Whenever a well-known brand changes their logo, there is a lot of uproar. Just look at recent examples of Starbucks and Gap. And there’s nothing different with the recent change Yahoo made to their logo. What we’re talking about here is a change to the status quo. We don’t like change. We like to take the same way to work. We like to drink the same cola. We like to know the brands we use haven’t suddenly become something different. There’s a reason for this. You can call it habit. Or if you want to be fancier, you can call it heuristics. Whatever you call it, it’s the little things that let us know the brands we love haven’t changed.
So what do you do when your brand isn’t exactly loved? Like Yahoo for instance? Well, first you get a new CEO. Then you ban telecommuting. And if that doesn’t do it, you redesign the logo. Or have the CEO and an intern redesign the logo. Sounds like a joke? It isn’t.
So the first question is, is it a good logo? A logo’s purpose is to create a visual touchstone for the brand. The logo holds all the hallmarks of the brand and in an instant helps people recall everything they love or, if the brand is in trouble, hate about the brand it represents. Because of this, great logos are distinctive. We can recognize the Starbucks logo from a mile away (at least I can). Great logos visually represent the spirit of the brand. And finally, great logos stick around pretty much unchanged. Think GE, whose logo has been modified over the years but remains more or less the same.
So let’s say you have a name that is already pretty different. Yahoo! The word itself has an undeniable personality. There’s whimsy and playfulness that demands a logo that does the same – actually feels as if the entire organization should have a playful vibe, which is likely the real root of the problem – and the old logo is both playful and instantly recognizable.
So why change it? As I said before a logo holds all the hallmarks of the brand, and if those hallmarks aren’t loved, it’s easier to change the logo than change the brand. The logo change, assumedly is a harbinger of bigger changes in the brand, but other than providing a distraction it’s unlikely that a logo can conjure up anything new other than millions of dollars of business cards and letterhead.
The new logo is a fail on a couple of fronts. First, it didn’t become more distinctive, it became less. In this case the old adage less is more is patently wrong. The Optima-esque font is a bad ‘70s throwback and is neither distinctive nor reflective of the name itself. I’m sure there were a few days of debate whether they should keep the exclamation point, but punctuation isn’t enough to save a ho-hum design. Yahoo’s press release tries to convince you of the logo’s whimsy, but in truth, it was better before.
Second, the visual impact of the new logo is weak. It isn’t particularly recognizable nor does it have the weight that a word like Yahoo! needs graphically. The word shouts. It demands a bold logo. It doesn’t have it.
The real question is, will it make a difference? Unlikely. Why? Because Yahoo’s business isn’t retail. You don’t have to recognize it in a strip mall between the nail store and the insurance agent. Nor is it a badge on a handbag or a golf shirt that conveys some brand status. Of course you can’t ignore the fact that it created some buzz for the company. After all, I’m writing about it along with about a 100,000 other people.
In the end, changing logos is a folly unless you make substantive changes to the company or the old logo is dragging you down. Or everyone in the company needs a new t-shirt, golf hat and coffee cup. Then, by all means go nuts.