The logo is dead. Long live the logo.

Garret Ohm has a nice post about how your poor brain may be tired of responding to logos. It seems that when volunteers in a recent “neuromarketing study” were scanned by MRI machines while they viewed images, the portions of their brains responsible for craving lit up more when given general photos vs. iconic logos. Smokers, for instance, experienced more craving when shown Western landscapes reminiscent of cowboys with cigarettes than when they saw the simple Marlboro logo.

The study was written up by Martin Lindstrom over at Ad Age, who concluded that logos may be irrelevant because consumers are over-saturated in a media-frenzied world. He wrote, the logo isn’t dead yet, but I would bet its days are numbered.

Wrong. Lindstrom makes a simple logical mistake in this analysis (and we say this with respect because we have no idea how to run an MRI machine). Showing a human a picture of a red racing car or other real-world image taps a very different mental response than asking the same human to decode an abstract pictogram, even if the symbol means “Ferrari.” Mammalian minds have evolved for millions of years to respond to the natural world of three-dimensional objects, while writing started in Egypt and Mesopotamia only about 200 generations ago. So if our gray matter lights up faster when given nature vs. numbers, maybe that’s cause nature is real. None of our ancestors had to flee for their lives running from a bad Olympics logo, but a striped tiger is another story.

Sure, it is plausible that logos have saturated the mental landscape. The classic book Positioning notes that consumers only have so many mental rungs in their heads for each product, so perhaps Marlboro has cornered the market on dry deserts with tumbleweeds. Some top marketers are now stretching the definition of logos to enable different customer experiences; Pepsi just redesigned its own mark with a flexible circle that can expand aggressively or contract girlishly based on the amount of caffeine in the bubbly product.

But we vote for logos. Don’t count icons out just because they tickle a different part of our brains. Understanding code is nuanced, and with only 200 generations of decoding under our belts, singular graphic identities can’t possibly be dead.

Illustration by Tod Kapke via Joy Engine.

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