Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Rolling Stones Logo: A Masterful Example of the Concept of Branding

I'm not sure precisely where the concept of branding originated, but I do know that all of us who grew up on TV Westerns or Hollywood's wild west films will remember at least more than one incident where brands played a role. Cattle were branded for identification purposes so they could graze freely out on the open range and still remain known as yours, or Smitty's or Boss Hargrove's. Cattle ranchers used a branding iron to place their distinctive marks on their cattle. The mark was a deterrent to prevent rustlers from stealing their property.

The earliest accounts of branding livestock go back as far as the Egyptians. During a Cairo excavation Professor Edmund Archer uncovered photos of branding taking place in front of a pyramid, 6,000 B.C. Didn't know that the Egyptians invented the camera? (Here's a more accurate history of branding from the National Cowboy Museum. And yes, it mentions Egyptians.)

Just as cattle ranchers used imaginative and distinctive symbols to make their marks unique, so today we see that companies use branding to differentiate themselves from other companies. The best brands use a "mark" that not only differentiates them, but also tells who they are. When you see the logo, you see the essence of the company.

Often, colors help reinforce the brand. Companies with a strong "made in the USA" pedigree frequently have red, white & blue logos.

Back cover of the album Sticky Fingers.
While in Vegas this past week for the SEMA Show (Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association) we had gone to dinner one evening to a casino on the Strip filled with the usual glitz and glam of that city where everything is spectacle. Out of the corner of my eye I caught that famous Rolling Stones logo, a lascivious badge from the era of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll.

During the evening I twice commented that Andy Warhol created that memorable image, and in both instances the person I said this to replied, "Oh, I didn't know that." Turns out that I was wrong. Andy Warhol designed the album cover for Sticky Fingers, the Stones' 11th album, and the first to feature this salacious in-your-face symbol. (Read the full story of that album cover design here.)

The creator of those famous lips was a Brit named Jon Pasche. Mick Jagger and company were seeking a new logo to replace the bland offerings of Decca Records. (No doubt the corporation had assembled a committee to come up with something for the Mickster, but as we know well, there are no statues in the park for great committees.) Jagger chose an alternate route to acquire something that would truly reflect the image of the Stones as a brand. Love it or hate it, it's memorable and a powerful example of strong brand recognition. (Here's another account of the story, with additional details.)

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There's a sense in which logos are the International language of our times. Effective logos communicate across language frontiers. They say something when our words are just gibberish.

For more on logos and branding, read this entertaining article about the backstory on twenty famous car logos. I'll bet you didn't know that the seven stars on the Subaru was based on the "seven sisters" of the Pleiades. (Warhol didn't do that one either.)

I've done a few logos myself over the course of my career. And I've had the privilege of working with a few great designers along the way. If you're a business in need of help with a strong logo design, I'd be happy to introduce you to a couple talented people who can satisfy your need, without excessive expense. Contact ennyman3 (at) gmail.com.

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