In a global market place, the best logos are the ones that are understood by all and consistent across countries. How can a brand convey its essence to those who speak and write in different languages? Create an icon, and let it speak for itself.
In a globalized world, symbols are powerful communication tools. Think about road signs. One can navigate cities around the globe because the images on these signs are consistent and universally understood. Roads signs also happen to be visually impactful, even memorable. Isn’t that exactly what a global packaging brand wants to achieve? Bold, simple design is the key to reaching across both language barriers and cultural boundaries, while making an impression that “sticks.”
Among corporate brands, this trend is well established and has a long track record of success. One of the first brands to use this strategy was Nike. The brand’s innovative product line, combined with aggressive marketing and brand positioning from the 1970s onward, created a strong mental link between the Swoosh image and the company's name. With so much equity in its brand, Nike felt it could drop the name and go with the Swoosh alone in advertisements, on products, or anywhere else the corporate logo would apply. Though it once would have been unthinkable to strip a company's name from products and ads, Nike set a new standard by going textless—which turned its logo into an icon.
In the digital world, consumers encounter icons with every click. Whether it’s a button that represents a specific action, an emoticon that translates emotion, or a traditional logo elevated to an iconic representation, images speak louder than words online—and digital brands know it. A truly successful icon must be able to stand by itself, evoking all the manufactured associations that form a corporation's public identity. Apple does it. Facebook does it. Twitter does it. After all, it’s how a brand, as Nike has proven, becomes ubiquitous.
This phenomenon cannot be underestimated by packaging brands. At a time when technology, entertainment, and design are converging, simple, evocative icons don’t just grab attention—they drive marketing. But how can packaging brands take advantage this trend? The rise of online grocery shopping is one opportunity.
Today’s packaging designers have to think beyond the shelf and figure out how their designs can make an impact, not just in a physical retail environment, but also online. How can brands convey meaning and value, even when the representation of the product on screen is very tiny?
The objective is to create a recognizable symbol that is easily understandable—an icon that can stand on its own.
One brand already doing it in the food sector is Walkers Tiger Nuts. A kind of double image optical illusion, the tiger’s features on the front of the package are also the brand name. Whether one can read the text or not, by combining the product name and logo into a single iconic image, Walkers lets the tiger do the talking. Red Bull has accomplished the same feat—the iconic red silhouette of a bull renders the actual brand name unnecessary. One look at that image, and we instantly recognize the brand.
When a brand no longer needs an introduction—and when it owns very strong and unique assets—its name can be replaced by an icon.
Procter & Gamble’s line of laundry detergents, Ariel—a widely used brand in many markets—is one such example. P&G’s first detergent to use enzyme technology, making clothes brighter and whiter with less effort, Ariel’s iconic atom symbol positioned the product as a scientific breakthrough. From Europe to South America, Asia and the Middle East, the atom, combined with striking green hues, represents freedom from scrubbing, thanks to sound science—and lets consumers around the world to know what they are buying.
To succeed in this process—to create an icon—a brand must significantly build on its equities. This means starting with a strong brand idea, zeroing in on the essence of the brand, and capturing that essence through symbolism.
On the path to becoming an icon, brands that leverage symbolism effectively make an impact on the shelf, drive choice, achieve differentiation and also manage to create consistency and universal appeal across markets. .
It took 40 years for Starbucks to drop its name from the logo. How long will it take packaging brands to realize the benefits of a logo without text? However it may read, the icon transcends language, making it the perfect mode of communication for today’s world—a global village that speaks in many different tongues, but shares common symbols.
Cathie Cocqueel is an Associate Design Director at Interbrand Singapore