Zen Saying About Symbols

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Tom Asacker’s first piece for publication on AdPulp. It’s great to have Tom join our efforts here. -dB]
“To point at the moon a finger is needed, but woe to those who take the finger for the moon.”
Symbols can become powerful conveyors of emotion and meaning. However, you should never confuse the symbol with the meaning, like many marketers frequently do. They absolutely love to commiserate (and waste a lot of money and time) on logos, colors, fonts, sizes, placements, ad nauseum. They don’t just “take the finger for the moon,” they suck on it for comfort. In contrast, great marketers keep their sights (and investments and activities) firmly set on the moon; co-creating meaningful, valuable and ever evolving customer experiences.
Take Nike’s logo. As the story goes, Carolyn Davidson designed the swoosh in 1971 while a graphic design student at Portland State University. For her services, she billed the company a whopping $35 (around $180 in today’s dollars). Or look at Google’s logo. Yes, Google has had several logos since its renaming from “BackRub”. But none took years to conceive and six figures to create. In fact, the first one was created by founder Sergey Brin using a free graphics program after teaching himself how to use it.
The question is not whether the choice of a logo is important. The important question to ask about a logo – about any and all aspects of your brand – is: is it appropriate for the feelings that I want people to conjure up? If so, don’t get all hung up on it. It’s simply the visual representation of an invisible meaning; meaning that gets built into the symbol as distilled perceptions and feelings accumulate over time in people’s unconscious minds.

Now you may be thinking, “Whatever. Everyone knows that!” It doesn’t appear so. For example, here’s the before and after of Xerox’s new logo:
Whatever. It looks a little like Kodak’s font next to a red bocce ball. Great. Terrific. Okay then, let’s get back to helping customers and growing the brand. But wait . . . what’s this I hear? Management gave Interbrand how much money and how many man hours of their people’s time for the updated logo in “vivid red Pantone 1797” color and “alongside a sphere-shaped symbol sketched with lines that link to form an illustrative ‘X,’ representing Xerox’s connections to its customers, partners, industry and innovation?”
Or take a look at what the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) of America shelled out significant time and money for:
Cool! Brighter colors! I like that. Wait . . . how much? And for what? Oh, that’s right:
“Working with the PGA of America, Landor began the branding program by conducting brand equity research to evaluate all aspects of the brand and identify the organization’s attributes, values and goals. Leveraging these findings, a new brand strategy and positioning was developed, and articulated as: Experts in the Business and Game of Golf. The positioning not only aligns with PGA’s primary role, but also with the Association’s Decade of Excellence, a business plan for the next several years leading up to their centennial anniversary.”
“Landor’s recommended branding solution was careful to preserve the rich tradition inherent in the classic and well-respected PGA brand, while reclaiming ownership of the “PGA” name itself. The new visual identity therefore reflects modest adjustments to the core brand mark to improve legibility and reproduction across the broadest range of contemporary media. At the same time, pairing this heritage mark with the bold letters ‘PGA’ assures a strong profile and firm linkage of the brand with its constituents.”
For the record, I like the work of both Interbrand and Landor. It’s the work of most marketers that’s truly lacking.



About Tom Asacker