The ideas that inspire brands’ logos and identity have always fascinated me. This is the embodiment of the brand, the very core of how we see, interpret, understand and engage with it. There are some clear challenges that brand identities must deliver against: Is it impactful? Is it unique? Does it differentiate from the competition? All of these are valid, but the most important question is: what’s the idea behind the identity and how does that define the brand?
When Apple chose the ‘bitten apple’ from the Garden of Eden as a symbol, when Nike chose to evoke the ‘goddess of victory’ through its name and swoosh, when Amazon’s ‘arrow’ was designed to highlight the ‘A to Z’ in its name - all these brands activated ideas that define both what we think of them and how they behave as brands themselves.
I know what you’re thinking… I had no idea that the bitten apple has connotations of the Garden of Eden, I wasn’t aware that Nike is the name of the Greek Goddess of Victory, I never noticed that the arrow underneath Amazon was highlighting the A to Z.
The truth is that we aren’t actively aware of these ideas; they subliminally affect our relationship with the brand in a non-literal way. But they’re never accidental, they have a huge impact in the way the brand behaves and therefore the way we engage with it. Apple’s mantra has always been ‘Think Different’. Isn’t that what Eve was doing in her act of defiance when she took the bite? Even if it talks outwardly about ‘Just Do It’ style participation, there’s always an undercurrent of winning that sits at the core of the Nike brand. Amazon’s ambitions always went beyond a bookstore, it has fast become the destination for anything and everything, reflecting the ‘A to Z’ metaphor.
There are many more brand identities with equally distinctive and unique ideas behind them. Take Starbucks, its little recognised identity is adorned with the image of a Siren (not a mermaid). A powerful symbol for a brand that was looking to reflect the seafaring spirit of its birthplace – Seattle, becomes more significant when we understand that mythological Sirens lured sailors to promises of irresistible pleasures with dangerous consequences. All the more relevant considering Howard Schultz’s vision wasn’t about coffee, but about the lure and intrigue of the destination. Then we have Versace whose identity is the head of Medusa – an odd choice perhaps when we think that this horrific image would turn people to stone – or inspired when we understand that the symbol evokes attractiveness, an almost unattainable desire and fatal fascination.
Perhaps my favourite symbol of all has adorned every Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup tin for the past 130 years. The dead carcass of a lion infested with honeybees. Inspired by the biblical story of Samson, Abraham Lyle took this image and the motto ‘Out of strength came forth sweetness’ to define his brand and it still stands the test of time today. This is not an easy concept to accept, but the question that must be tackled is not: how do you want your brand to look? But: what is the idea behind the identity and how does that define you?