My friend and former colleague Clayton sent me a note yesterday which read in part, “You need one about how ridiculous it is to pay for a product with a prominent logo on it so you can advertise for them. While this advertising is free, the company has no control over the person sporting the logo and the image they project. It’s lose/lose. […] I predict that eventually high end products won’t have logos of any kind.”
Logos started out as trademarks. The Bass Ale triangle logo is famously the first registered trademark, but there are many contenders for ones that predate Bass. Manufacturers wanted people to know who made something, so they would know where to go if they wanted more. The idea was that if you put your name (or your mark) on something, you must be proud of it. So a trademark had a positive connotation – its job was to spread the word about something.
This is different from “brands,” which were originally conferred on something to show who owned it (think of branding cattle). Unlike a trademark, which aims to make something more widespread, a brand limits the usefulness of an item to only one owner. If you “brand” your shirt with your monogram, then only you can use it. Well I suppose someone with the same initials as yours could, but you get my drift.
So what are modern logos prominently displayed, like the Nike swoosh on Tiger’s hat or the Microsoft Windows emblem on my Start button, trying to be? Are they trademarks that are proudly proclaiming, “We made this for you!” Or brands that are truculently saying, “This is ours; we’re just letting you use it.” I think too many marketers believe the latter. I know one VP Marketing who was so protective of her brand that she paid much more than she had to for a couple of hundred golf shirts, just so that the exact Pantone shade of thread would be used to embroider her company’s logo on them. That is not spreading your brand, it’s constraining it.
Anyway, what about Clayton’s prediction? Will high-end products eventually be logo-free? I don’t think so. I think the majority of people are less noble than Clayton, and will always want their neighbours to see that they bought expensive stuff. Regardless of whether you think of the logo as a brand or a trademark, in the open market, most people have a good idea of the cost associated with that logo. That’s why fake Rolexes exist – their owners are declaring, “I’m wealthy enough to pay $5,000 for a watch that keeps time exactly as well as a $20 Timex.” There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you – I’ll mull it over this evening sipping on my Grey Goose vodka.