Three Brands That Evolved Without Going Nuts

How have they managed to preserve their branding legacies?

There's been a lot of chatter about the over-simplification of brands recently; we've seen outright changes to a brand's mark and evolutions that have gone too far.

But where are the ones that seem to get it just right? Perhaps it's time to take a look at how some brands have done this evolution thing gracefully.

Brand identities are the outward reflection of what a brand stands for, a graphic representation of its philosophy. All brands evolve as their core business evolves, so keeping a logo updated to match a company's target market is important.

But at what point does the evolution of a mark no longer represent the core values and meaning? How do designers know when to quit, or to say enough is enough?we've gone too far? Is there a common thread to the brands that have held their evolution to the bare minimum?

Let's take a look at some marks that have stood the test of time:

Shell Oil Company
Shell Oil has a very descriptive name, which makes you think that you would be able to predict what the mark looks like. But take a look at the evolution of Shell's logo: The stylized shell has gone from a very realistic engraved mark to an elegant shape with minimal moving parts. And Shell Oil was able to eventually lose the words "Shell Oil," due to the consistency of how the mark evolved over the years.


Apple Computer is another mark that has subtly and softly moved from its initial representation of an orchard to the mark of the rainbow apple of the late ?70s, when it became a brand. The silhouette has never changed, only the inside, which is a direct reflection of how the content of the brand has changed. Today, it's a very elegant, yet minimal mark that relates well to Apple's current product line-up.


And then there's the Coca-Cola script. It's a word mark that has been updated dozens of times over the last 100 years, but to most consumers? eyes, it has never changed. Every update has only made it more legible and elegant, never abandoning the Spenserian Script known around the world.


So, here's the history and design lesson for the day: Don't mess with it, if you don't have to. And if you have to, only do only what's absolutely required to keep it relevant.

Wholesale changes to brands are usually unnecessary, and instead, are often the first step in a downward spiral of lost brand recognition and consumer confidence. The results can throw a market on its ear and cause instability to brand value and equity.

Just think about the recent branding mistakes with the likes of Gap and United. Some brands have found their equilibrium. Let's keep it that way.

[Top image by Kevin Dooley]

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  • Chris Cureton

    What is funny is I use all 3 of these brands everyday. I only use Shell gas unless I'm low and too far away from one. Apple is a gift to our profession and I can't get rid of my Coke habit. There is something to say for the gradual changes these brands have made. They change slightly as we slightly change. Changed to stay visually refreshing but never tossing their roots completely as we have seen happen lately. There is power in consistency and there is a difference between staying up to date and changing for change sake. Good read!

  • Luci Rocha

    I'm quite please to read someone talking about evolution of brands without much change to logos.jamey point is spot on and goes to show that big brands remain big because their "image" and message are one "you have to be consistent" no matter what business you are in. Great article.

  • Monty Montague

    Good points.
    Another good example is Bell Telephone. They did a nice job of evolving the bell icon, the last one done by Saul Bass. But the evolution got out of wack during the corporate divestiture when they brought Bass back in to rebrand Bell as AT&'s gone downhill from there in my opinion.

  • Ed Holme

    Today, it seems that "rebranding" is almost a trend "du jour" that is either a result of copycat response or a vague attempt at reconnecting with marketplaces and consumers because of the turmoil of the last few years.
    The reality is, that re-examining your brand's message and validity is (right now) a very prudent exercise.
    However, to fall for your CMO's insistence that wholesale changes have to be made (more because he/she can point to something they "did" in their last job, as they pursue their next, rather than do the right thing for the brand) is risky at best, perhaps negligent to shareholders at worst.
    The brands you have mentioned Jamey, have discipline and process, they understand the science and art of brand management and how important and vital each audience is ....
    ... Every brand should be protected from ill conceived advice .... and should be protected by a group of interested stakeholders ....
    You are right ..... only do what is necessary ... but if it is necessary - do it!