superfluous, even a distraction.

Becoming iconic takes time. Nike was established in 1964, in Oregan, and went wordless 30 years later, in 1995. Mastercard has had its intersecting-circles logo for 50 years.

Up to now, it was brand marketing orthodoxy to suggest that a very long gestation period was a necessity before going wordless. For example, Red Bull, despite their massive advertising and social media budgets and their enormously strong brand association by their target audiences, still retain the brand name as part of the logo.

Today, forces are at play which may change that orthodox view.

The times they are a changin’ – the rise of debranding

To quote Bob Dylan – And you better start swimmin’, Or you’ll sink like a stone.

Globally, big business and trust in business are on the nose. The Business Council of Australia has been caught up in this issue for the last 4 or 5 years, and is seemingly always one response behind the front-line of the debate. It’s a fast-moving wave.

In Australia, “companies are fighting to restore reputations damaged by everything from the drama of the Hayne royal commission to high levels of executive pay but relatively low accountability for mistakes”, says Jennifer Hewett in the Australian Financial Review (May 4, 2019).

Global activism questioning the role of large corporations in unequally transferring wealth is strong and increasing.

These macro trends translate into consumer distrust.

For example, a survey by the public-relations firm Cohn & Wolfe found that four-fifths of global consumers now consider brands neither open nor honest.

Hence, the rise of what is known as “debranding”. In other words – toning down the logical association formed by the text and trying to form new and fresh brand associations – in a different part of your brain!

How brands want to rewire our brains

Think of it as brands trying to rewire your memories of them.

Instead of reinforcing your established neural connections they need to let those atrophy by moving from the literal to the emotional pathways of your brain and making you feel good. Imagery has the means to do that.

The plan is to use colours and patterns which are strongly identified with the brand to be abstracted and applied in a way that is tasteful, fun, engaging but always distinctive.

In fact, marketers have found that processing brand images invoke a richer set of neural activities than brand names.

Text requires little processing and little interpretation. With images, different people perceive a wide range of different elements and features – hence optical illusions. This creates more connected circuits in the brain, especially on the right side – great for leaving all that accumulated corporate distrust to atrophy in the left hemisphere!

The debranding trend is all about rewiring your neural associations and hopefully not making any societal blunders at the same time.
developing fetal brain


Being heard but not seen

The move to haptics and sonic branding is the same trend. Here is what Mastercard says about their sonic branding, and the potential variations and abstractions as they build out the neural rewiring:

From the music you’ll hear in our commercials, to the sound that you’ll hear while shopping, our unique melody will reinforce our brand… This core melody acts as the foundation of our entire sonic brand architecture. It will be adapted globally in many different versions… And we’ll extend it across many styles and assets from musical scores, sound logos and ringtones, to whole music, and point of sale acceptance sounds.

Are you listening?

The trend to disassociating the text and the existing associations, and rewiring the brand relationship, means that companies need to start planning now for more effective social media monitoring, including image recognition.

What comes next? Perhaps we need to start planning for Apple and Google to start selling ads based upon sonic brand recognition. After all, our phones, and our Google Home, and Siri, and Alexa, are always listening – right? Expect that when we watch – hear, actually – a Mastercard ad on TV that Alexa will offer to send a coupon to our phone!

Contact Us for social media audits, strategy, social customer care, and for augmentation of your customer experiences enhanced by social data – and to help you plan and execute your content management strategy, and if you are looking to incorporate visual insights through social media analysis.

—– Walter Adamson
LinkedIn /adamson

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