IN LOGO WE TRUST?

By

Ariana Palacios Newham

Reading time: 4 min

A LOGO IS A TOOL; LIKE A FLAG, IT PERFORMS A TASK. IT SAYS: 'NOTICE ME, REMEMBER ME.' IT'S NOT INHERENTLY EVIL OR GOOD.

Have you read ‘No Logo’ by Naomi Klein? If you have, read on. If you haven’t; it's a book about how powerful brands exploit and abuse their power.

While we agree with a lot of the book's content, we disagree with its cover.

WE THINK THE TITLE IS WRONG.

But let's start by clarifying how we'll use the word 'logo' in this article. A logo is made of letters and it comes from the word 'logotype'. Gap, Barbie, Mattel, Star Wars, Marvel and Chanel are all logotypes. 'Logo' is often confused with symbols; which have no letters, such as Mercedes's three-pointed star, Apple, Shell, Target's bullseye and Nike's tick. Sometimes brands combine both a symbol and a logotype. Sometimes they use a monogram (a combination of letters such as Coco Chanel's CC, or Louis Vuitton's LV. For the purposes of this article, the word 'logo' covers all the options above.

A logo is essentially just visual shorthand. It works in any language, just like a flag. You recognize it, it has some reason for the way it looks, but you will attribute some meaning to it based on your experience or knowledge. A logo is not inherently evil or good. It performs a task: 'Notice me, remember me.'

 A LOGO IS A TOOL.

It is one element of branding, marketing and advertising. If you have a good experience with the brand, you have a good association with the logo. If you have a bad experience with that flag (brand), the next time you see it, you would be likely to avoid it. Perhaps even discourage others from using it. That's branding in action. Brands can hide behind their communications, advertising and social media. They can whitewash, greenwash and paint fake realities just like emperors, Kings and Queens did with their brands by commissioning portraits before the days of photography, showing them in heroic poses to increase their stature.

Napoleon had portraits commissioned of him riding a horse heroically. The reality is that he crossed the Alps on a mule.

Jacques-Louis David, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

TAKE GAP, FOR INSTANCE.

Gap is a slice of Americana fashion served to the world. Their name has appeared in many news headlines. But not always for the right reasons.

In 2000, a BBC documentary revealed young girls in a Cambodian factory making products for Gap. They worked 7 days a week, frequently up to 16 hours a day.

In 2004, Gap admitted, among other violations, to the use of child labour in plants they outsourced manufacturing to. Other issues also came to light, from machinery lacking safety devices to failure to pay minimum wage. These problems were commonplace across plants in China, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and Europe.

In 2007 a similar story came to the surface. This time, children as young as 10 years old, were found working on children's clothing for Gap in India. The company promised to rectify this.

In 2018, allegations of gender-based violence faced by female workers in Asia were part of reports published by Global Labour Justice.

Any of the incidents above, as a one-off, could be an accident. But a series of them over decades looks more like a business model.

What do you associate with Gap these days? Yougov shows that 97% of people have heard of them; they are liked by 43% of people. If they make headlines for the wrong reasons and say sorry, again, how likely are you to believe them?

The logo isn't at fault. The actions and values of the company are. These damaged its brand and tainted the way people feel when they see the logo.

T-shirts showing Gap's logo.

TAKE PEOPLE TREE.

They are a business, not a charity, but caring for people and the planet is at the core of who they are and how they operate. Those values are embedded in the heart of the business. Their branding has become a symbol of trust to those who share their values. We’re not talking about gimmicks; what they say matches what they do.

The company was founded in 1991 (22 years after Gap). From the beginning, their focus has been to make products of the highest ethical and environmental standards.

They were the first fashion company to hold the World Fair Trade Organisation product label.

They are very aware of the people in their supply chain, and part of their mission is to support their economic independence.

By 2004, they were operating in 20 different countries. The business has grown, but not at the cost of the people working for them or the environment.

Their .eu site says, "We rarely run sales, but when we do, they never affect our makers."

A logo is a standard bearer for a brand’s reputation. Reputations take a long time to build and seconds to destroy.

Images from People Tree's Instagram feed. On the right, Shilpi, one of their expert sewers in Bangladesh.

POOR LOGO!

So don't blame the logo. Examine a company's purpose and values vs what they do. A great company is not one that never makes mistakes; it's one that knows how to deal with them, genuinely doing their best to rectify them and move forward.

After more than 50 years in operation, Gap will probably want to be liked by more than 43% of people.

WHAT CAN BRAND EXPERTS AND DESIGNERS DO?

We can challenge the companies we work with, helping them ensure their actions and values are aligned. During a project for a Fairtrade company, we got quotes for Fairtrade merchandise and bags. They wanted to reduce costs and asked if we could look at Non-Fair trade versions.

They truly believed in what they did, but with tight budgets, one member of the team tried to make a compromise that would have undermined their credibility. We persuaded them to make the right decision and go with Fairtrade-certified products.

YES LOGO.

Logos can be useful, even heroes. They can help you make the right choice and identify the wrong one. They are equally important for businesses and charities.

We have to recognize a brand to be able to judge its reputation.

We think Naomi Klein was mostly right.
Good book. Wrong title.


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