It seems that every two years I comment on a logo in the news (see this post I wrote on the World Cup logo in 06). A logo, of course, is part of the presentation of your brand and it matters (though I'm not fond of logos on slides used in live talks). Today (at least back in the USA), the blogosphere is abuzz with comments about the Obama Campaign's "new logo" (though I can't confirm if this seal/logo is more than a one-time thing). On Friday, according to CNN, "Barack Obama sat down in Chicago...to discuss the economy with visiting Democratic governors, but all eyes were on the Illinois senator’s podium bearing, what might be described as, a quasi-presidential seal – a new Obama campaign logo."
The reaction to the seal (above left) — even among his supporters — is generally not good. I don't think Obama was involved in this or even knew much (if anything) about the logo on his lectern in Chicago. Perhaps because his talk was with fellow Democrats and in his "home" of Chicago they were just having a little fun (or testing it out?). CNN, the New York Times, etc. made it sound like this was a new official logo, yet Obama's website does not mention the logo as far as I can tell. Hopefully that was the first and last time we see that logo/seal. I do not have an issue with the design of the logo per se except that it's just too close to another famous logo, the presidential seal. Part of me likes the simple design and the chutzpah, but my first gut reaction was "hmmm...just a bit over the top?" I assume it's legal, but what about this?) Obama has a good campaign logo already, I'd stick with that. My guess is this is the last we'll see of the seal (but who knows?), but it brings up the issue of logos that look suspiciously similar to others even if they are different enough to survive a legal challenge.
Distinctive and unique
Logos should be distinctive and unique, and if you're lucky enough to have a powerful brand, you'll work hard to protect your unique image including your logo. Starbucks is a good example of a brand that has had to defend its logo quite aggressively (some say too aggressively). You may be familiar with the case of the cafe in Shanghai called Xingbake (roughly meaning "star" plus "ba-ke" which is phonetically close to "bucks") which got into trouble a few years ago. Seems pretty comical, but according to this article the owner says it was all just a coincidence and that he'd never even heard of Starbucks (you start a cafe chain in 2000 and you never heard of Starbucks?). Here's how it went down.
Photo: East Midlands China Business Bureau
In Japan, many cafes sprang up after Starbucks became big here about ten years ago, many of them such as Excelsior, were seemingly inspired by the Starbucks brand, but their trademarks I assume were different enough not to cause confusion. But one that always seemed odd to me is the Mt. Rainier logo used by the company Morinaga Milk for their popular coffee drink brand called Caffé Latte (see the Caffé Latte homepage featuring a full page video commercial staring Scarlett Johansson). The logos may look different enough (or do they?), but when you consider that Mt. Rainier has a strong association with Seattle (photo) you find yourself saying "what the....?"
The Mt. Rainier logo is not used for cafes which is perhaps why it was allowed to go unchallenged. But now that Starbucks sells latte drinks in convenience stores on the same shelves as Mt. Rainier in Japan, it seems like people would be easily confused. I can not confirm it, but I heard rumors that Starbucks may go after them on this one. So what's the moral of the story? I say be different, find your own voice and your own identity, and that goes for logos and other forms of identity including the design of your presentations. It's great to admire the leaders and the front runners, but who needs another Nike, or Starbucks, or Apple, or Sony, etc. As the Funky Business cats say, "Being different is key."
Logo design and corporate identity is very specialized work, but it is something all entrepreneurs should have at least a fundamental understanding of. Below are links to a plethora of discussions on what makes a good logo. (Here's one on trademarks called "Think Locally, Protect Globally.")
• Design and the World Cup: what can we learn? (PZ)
• Famous logos (on the LogoBlog).
• Top 10 logos of all time.
• What makes a good logo design? (David Airey)
• What makes a great logo? (Logoworks)
• What Makes a Great Logo? (code-interactive)
• What makes a great logo? (Light box graphics)
• Keys to a great logo.
• Key features of a great logo.
• Great Logos Are Key to Success.
• Brand Channel (everything about branding by Interbrand)
• Seattle Trademark Lawyer blog