A move towards simplicity: Can your brand logo stand on its own without a name?

Just yesterday, Mastercard dropped its name from its iconic brand logo of the interlocking red and yellow circles in a bid to move towards a more simplistic look. In a statement to the press, Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communication officer at Mastercard, said that currently more than 80% of people recognise the Mastercard symbol without the word ‘mastercard’ having to be plastered everywhere.

The move comes close to three years after the brand also reworked its brand identity for the same reason to be "modernised and simplified". The lack of a name accompanying a logo is not new to the world of branding and marketing. Many brands such as Apple, Starbucks and Nike have long been recognised for their logos without having a name plastered along.

According to Simon Bell, managing director of FITCH Singapore,who deemed the logo as a "winner", said a brand’s ultimate aim is to be seen and understood. He added that consumers will still recognise and know their service as the brand has known iconic visual assets to use.

To successfully simplify, Bell suggested that brands need iconic assets such as three stripes (adidas), a swoosh (Nike), target (Target) or an apple (Apple). Additionally, the brand must have an established standing amongst consumers.  He added that often enough, brands look to simplify to appeal to younger consumers, using more digital/e-commerce experience channels or new product lines.

"Not all brands are this lucky. My prediction is we will see more simplification, but only among globally known brands," Bell said, adding:

Simplification looks easy but to evolve but still be recognised is a tough task. Mistreating icons can undo years of tedious management.

Graham Hitchmough, regional chief operations officer of Bonsey Design chimed in that the power of visual symbols alone to convey brand identity and meaning "is as old as branding itself". As such, the removal of the Mastercard name is a "natural culmination" of the brand identity refresh launched in 2016. Hitchmough said that Mastercard is merely capitalising on the world-wide ubiquity the brand has generated over five decades and responded to increasing demands on brand identities.

"Evidently the plan was always to phase out the name once consumer research proved beyond doubt that brand recognition would not be adversely affected by the change," he added. For brands such as Shell and Coca-Cola, symbols have been an essential part of driving awareness, differentiation, affinity as well as creating recognition across global markets. He added that symbol-led brands will continue to flourish in the technology sector, where consumer interactions with brands are highly contextual - especially in today's digital and app economy.

Consumers now are engaged in an ongoing multi-platform ecosystem where constant "flagging" of the brand name is redundant.

Ambrish Chaudhry, head of strategy, Superunion said that the removal of the name sends the message that the brand is embracing digital payment systems and are not restricted to cards.

Chaudhry explains that there are very few brands that have the "equity and recognition" to pull off losing its wordmark. One brand which suffered in trying to move towards a symbol, for example, was Uber which later reverting to its original identity.

Nonetheless, moving forward more brands will embrace a screen-first design principles with better use of symbols, illustrations and motion. "The most important aspect of any rebrand, especially for an iconic brand, are humility and respect," he said, adding:

The company has to realise that the brand is owned by its customers and holds a distinct meaning for them.

As such, there are "inherent boundaries" to what a rebrand should attempt to do, Chaudhry explained. At the same time, the rebrand should also push the company forward by adding new dimensions to the brand that did not exist earlier. "It’s a tight rope walk but one that can be incredibly rewarding if you get it right," he added.