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We recently explored the future of digital marketing and the innovations and opportunities on the horizon, but there’s still one marketing necessity that has been a constant for more than a century: a memorable and distinct logo.
Studies have shown that nearly 70 percent of digital marketers list brand awareness as their top goal, and a logo plays a crucial role in forging connections with customers. Indeed, have a look at Interbrand’s rankings of the best global brands, and we’re certain that you could picture the logo of any of the top-ranked companies – Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Coca-Cola – with your eyes closed.
So clearly, companies take a big risk when they change their logos, whether it’s a tweak or a major overhaul. Here are six recent examples of major companies successfully rebranding their signature logos.
There’s strength in simplicity, and that was a guiding principle when Uber decided in 2018 to ditch the logo it had unveiled only two years prior.
After thousands of hours polling users around the world, the ride-sharing company came to a few major conclusions: black scored 88 percent favorability, Uber was a household name, and mobile users were wondering where the U went.
“One thing we heard was, a lot of drivers and riders didn’t understand what the symbol was,” said Forrest Young, creative director at brand consultancy Wolff Olins, which worked with Uber on the project. “You’d get picked up by the car and it would say Uber, but it wouldn’t marry with the app.”
From those observations, the company’s new logo – simply its name– was born.
The custom typography created for the logo was inspired by the world’s best transportation-related signage, like the American Highway Gothic and the German traffic typeface DIN. The company also swapped its all-caps name for title case, which seems more approachable.
Ultimately, the new logo is intended to imply movement – but most crucially, it’s simple and recognizable enough that there’s a practical benefit: eliminating confusion among users trying to spot their ride.
“As we expand our reach into our other markets and modalities, it’s super important that it’s very clear when you’re getting into an Uber car or on an Uber scooter, you know that is an Uber product,” said Uber executive brand director Peter Markatos. “We weren’t achieving that with our current system.”
In July 2013, Airbnb set out to re-imagine their logo. The company hired DesignStudio to embark on what became a year-long project, involving visiting 13 cities across four continents, staying with 18 hosts, and recording every detail of their trips. More than 120 employees at Airbnb’s Bay Area headquarters were also interviewed over three months.
“Our creative strategy was informed by the insights we uncovered in the immersion,” read a DesignStudio report on their strategy. “In particular, we found that when people came into contact with Airbnb they typically have a strong, emotional sense of purpose and affection for the community they’re a part of, yet this spirit wasn’t communicated through the brand.”
The result was a combination of four simple symbols: a head to represent people, a location icon for places, a heart to signify love, and an “A” for Airbnb. Named The Bélo, the new logo was intended to be a symbol of “belonging,” according to Co-Founder Brian Chesky.
“You see, a house is just a space, but a home is where you belong. And what makes this global community so special is that for the very first time, you can belong anywhere,” said Chesky. “The rewards you get from Airbnb aren’t just financial — they’re personal –for hosts and guests alike.”
When the new logo was unveiled on July 16, 2014, Airbnb trended on Twitter for eight hours. The campaign won a slew of awards, including gold and silver from the Cannes Lions, a Clio, gold, and silver from Transform Europe and the 2015 Brand Impact award.
“I feel our brand of yesteryear was starting to hold back our ability to go mainstream, and limiting people’s idea of what it could become,” said CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky. “This new branding changes the whole identity and expression of the company.”
Sometimes, the public is so loyal to logos that any change can inspire an outcry. Instagram’s story shows that there’s value in taking the long view.
In 2016, the social-media giant announced it would update its logo from one inspired by vintage Polaroid and Bell & Howell cameras to a more modern and colorful mark. The company asked its own employees to draw the Instagram icon from memory, and almost all drew the rainbow, lens, and viewfinder, so those were then viewed as key elements. The new logo was fresh, flat, and gradient-oriented.
As part of the rebrand, the company also gave its related apps – Layout, Boomerang, and Hyperlapse – new icons that harmonized better with the main new logo.
“The evolution of the community has been inspiring, and we hope that we’ve captured some of the life, creativity and optimism people bring to Instagram every day,” said Ian Spalter, Head of Design at Instagram. “Our hope is that people will see this app icon as a new creative spark – something to have fun with and make their own. We’re excited for where this will take us.”
Instead, the public’s response was angry, one-sided and, well, unfiltered.
AdWeek deemed the new logo a “travesty,” a writer at the Guardian said it looked like the old camera in the image was murdered at sundown, and GQ decried that Instagram was flushing its brand equity “down the toilet for the home screen equivalent of a Starburst.” The New York Times called it the “Great Instagram Logo Freakout of 2016.”
But others saw the change as necessary, given that Instagram had evolved from an app that was largely used to give photos a retro, 1970s feel with various filters to simply one of the most-used social media platforms around. The old logo also didn’t reflect new features that had rolled out, like video and Instagram stories.
“The Instagram logo was distinct, but old,” said Jonathan Bonsey, principal creative and executive officer of the Bonsey Design Partnership.
