Why Your Company Logo Should Be Wordless

September 8, 2016

4:12 pm

Millennials are accused of many failings, from failure to eat cereal to the destruction of soap bars. (Best quote: “If young adults are not even up to the job of cleaning a cereal bowl, is it any wonder they want Bernie Sanders as President?”) But at least the generation has one win to its name, as allotted by the gatekeepers of Millennial shame, the almighty Baby Boomers. Millennials are the best at ignoring advertising.

This impacts marketing, naturally, and has led to the latest logo trend, the wordless logo. Here are the studies behind the move.

Advertising Is Failing

Writing for Digiday, copywriter Mark Duffy drew on his decades of experience to compile the compelling case against advertising’s effectiveness. Here are the salient points:

“Native advertising (and other branded content) doesn’t work — nobody remembers the brand. In one survey, two-thirds of those who recalled seeing a native ad remembered absolutely nothing about it, and 95 percent of them didn’t remember who the sponsor was. […]

How about social media advertising — all those retweets and likes must add up to something? Yes, they add up to approximately nothing worth anything: Only 5 percent of people say social media has ‘a great deal of influence’ on their purchasing decisions, according to a 2014 Gallup State of the American Consumer report; 30 percent copped ‘some influence.'”

He notes that many expect free services and products, but rely on ad-blockers at the same time. And that even the ironic “no sell” ads lose effectiveness once the novelty wears off.

The Solution? Fewer Words.

How do you advertise with less actual advertising? By staying in the background. Squarespace, for instance, sponsors a huge number of YouTube channels and podcasts, but never interferes with the editorial side. In this model, the video or podcast creator will read out a few lines of copy about a service or product that they genuinely support, just like a 1940s radio might promote that bar soap that Baby Boomers care about so much.

But for company branding materials, there’s no escaping the inherent need to advertise. One quote from a recent Atlantic article by Kalle Oskari Mattila features Adam Alter, an associate professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business: “Companies have had to learn subtlety,” he said of the latest branding tactics.

The rise of the wordless logo is explored further in the same article:

“Nameless logos can evoke more personal and immediate reactions—which is important in a media environment with plenty of possible distractions and diversions. ‘Researchers have demonstrated that the use of visual imagery (vs. verbal imagery) in advertising increases consumers’ attention and challenges them to interpret and understand the ad’s message in a more active manner than words do,’ wrote Jill J. Avery, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, in an email. ‘This process of interpretation or ‘elaboration’ produces a higher quantity of mental images and, in many cases, a more personalized understanding of the ad’s message.’ In short, it is easier to make associations based on two bright, primary-colored balls than it is with the word MasterCard.”

What does this mean for a startup in 2016? A wordless logo will appeal to the 20s-30s early adaptor crowd you need to connect with. Let your audience figure out that they want your product, rather than tell them. You’ll need to rely on word of mouth above a text-heavy sizzle reel. But hey, at least every other corporation has to do the same, from MasterCard’s abstract circles to McDonalds’ two-limp-french-fry-looking golden arches.

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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