When people see an outline of a bitten apple, they picture Apple Inc. When one sees the profile of a rabbit with a crooked bow tie, one thinks of Playboy magazine. What do you think of when you imagine two golden arches? McDonalds.

Advertisers put their logos everywhere: food, magazines, clothes, cars etc. The products we use everyday belong to corporations, and these commercial enterprises use logos to publicize their products. When we, the consumers, see a logo, our brains are stimulated so that we can immediately recognize a brand.

The Oxford English Dictionary explains a logo is an abbreviation for one of two things, a logogram n. or a logotype n. The Oxford English Dictionary says there are three definitions of a logograph. However, of these definitions, the Oxford English Dictionary’s third definition:

Gen. A symbol, as found in road signs, advertising etc. designed to represent in simple graphic form an object, concept, or attitude.

most closely resembles the modern logo: a powerful, ever-evolving, mass communication medium. With that said, what is the role of logos in media?

Logos were not always the corporate logo we know today, as logos have a rich history that dates back to the beginning of civilization. Many inventions have led to the modern logo. For example, cylinder seals were invented circa 3500 BC in the Near East, and were used as a form of signature and identification. Forms of currency such as engraved coins have been used since circa 600 BC. In addition, many graphic representations and visual forms, such as the insignia and the emblem, were widely used before development of the corporate logo. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “insignia” as:

Badges or distinguishing marks of office or honor.


and defines “emblem” as:

A picture of an object (or object itself) serving as a symbolical representation of an abstract quality, an action, state of things, class of persons, etc.

The insigne, like the logo, is a distinguishing feature. For example, a typical form of insigne, a coat of arms, has been used to distinguish families and homes from one another. Also similar to the logo, the emblem is symbolically representative of a concept. For instance, The State Emblem of the Soviet Union, an overlapping of a hammer and sickle, is representative of the unity of the industrial and agricultural workers forming the working class. In this way, the insigne and the emblem can be viewed as earlier notions of the corporate logo.

Earlier concepts of the corporate logo and other pre-modern logos transitioned into the modern, capitalist logo in the 18th and 19th century, as the catalyst for growth in the corporate logo design was the industrial revolution. With mass production came mass marketing and advertising, which combined typography with images. From the 18th to 19th centuries, companies needed to differentiate their products with printed designs so that they could develop brand loyalty- a commitment to repurchase a brand- with consumers, specifically the rapidly growing middle class. In the 20th century, corporations strived to remain successful in an age of mass visual communication. Companies began to revise their existing logos so that they seemed more eye catching and memorable to an audience that was now viewing an overload of brands through television screens, store windows, and magazines pages. As this overload shortened consumer’s attention spans, companies began to flock to a “less is more” approach to branding, which made simple, crisp logo designs very popular. With corporate globalization came an even stronger emphasis on consumer brand recognition, as several companies revolutionized their branding in order to create logos that can be identified in any language. Take Coca-Cola Co. and Apple Inc.’s logos as prime examples of successful brand evolution:

Above: Coca Cola Co.’s brand evolution, 1886-present. Coca Cola’s evolution into its trademark bold, red font and ribbon-wave design increased Coca Cola’s global brand recognition. (Source: “21 Logo Evolutions of the World’s Well Known Logo Designs”)

Above: Apple Inc.’s brand evolution, 1976-present. Apple’s evolution into a “less is more” design led to its simple, crisp logo, which facilitates cross-language marketing and global recognition. Although there is no print on the current logo, the company’s name, “Apple Inc.”, is certainly reflected by the design. (Source: “21 Logo Evolutions of the World’s Well Known Logo Designs”)

There are many different design elements of a logo, such as color, size, print, design, symbolism, and subliminal messaging. Oftentimes, companies will use very bold colors, large, distinguished print, original designs, representations of ideas through symbols, and/or unconscious stimulus to emblazon the values and mission of a company into the consumer’s mind. Color and print are critical in brand differentiation. Bold colors, such as primary colors, catch a consumer’s attention. Particular colors may send messages to consumers. For example, a logo with a red, white, and blue color scheme may cater to a target audience of a specific nationality. In addition, a logo with larger print help consumers identify a brand faster than if they were squinting and struggling to read small print on a logo.