Indeed, by 2018 AdWeek had changed its tune and ran a new story concluding that everyone had likely finally “chilled out” about the logo. Even amid the peak of the frenzy, not everyone lost perspective.
“Give it a couple of weeks, and if recent history has proved anything, Instagram’s widely mourned little hipster camera will be a distant memory,” wrote CNN’s A.J. Willingham.
Some logo redesigns go big, bold, and drastic – and then there’s AmEx, whose 2018 refresh was so subtle you’d be forgiven if you didn’t notice the change at all.
But plenty of thought went into the credit-card company’s first logo redesign in more than 40 years. Design consultancy Pentagram was tasked with reworking the brand’s iconic Blue Box logo – introduced in 1975 – with one of the goals being to create a typographic language that could live outside of the box, as well as work better across various platforms and channels, given that detailed marks don’t always present clearly on mobile devices.
“We didn’t want people to say, Oh, did you see that new logo [ugh],” said Pentagram partner Abbott Miller. “It was more if you cleaned the smudges off your lenses. It’s cleaner. Clearer.”
Sure, the difference is far from drastic, but the designers redrew the letterforms and rendered the logo in an overall bolder way that would register better on small screens.
The team also worked with a type designer to develop lettering that was faithful to the original logo. In the original design, the letters were outlined with no negative space of their own, so they couldn’t be pulled out of the box or away from the outline. The new version can work on its own – for instance, as a letterhead or on a billboard.
The team also came up with a new secondary cropped logo, with an off-center “Amex,” for mobile devices.
Ultimately, the small but purposeful changes are what the design team felt suited a company with a 169-year history.
“American Express should never walk away from this incredible heritage,” Miller said. “The research shows that there is incredible respect for the brand, and affection for its imagery.”
When Mailchimp was founded back in 2001, it began as a side project for Co-Founders Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzius to help clients with their email marketing. Since, the company has grown immensely into a leading small-business marketing platform with millions of customers around the world.
So when the company decided to change its logo in 2018, it was less about esthetics and more about reflecting that evolution.
With the help of branding agency Collins, Mailchimp introduced a playful new design that finally united “Freddie” – their winking monkey mascot – with the logo script that had previously never appeared before in the same logo. The company also changed the “c” in Mailchimp to lower-case, again reflecting that the company had grown beyond email to provide services including automations, ads, landing pages and postcards.
Cooper Light is the company’s typeface – an update on the 1920s, pre-digital typeface Cooper Black, which, the company notes, you might recognize from “dusty old funk records” – and Cavendish Yellow is Mailchimp’s bold new brand color.
The new branding was unveiled alongside a series of child-like illustrations on Mailchimp’s website, which – along with the logo itself – convey a playful, approachable feeling.
“That wry sense of humor is an authentic part of their brand,” said Ben Crick, a Creative Director at Collins. “They have more of a right to it than most of the tech companies that rely on humor.”
There’s another side to that. Just as Mailchimp wanted a new logo that reflected their tremendous growth as an organization – and they now send roughly 1 billion emails per day – they also wanted something quirky and light-hearted enough to send the message that they hadn’t lost the light-hearted spirit that had been part of their culture.
“It’s the de facto way to look if you’re a tech company,” said Angie Shih, a Collins Strategist. “The trajectory of every company is that you’re quirky, friendly, approachable, and when you become a massive company with a lot of employees, you become austere, sterile.”
Where reimagining an aging logo is enough for some companies, Dunkin’ took it a step further and did something drastic: they dropped the “Donuts.”
The nearly 70-year-old coffee institution rolled out a fresh new logo last year along with the news that – while donuts wouldn’t be disappearing from its menu – the company was now going to be on a “first-name basis” with America.
Creative agency Jones Knowles Ritchie didn’t want to radically alter the company’s esthetic – especially not the unapologetically eye-catching pink and orange colours originally introduced in 1973, or the brand’s iconic Frankfurter font (the agency did update it into a new font called “Dunkin Sans” and introduced “Dunkin Serif,” inspired by the brand’s use of Souvenir in the 1970s).
The new logo instead sheds both the word “Donuts” and the image of a cup of coffee, instead opting simply for “Dunkin” in orange font with a pink apostrophe. The company tested the logo extensively on exterior signage.
The changes were motivated by wanting to shift focus to Dunkin’s status as a beverage-led company.
“We are bringing the iconic name Dunkin’ to the forefront in a bold way that brings to life how we refill optimism with each cup and bring fun, joy and delight to our customers each and every day,” said Chief Marketing Officer Tony Weisman.
The campaign won a Cannes Bronze Lion as well as two D&AD Pencils. It also created one billion impressions in the first 24 hours and three billion impressions over time.
Even better news for the venerable chain? After making the switch in January 2019, the company reported 5.5 percent systemwide sales growth in the first quarter and 3.8 percent systemwide sales growth in the second quarter.