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Corporate logos, visual puns and the juvenile brain that just didn’t get it

When I was young, I just didn’t get it.

See, I was located squarely in Piaget’s pre-operational stage of devel­op­ment, and some­thing funny seems to hap­pen there: you’re only able to take things at face value, miss­ing out on sub­tlety, double-meanings, sar­casm… and all that good stuff that isn’t stated bluntly. Once you’re a fully cog­nizant indi­vid­ual, you can appre­ci­ate all of that.

As a teen, or per­haps slightly ear­lier, I was sud­denly able to see these sorts of things for what they really were. Well, most things. But for a cer­tain class of things that I first expe­ri­enced dur­ing my pre-op stage, I con­tin­ued hav­ing trou­ble see­ing them for what they truly rep­re­sented. Here’s an example:

the classic Burger King logoWhen I was grow­ing up, this was the Burger King logo. (I also walked uphill to school in the South Florida snow, both ways. Kids these days.) It’s pretty sim­ple, right? The words rep­re­sented the meat, between a cou­ple of buns. To whom was that not abun­dantly clear that the logo is a burger?

To me.

I didn’t real­ize that until I was a bit older (high school, maybe), at which point it just hit me. It was not for lack of expo­sure; I had been eat­ing at Burger King prac­ti­cally since birth. I had a birth­day party there in ele­men­tary school. I was in the god­damn Burger King Kids Club!

The fact that I was exposed to this logo so early in life is pre­cisely why I took it for granted. I missed the visual pun; as far as I was con­cerned, the logo looked the way it did because that was just what the Burger King logo looked like. I sim­ply couldn’t imag­ine it any other way, or hav­ing any other pur­pose than telling peo­ple who see it on the side of a build­ing that they’re look­ing at a Burger King location.

I had no such dif­fi­culty with the stupid-simple McDonald’s arches. It’s just a big “M.”

old-school Milwaukee Brewers logoHere’s another exam­ple of a logo I didn’t fully under­stand or appre­ci­ate. For the record, I wasn’t a Mil­wau­kee Brew­ers fan, but at the age of four or five (and thanks to a friend’s father) I found myself with a huge col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary base­ball cards. Again, until I was much older, all I saw in this logo was a styl­ized base­ball and glove… which to a child, seems a per­fectly appro­pri­ate logo for a base­ball team. And your aver­age sports-team logo is on the lit­eral side.

I believe it was at some point in col­lege that I noticed the sub­tle let­ter­ing in the Brew­ers’ logo. What a bril­liant design!

There’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent class of logos that are more sub­tle, with some­thing inten­tion­ally hid­den within. You don’t need to be a young­ster to miss it.

These tend to be great:

the Goodwill logothe FedEx logoAmazon.com logo

The FedEx logo is widely cel­e­brated, its pun mas­ter­fully sub­tle. It only occurred to me it a few years ago, while dri­ving to work one day. I was behind a FedEx truck. Then it hit me. (Thank you, I will be here all week.)

As for the Good­will logo, this blog com­ment made me see the light, or rather, the huge “g” in neg­a­tive space. I had always just seen it as a face.

The day I real­ized that the Ama­zon logo wasn’t mean to be a smirk was the day I saw the A -> Z.

Can you think of any other good examples?

Written by Everett Guerny

February 21st, 2010 at 2:06 am

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  1. Why I don’t worry about blog stats, not even a little bit « Write, geek!
  2. Funny farm + clever logos | sandy's front end

2 comments to “Corporate logos, visual puns and the juvenile brain that just didn’t get it”

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  1. Alli

    21 Feb 10 at 3:14 am

    I never noticed the low­er­case g in the Good­will logo, and that FedEx one! Good finds.

    Some more that I found that I never noticed/thought about before: I will post links to the images because your blog hates me, etc.

    http://theroxor.com/wp-content/uploads/tostitos.jpg

    http://theroxor.com/wp-content/uploads/sunmicrosystems.jpg

    http://theroxor.com/wp-content/uploads/nbc.jpg

    • Everett Guerny

      21 Feb 10 at 3:27 am

      Good finds too! I had never noticed the Tos­ti­tos one.

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