Bold, bright colors and large print help consumer’s notice and remember products. However, a beautiful design or bold colors and big print can only take a product so far. This is where symbolism and subliminal messaging become crucial to establishing a personal connection between a product and consumer. Apple Inc.’s logo may be a bright, bold, and crisp design, but the symbolism behind the trademark apple is what keeps consumers tempted to get a little more than a taste of the product. The original Apple Inc. logo depicts Isaac Newton sitting under a tree with a single apple hanging over his head. The phrase around the border of the logo reads, “Newton… A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought… Alone.” This picture clearly refers to the popular legend that Newton was sitting under an apple tree when an apple fell and hit his head, which caused him to suddenly discover the concept of the Universal Law of Gravity. However, apples is not only associated with the story of Newton’s revelation, but they are also associated with many other abstract ideas. In many religions, apples are forbidden, mystical fruits. The legends of the golden apples in the Garden of Hesperides and the tempting apples from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden have made apples a symbol for knowledge, temptation, immortality, and sin. The 1977-present logo of the bitten apple speaks to its audience, as it associate Apple Inc. products with knowledge and temptation, reminding consumers that purchasing an Apple product can offer a surplus of what was once unattainable information at the push of a button.

Above: Playboy Enterprises Inc. This logo embodies everything Playboy represents. The bold outline of a comic-like, animation of a rabbit with a crooked bow tie is suggestive of fun and sex. Art Paul, art director of Playboy Magazine, explained, “The word ‘playboy’ itself is not a serious one. The rabbit is not serious; it was basically a signal that we could make fun of ourselves.” (Art Paul: The Art of Designing Playboy). The rabbit is a very fecund species, and represents the frisky, animalistic side of Playboy’s consumers. (Source: “Playboy”)

Above: FedEx Corporation is very successful in conveying subliminal messaging. The delivery service hides a right facing arrow between the “E” and “X” in FedEx, which highlights the transportation aspect of the company to its consumers. (Source: “FedEx”)

Digital media have further transformed the logo. Technology tasks companies to make internet-compatible logos. Nowadays, many companies want logos consistent with their Internet addresses. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous and American Airlines both have logos that center around the abbreviation “AA”, but only one can have the Internet domain name AA.com.

Alcoholics_Anonymous-Converted Logo-1968-e1358457795626
Above: Alcoholics Anonymous and American Airlines Inc.’ logos. (Sources: “Alcoholics Anonymous” and “American Airlines”)

In addition, the small size of digital screens and devices require companies to scale down their logos. The digital age will force companies to constantly re-format and change their logos into bolder, simpler designs that can fit into tight spaces so that they are not confused with other logos.

Above: Facebook Inc.’s logo. Designed for digital media, this bold, simple design fits perfectly into the left hand side of a URL bar. (Source: “Brand New: Facebook’s Radically New “f” logo”)

What is the significance of the logo? To many, a logo is a symbol. Pierce defines a symbol as, “a sign which refers to the object that it denotes by virtue of law, usually an association of general ideas, which operates to cause the symbol to be interpreted as referring to that object” (Pierce, 143).

A logo is much more than a design for the packaging of a product. A logo is a necessary part of a brand. A logo’s symbolism furthers corporate identity, and is responsible for furthering the communication of the mission and ideals of a company’s brand. Phillip Meggs, author of Megg’s History of Graphic Design agrees, “The national and multinational scope of many corporations made it difficult for them to maintain a cohesive image, but by unifying all communications from a given organization into a consistent design system, such an image could be projected, and the design system enlisted to help accomplish specific corporate goals” (Meggs, 3). Criticizing the logo and its place in modern consumer capitalism, Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and corporate globalization expert, also concluded, “successful corporations must primarily produce brands as opposed to products” (Klein, 3).

Companies rely on logos to mass communicate their product or business in a very effective, subtle, and professional way in order to create consumer loyalty. In this way, a logo is like a company’s visual “elevator pitch” to a consumer- as it’s a short, visual message that defines the product and gives it’s consumers a value proposition. Some may call a logo subtle propaganda. Others may call it a symbolic design. However, many would agree that the logo is a present, surviving, adaptable form of media that has been, and will continue to be, a huge influence on consumers and corporations.

— Elizabeth Miller


“21 Logo Evolutions of the World’s Well Known Logo Designs.” Bored Panda RSS. Web. 04 Feb. 2014.

“Art Paul: The Art of Designing Playboy.” IIT Magazine. Web. 04 Feb. 2014. 

“Alcoholics Anonymous.” Brands of the World™. Web. 04 Feb. 2014.

“American Airlines.” Brands of the World™. Web. 04 Feb. 2014.

“Brand New: Facebook’s Radically New “f” Logo.” Web. 04 Feb. 2014.

“Discover the Story of English: More than 600,000 Words, over a Thousand Years.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford. Web. 04 Feb. 2014.

“Edible Apple.” The Evolution and History of the Apple Logo. Web. 19 Feb. 2014.

“FedEx.” Brands of the World™. Web. 04 Feb. 2014. 

Klein, Naomi. No Logo. New York: Macmillan, 2009. Print. 

Meggs, Philip B., Alston W. Purvis. Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley & Sons, 2006. Print.

Pierce, Charles Sanders., and Arthur Walter. Burks. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1966. Print.

“Playboy.” Brands of the World™. Web. 04 Feb. 2014.