A swoosh. A circle with three spokes meeting in the middle. A vague description of certain iconic logos immediately conjures up their images and the names of the brands they represent. A solid logo is an invaluable tool in marketing and advertising, but a famous logo is advertising in itself. Since the invention of the automobile, car manufacturers have taken advantage of this principle by strategically placing logos on car bodies or using them as decorative hood ornaments. Many clothing and sportswear designers incorporate their logos into their designs, such as Levi’s red tag, American Eagle Outfitters’ airborne eagle and Calvin Klein’s CK.
What Are the Best Logos Ever?
If you ask people to list the most iconic logos, many would come up with similar lists. We created a list of some of the most iconic logos of all time. Whether you love, hate or are indifferent to these brands, the success and fame attributed to their logos is undeniable.
The manufacturer of computers and handheld devices is proof that a company doesn’t have to be century old to have an iconic logo. Apple Computer was founded in 1976 and renamed Apple, Inc. in 1977. Logo designer Rob Janoff created the apple with a bite missing and a single leaf that year. The original version had horizontal rainbow-colored stripes. The apple has undergone various changes with regard to color and shading throughout the company’s four decades, but the shape has remained identical. The success of this logo can probably be attributed to the success of the products, all of which bear the design. Unlike some of our iconic logos, which have remained unchanged, Apple is currently on the fifth version of its logo design.
Every auto manufacturer has a logo and most of them have been around for decades, but the Mercedes logo, or some version of it, has been around for about a hundred years. Mercedes-Benz was the offshoot of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellshaft. The first automobiles marketed as Mercedes-Benz were introduced to the market in 1926, but origins of the three-point star logo predate the name. The three-point star first appeared in 1909 on Daimler cars, but the iconic symbol eventually migrated to Mercedes-Benz. This logo has become synonymous with quality and luxury and can be seen on every M-B vehicle produced by the German auto manufacturer.
Many companies design successful logos that contain their name. From a marketing perspective, it’s the best of both worlds. Customers instantly recognize your brand and either read or, better yet, don’t have to read the name. Coca-Cola is more than one of the most successful brands in the world. It also has one of the most famous logos of all time. The product was developed by a pharmacist in Atlanta in 1886, but the current cursive logo with the twisted band underneath it on a field of red evolved over the following hundred years. In addition to Coca-Cola’s logo being on every can, bottle, and machine dispenser that contains its product, most restaurants that serve Coke products proudly display the logo on menus or signs.
Anyone who was born prior to 1970 can remember the music video revolution that coincided with the 1981 launch of Music Television, otherwise known as MTV. The MTV logo, which was splashed on the screen between videos and is now in the corner of the TV during shows, is unique in that it was designed with the idea that it could be frequently changed. The blocky M and the smaller TV followed a consistent font and proportions, but the colors and patterns were frequently changed and often animated. In 2008, MTV opted for a more subdued and consistent version of their loud, in-your-face logo, but few early fans will forget the astronaut planting the MTV flag on the moon.
You would assume that the most popular webpage in the world would also have the most popular logo, but what makes Google interesting is how often it uses wild variations of its standard logo, which is the word “Google” in green, red, yellow and blue. The company was founded in 1996 by Larry Page and Sergy Brin, and has since become the largest search engine in the world. Part of Google’s success can be attributed to the catchiness of the name, the simplicity of the site, and, of course, the fame of its corporate logo.
When Carolyn Davidson designed the Nike swoosh in 1971, she received $35 and 500 shares of company stock, which appreciated to hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation. Company cofounder Philip Knight wasn’t impressed with the simple design, but grudgingly approved its use. The name Nike was derived from the Greek goddess of victory and Davidson felt that the swoosh represented speed and motion. In addition to custom designing footwear and uniforms for basketball players, tennis stars, golfers and more, Nike’s logo can be seen on the uniforms for the NFL and the NBA. Nike also created the jumpman logo, which is a silhouette of basketball legend Michael Jordan performing his signature aerial slam-dunk. One company with two iconic logos — that’s an enviable position.
With restaurants in 119 countries, few people in the world aren’t familiar with the most prolific restaurant chain in history. Early McDonald’s restaurants had a slanted roof with a yellow arch on either side. When viewed at a certain angle, the two arches vaguely resembled a letter M, the first initial of the restaurant name. When Ray Krok purchased McDonald’s in 1961, company President Fred Turner and Executive Jim Schindler created the early version of the golden arches on a red background, which we’re familiar with today.
You’ve seen the Starbucks’ emblem adorning cups, coffee bags and canned and bottled retail beverages everywhere. The crowned woman in the center of the logo is a twin-tailed siren, which in mythology was a womanly creature who used her voice to lure ships onto the rocks. When one considers coffee’s hold on society, the symbol of the siren makes a powerful point. The original logo, which came into existence around 1971, originally depicted a more full-bodied siren and the company name was printed in a green ring. In 1992, the company opted to crop the siren, making the image a little more conservative. It’s also dropped the company name from the iconic logo.
