Think of your favorite logo. Now ask yourself if you’ve ever considered where it came from.
Apple, Inc. is not only one of the largest companies on the planet by market capitalization, it also has one of the most iconic logos in human history. But have you ever wondered whether the logo inspired the brand or vice versa? What about the Starbuck’s siren? It’s on a logo almost every coffee-drinker is familiar with, but most people never pay it any mind.
Businesses spend a great deal of time and treasure perfecting their logos in the hope that one day those logos will instantly identify their brands. In some cases, the legends that develop around the logos can add an envious mystique to the corporations, but it can also unfairly cast them in a negative light.
We want to take a look at some corporate logos that harbor hidden meetings, camouflaged images and other devices that may not be immediately apparent at first glance. As logo inventors and brand imagers, we have an affinity in impressive logo design, but we also enjoy a clever gag hidden in the design.
It’s pretty obvious why a company named Apple — first Apple Computer and then Apple, Inc. — would select the iconic mackintosh apple with the bite missing for their logo, but the story behind the Apple name is an interesting one. Co-founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs discussed the possibility of the name “apple.”
Jobs was returning from a commune he referred to as “an apple orchard” and thought it would make a good name for the fledgling company. According to Wozniak, both partners acknowledged this was the same name of the Beatles’ record label, but the company kept the name. The possible trademark infringement was the source of a legal battle between Apple, Inc. and the Beatles’ Apple Records that was eventually settled.
One of the more inventive stories that has developed around the Apple logo was that it was an homage to computer inventor Alan Turing, who allegedly committed suicide by biting into an apple laced with poison. This rumor was given weight because early Apple logos had rainbow striping, a pattern adopted by the LGBT community, and Turing had been persecuted for being a homosexual prior to his death.
But, according to the logo designer, Rob Janoff, this was coincidental. Janoff did mention the bite from the apple was meant to represent a byte of information.
To anyone familiar with maritime mythology and the draw of a strong cup of coffee in the morning, the symbol of a siren might seem pretty apt for a coffee company. According to an ancient book of myths, The Odyssey, sirens seduced sailors by their songs, forcing them to drive their ships onto the rocks. Comparatively, coffee draws patrons into cafes and restaurants.
The original Starbucks’ siren, however, was a more tawdry symbol than the one you currently see on Starbucks’ signs, bottles and cans. In 1971, Starbucks hired logo consultant Terry Heckler to assist them in finding a symbol to represent their new brand. The first Starbucks siren was based on a Norse woodcut and was depicted as a topless, voluptuous mermaid with a split tail being held open by her hands.
CEO Howard Schultz has since explained they were trying to capture the essence of seduction through the image of the temptress mermaid. As the company grew, the size and the sexuality of the logo became problematic, so Starbucks reduced it in size and made the depiction of the siren a little more modest with strategically placed hair and less mermaid body in the green circle.
Since the inception of the company in Amsterdam in 1864, Heineken has displayed some form of star logo on their bottles and other packaging. In an unfortunate coincidence, the original star resembled the Soviet symbol for communism. While the brewery didn’t predate Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels “Communist Manifesto,” it was established decades before the October Revolution of 1917 that overthrew the Romanovs and established the Soviet Union.
The fact that state-sanctioned communism wasn’t around when Heineken chose their star logo didn’t prevent rumors of communist ties from plaguing beer producer. Heineken has de-emphasized their logo over the years to deflect these baseless rumors, but the company usually returns to some version of the large red star. Heineken and its fabled red star have been in the news recently, as the Hungarian government has proposed legislation to ban “symbols of totalitarianism,” including the Communist Red Star. If this law passes, Heineken may be inadvertently barred from displaying their logo on bottles in Hungary.
While there isn’t a great deal of lore surrounding the famous blue and orange FedEx logo, there is an interesting feature that most people don’t notice. The empty space between the bottom of the capital E and the lowercase x form a perfect arrow inside the block font.
Since FedEx literally relies on jet speed to accomplish their mission of delivering packages in other parts of the world the next day, it’s not surprising they would slyly insert an arrow into their logo.
Bavarian Motor Works
If one car manufacturer’s logo rivals that of the three-point star of Mercedes-Benz, it’s the blue-and-white checkered symbol of their German rival BMW. Headquartered in München, Germany, the circular logo draws on the color and pattern of the checkered flag of Bavaria. But that isn’t all the designers had in mind. BMW traces its roots to the infancy of the aviation industry when it used to make airplane engines.
The quartered blue and white circle symbolizes two propellers, with the white slicing through the sky and the blue at a blinding rate of speed. The template for the logo was a 1920 advertisement featuring a forward shot at a fixed-wing propeller plane in flight.
For decades, Toblerone chocolate has been a staple at airport gift shops and duty-free stores, and most air travelers would immediately recognize the unusual beige, triangular-shaped prism packaging that the confection is sold in. What they may not have noticed, however, is the image of the bear standing on its hind legs superimposed in the landscape of the candy company’s mountain logo.
Toberlone was founded in the Alps town of Bern, Switzerland, which is also known as the City of Bears. Bern’s city crest has an ascending bear in its center, which is where Toberlone got the idea for the hidden bear in their logo. The mountain, incidentally, is the internationally famous Matterhorn — one of the most celebrated and deadliest peaks in the world.
The Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons may have suffered one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history, but fans can take some solace in their clever logo design. The Falcons’ logo is a raptor in flight with its wings down and claws forward. But the way the hawk’s appendages are arrayed is no accident.
The falcon’s head and beak form the top horizontal bar of the letter F, the talons form the lower bar, and the bird’s body and back form the vertical piece. So, the logo can be popped off a helmet and placed in front of “alcon” to make the name of the team.
As the largest retailer in the world, you’d think nearly everyone would have picked up on the subtle charm of Amazon’s logo, but with the way that throngs of shoppers hit their webpage with a take-no-prisoner approach to bargain-hunting, it’s likely that it goes unnoticed. Once solely an online seller of books, Amazon has a market in nearly every area of public consumption.
The company has reflected this broader approach by adding a golden arrow beneath the word “Amazon” that originates at the first A and points to the Z, meaning that Amazon sells everything from A to Z. The company is named after the river, which has the most voluminous flow in the world. Amazon, no doubt, sees this as a metaphor for the flow of products to consumers.
The redheaded Wendy in the burger giant’s logo represents one of founder Dave Thomas’ daughters, who was nicknamed Wendy by her siblings. Since the inception of the restaurant, some version of the pigtailed, All-American cartoon girl has been on its signs, cups and bags. In 2012, Wendy’s decided to modernize their rather old-timey looking logo and gave the Wendy icon an upgrade.
As with the old version, Wendy is wearing a high collared shirt with an oval brooch at the neck. There is, however, one significant difference. The folds in the cloth to either side of the brooch resemble two capital Ms, which forms the word “MOM.” Wendy’s has stated the subtle word in the logo was unintentional, but it hasn’t altered this feature.
One of the perks of creating logos in the tech industry is that symbolism and coding is intrinsic to the field. Vaio’s design is clean, elegant and futuristic, but there’s a double meaning for each of the letters. The “V” and the “A” at the beginning of the word form the wave shape of an analogue signal wave. The “I” — without a dot — and the “O” double as the numbers one and zero, which are the fundamental components of the binary language. But what does Vaio actually mean? Visual Audio Intelligent Organizer.
As if their product wasn’t popular enough, Hershey’s decided to play a little trick to see if they could boost the enticement level of their addictive merchandise. There isn’t much advertising space on the individual Kisses, but if you look at the plastic bag, you can see some subtle logo designing.
The curve of the legs of the letter K in “kiss” has the same telltale shape as the outline of one of the small chocolate pieces. The I forms the base. Hershey’s fills in the spaces between the letters with a milk-chocolate brown colored background. Unfair, Hershey’s, unfair.
Toyota Motor Corporation’s current logo is three intersecting ellipses. The two smaller are crossed perpendicularly to form the letter “T” and the third surrounds that letter. At some points, the ellipses share their walls. Unveiled in 1990, the company said the logo symbolized the intersection between the hearts of their customers and the hearts of their products.
One of the more interesting features to this logo is that each of the letters in the name “Toyota” can be formed by “shading out” parts of the logo. Maybe Toyota’s symbol isn’t quite as storied or as iconic as Mercedes Benz’s three-point star, but it does have a few tricks up its sleeve.
The Sun Microsystems logo is a series of eight interlocking Us. Because of their sizes, configurations and the directions they’re arranged in, some of the Us combine to make Ss, some stand alone as Us and others are inverted to make Ns.
The result is that the block of Us spells the word “sun” multiple times and in different directions. Vaughan Pratt, a computer-programming professor with no logo design experience, is credited with the innovative pattern.
Tostitos brand tortilla chips has one of the most meta logos in our selection. The two lowercase Ts are shaped to look like two stick people. Since they sit to either side of the I, it gives the appearance of two tall people standing around a table. Tostitos completes the picture with a bowl of salsa on top of the I and a shared triangular chip between the two Ts. The result is a festive celebration where the two letters are sharing a chip over a bowl of salsa.
It doesn’t have a hidden meaning, but the Olympic logo is so renowned we thought that we would include it in our list. Designed in 1914 by Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, the five interlocking circles each represent one of “the five inhabited continents of the worlds, united by Olympism.”
The problem most of us will have with this explanation is that there are six continents united by the games and there were back in 1914, so why the omission? Coubertin used a loose interpretation of “continents” that listed “the Americas” as one continent. The colors of the rings, along with the white background, represent the colors of all the flags of the world. The rings finally debuted in the 1920 games in Antwerp, Belgium.
Use a Professional Logo Designer
Your logo may be your most identifying factor — how it looks matters.
In the HBO television show “Vinyl,” the executive board of the fictitious American Century Records had a meeting to discuss rebranding their logo design. A new hire points out that the logo, consisting of a red letter A wrapped around a brown letter C, looks like the aerial view of a toilet. She explains to the board that this is a running joke in the industry. While this mortifying scenario was a figment of the writers’ imagination, logo failures can be this detrimental to a business.
Like most artistic endeavors, logo design is something that frequently looks easy to the uninitiated, but requires a good deal of artistic perspiration and creativity. For every successful logo designed by a CEO or a business owner, there are hundreds that either fell flat or resulted in embarrassing or even damaging results.
Even iconic logos, like those of Starbucks, Apple and Mercedes-Benz, are constantly evolving to suit the needs of their companies. If you have an idea for a logo for your business or you’ve decided it’s time to upgrade or modernize your logo, contact a graphic design company that specializes in corporate logo design.