Well, if you ask Ford Motor Company, quite a lot. As a part of its $23.5 billion debt restructuring back in 2006, the iconic blue oval logo was pledged as an asset to the automaker’s creditors. Then, in the course of its financial comeback, Ford recently announced that the logo is out of hock and back in the hands of the company as a fully owned, unencumbered asset.
Executive chairman Bill Ford put it this way:
“When we pledged the Ford Blue Oval as part of the loan package, we were not just pledging an asset. We pledged our heritage. The Ford Blue Oval is one of the most recognized symbols in the world, and it is a source of great pride and passion, both inside and outside our company. Getting the Ford Blue Oval back feels amazing, and it is one of the best days that I can remember.”
That is a lot of value and significance being attributed to a logo. But it gets to the heart of what a logo is really all about.
I’ve helped design a lot of logos over the years. They were all part of a corporate identity package that was used to brand an organization—one of those exciting design projects that all designers look forward to. The process is also one of introspection and discovery for the client as they seek to distill the essence of their organizations into a visual symbol. During the design process, tremendous emphasis is placed on the logo’s ability to capture, embody and communicate the company’s business.
But here’s the real secret about logos:
It’s more about what they can absorb than what they can project. Case in point, the blue Ford oval. As a logo—purely from a design perspective—it’s not bad, but it’s not great. What makes it worth hundreds of millions of dollars as an asset is the value it has absorbed through the millions of nameplates on cars, dealership signs and trillions of advertising impressions over several decades.
So good logo design, while taking into account the need to reflect an organization and differentiate it from competitors today is more about the value it is able to absorb tomorrow. A good logo is able to accrue brand equity like a solar cell soaking up the sun’s energy. Of course you’ll never know if a logo can handle the load until several years have passed. That’s why you don’t change it every couple of years; and it’s also why you might hire a professional designer that understands how to develop a logo that can stand the test of time. Sure there are good design principles that must be followed, but it also takes that sixth sense, that intuition to be able to look at a new logo, and be able to say, “Yeah, this one can go the distance.” It’s that same instinct that might also tell you, “On further reflection, our current logo doesn’t need to change. It’s doing its job quite well.”
A new logo or a change in logos is always something that draws the attention of the top executives or owners of a company, as it rightly should. I’ve learned to trust their instincts as much or more than the designers. That’s because the owner of a company or its CEO has a sense of history and a vision for the future. That insight serves as a filter for evaluating a logo and having a good sense of whether it is able to reflect the past while also engaging the future.
That reality goes a long way to explaining why the executive chairman of Ford could speak with such passion about a little blue oval.