Large-scale Hollywood movie studios have a tremendous advantage when it comes to promoting their logos: they can, and do, display them at the beginning and end of the film. When Warner Brothers first formed in 1918, movies were one of the very few non-print forms of advertising in existence. The original shield design was a photo of the movie studio over the letters WB. From 1937 – 1948, during the “Golden Age of Hollywood,” Warner Brothers adopted a large WB contouring to the shape of the shield. While the studio went through acquisitions and mergers over the next several decades, it occasionally strayed from the classic logo but remained familiar.
Shell Oil Company
One of the most well-known logos in the energy industry doesn’t belong to the largest. As of 2016, Royal Dutch Shell (Shell’s parent company) only ranked thirtieth among all energy companies. So, why is the yellow shell logo so iconic? Perhaps due to consistency. When the company was founded in 1907, its logo was a black and white shell that appeared to be lying on the ground. In 1948, it was changed to the yellow and red scallop that has persisted in some form until the present. Consistency can be a powerful element in a logo’s success.
The entertainment goliath has had many official logos including the word Disney written in founder Walt Disney’s distinctive cursive handwriting, either alone or beneath an image or silhouette of a castle. However, the company is best known for its distinctive and simple logo: the three-circle silhouette that looks remarkably like Mickey Mouse’s large-eared head. Disney, of course, recognizes the value of its excellent logo. In 2014, it entered a legal battle with Canadian DJ Deadmau5 because his logo was too similar to their three-circle mouse.
Uber has earned its way onto this list by its own right. The taxi-alternative company has fought its way through legislation, lawsuits and political strife and somehow manages to endure. Although it’s a new company, Uber has been through one major logo change. Initially, Uber used a boxy letter U, but last year it changed it to a circle with a square in it. Uber explains that the new logo is a reflection of how they see themselves as a futuristic company. The new logo represents both an atom and a bit of data. Whether or not the logo will become iconic remains to be seen, but with 50,000 drivers added monthly, it’s likely that it will be one for the ages.
Hard Rock Café
In 1971, two Americans wanted an American burger in London, so they started the legendary chain of restaurants and casinos. Artist Alan Aldridge gained fame through his work for the Beatles, and then designed the legendary Hard Rock logo. As the chain grew from one major city to the next, it began selling white t-shirts with the logo displayed at the center of the chest. The shirts became a popular trophy for vacationers visiting the various travel destinations. Merchandising has become a substantial part of the Hard Rock empire, and now, in addition to shirts, it can be found on pins, buttons, drinking glasses, leather jackets and key chains.
The discount retailer’s original logo was created in 1962 and used twice as many rings as the modern three-circle target symbol. In 1969, Target created a print ad with a woman wearing an earring that resembles the modern three-circle target logo, and this was the first time that the company used that model of the logo. In 2006, Target decided that the three-circle red and white symbol could stand on its own without the company name appearing, too. Target claims that 96% of Americans know what the target symbol means without any additional information.
One of the most iconic products that America has ever produced is the 140-year-old beer brand created by German immigrant Adolphus Busch. While the logo has undergone a few minor changes, the key elements have remained consistent: a red slanted bowtie background, the word Budweiser written in script and a crown indicating that it’s the king of beers. Budweiser sells volumes of beer around the world and markets its logo on neon and plastic signs and posters, and in bars and restaurants, and on the walls of sporting venues.
Logo Failure: Procter & Gamble
In 1995, the Cincinnati-based consumer products manufacturer decided to change one of the most iconic logos in the history of branding to a nondescript P&G in a circle of blue. Why would a company with a 145-year history suddenly scrap its readily identifiable logo and start over? Proctor & Gambles old logo was a circle, which contained a man in the moon. Some observers analyzing the image claimed that squiggly lines in the character’s beard looked like the number 666, which is commonly linked to Satanism. In addition, the points of the quarter moon appeared to be horns, which accusers suggested also represented the devil.
The false rumors of P&G’s satanic ties appear to have originated in the 1980s and were bolstered by additional claims that the CEO was donating to the Church of Satan. None of these rumors were substantiated or supported by any evidence. When Amway tried to reignite the Satanism rumors, Procter & Gamble was awarded $19.25 million in a civil suit. Unfortunately for the company, the damage to the logo seemed irreparable.
What Makes a Logo Iconic?
There’s no indication that complicated or particularly clever logos are more marketable or recognizable than simple ones that use only the company name. In contrast to Budweiser’s king of beers logo, the single red star of competitor Heineken is also among the most iconic logos of all time. The Chevy bowtie is every bit as famous as Mercedes-Benz’s three-point star in many markets.
Placement is a significant factor in the success of a logo. A logo positioned correctly on products, packaging, clothing, vehicles and advertisements can increase its chances of becoming iconic. Another obvious contributing factor to a logo’s fame is attaching it to a wildly popular product, which can lead to the enviable problem of having to decide whether the logo sold the product or the product sold the logo.
As a logo design and branding company, that’s an argument that we’ll grudgingly concede.