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.

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?

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