i'm with the brand

Google’s je ne sais quoi and the reinvention of the logo
November 29, 2009, 8:13 am
Filed under: Advertising & Branding | Tags: , , , ,

Recently Sesame Street marked its 40th anniversary, and on a stray whim deciding to search for something from the Google site rather than through my built-in search bar, I was delighted to see Google celebrating the occasion with a Sesame Street-themed logo. A little poking around online showed me a collection of Sesame Street-flavored Google logos the company was using in other countries that day, and I realized what a clever little paradox this themed logo was.

Google seems such a part of the culture that it seems fitting for them to celebrate significant cultural milestones and figures in the way that they do, endearing themselves to users in the process with this bit of on-brand playfulness. Google’s a part of the culture machine, after all–and not just locally, but globally as well: in my little bit of sleuthing, I found that these themed logos are much more common and much broader than what we might see in the US. While some are shown worldwide (like those for Earth Day and the day water was discovered on the moon), many are specific to a given market, tailored to fit the country in which they appear, celebrating local holidays and culturally significant people and events, from the birthday of renowned artist/architect Isamu Noguchi (shown in Japan) to the opening of the Acropolis Museum (shown in Greece.) In all of these themes, Google demonstrates an understanding of the people and culture, of what’s important and exciting at home and the world over–and in so doing, also seems to justify their rightful place in culture.

In the Doodle 4 Google competition, Google even gives users a chance to make the brand their own, mining students around the world for their imaginative twists on the logo, displaying the winning doodles on the Google homepage for a day. This strategy wisely leverages user enthusiasm and creativity, fostering audience participation without relinquishing control, allowing user input while remaining brand-led. Here are some some of China’s 2008 submissions:

But that’s not actually what I came here to talk about.

What really got me thinking was how Google’s distinctive logo could metamorphose so regularly without losing itself. Going through an archive of Google’s holiday and fan-created logos I noticed that in earlier years Google’s themed logos were much more conservative, typically the standard logo with a little nod to the holiday tacked on–a shamrock here, a pilgrim hat there. Typical shy logo-tweaking. But over the years, perhaps emboldened by their hegemony and recognizability, the holiday logos interpreted the Google logo more and more loosely, sometimes dispensing with the traditional logo, font, or color scheme altogether–but still, in a rare feat, I thought, never leaving me in doubt as to Google’s brand: whose logo it was, and what it stood for. And that’s what I found most intriguing, most fascinating–what was it about their brand, and their logo, that it could survive such drastic changes with tone and identity intact? That could strengthen their brand in spite of (perhaps in part because of) a shapeshifting logo? I’m not sure at the moment that I can offer any great theories as to how they did it and how a brand might replicate it, but it’s something that’s been tumbling around in my mind for the last few weeks and I though I’d throw this musing out there. Whatever it might take to accomplish such a coup, however elusive the solution, it sort of gives overprotective brands something to aspire to, doesn’t it?

Due to Google’s logo policy, I’m afraid I can’t post any images as examples here, but you can check out Google’s official holiday logo and fan logo archives here. Definitely worth a look!


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