24 March 2017 11:14:44 IST

The importance of symbols for a brand

Be it political party or a brand, having a unique logo certainly matters, especially in recall value

As I was getting ready to write my weekly column, the news was coming in about how the Election Commission prevented the two warring factions of the AIADMK from using the ‘two leaves’ icon in the forthcoming by-election in Chennai's RK Nagar constituency.

New symbols — a ‘hat’ and an ‘electric pole’ — have been allotted to the two camps (VK Sasikala’s and O Panneerselvam’s) temporarily, even as the EC decides who the real heir to the original symbol is. Speaking of which, the party that has the electric pole claims moral victory as it looks similar to the two leaves!

How critical is the value of a symbol in politics and more importantly, in business? Let’s begin with the former, as it’s upon us here and now, and state upfront that symbols matter a lot in politics.

Symbolic importance

If you look around, you see the ‘rising sun’ painted on more walls in Tamil Nadu than one can imagine. Nationally, we have two other icons that are well recognised — the hand of the Congress and the lotus of the BJP.

Research suggests that people tend to remember shapes and symbols far better than words. It’s not for nothing that they say a picture is worth a thousand words. There is another distressing reality about India that comes into play during the elections. Not everyone can read, and yet, they are voters who can determine the destiny of parties. Irrespective of whether they can read the name of the party or not, they can certainly recall symbols, even as political groups exhort them to vote for their respective symbols, sometimes with incentives that may not be politically correct to write about.

For years, these parties have overtly and subtly reinforced their visual images on millions of Indians, as AIADMK had done with its twin leaves. It alternated as a victory symbol, because everyone, from the leader to millions of followers, kept flaunting the sign in front of television cameras. It will certainly be interesting to examine the impact of the loss of this icon to both the warring factions. And as a result of the confusion-ridden state of its opposition that has probably lost its most potent weapon, perhaps the DMK’s sun may actually rise .

I’m no poll pundit, so let’s wait and watch till April 15. I am sure it’s going to be a monumental task for both the parties to ingrain their newly-assigned symbols in voters’ minds in this short period.

Have the swoosh

One of the brands I have admired enormously is Nike. The brand that reveres athletes and athletic performance has a widely-recognised swoosh that is so powerful, that the company can get away even without using its name.


Interestingly, it is rumoured that Phil Knight was not completely happy with the symbol when it was first designed. He had paid the creator, a young college student, the princely sum of $35, worked out at a mind-boggling rate of $2 per hour. Of such instances are legends made!

While there are certainly multiple reasons behind the brand’s phenomenal success over the years, there is no denying that the swoosh is one of the most significant. This, coupled with its advertising that has featured striking celebrities, and its tagline of ‘just do it’ which is as much a statement of attitude as it is an exhortation to superior performance.



The golden arches spell riches

Nike is not the only brand that recognises and values symbols. McDonald’s is another that has used its striking logo to great effect in every corner of the world; the happy-yellow ‘M’ that weary travellers and hungry children recognise instantly.



The other big advantage of logos is that they keep beckoning consumers into their outlets, serving as a powerful point of sale.

Automotive brands too have used their symbols to flaunt ownership and prestige. Who can ignore the Audi’s four circles that are reminiscent of the Olympics logo; or Toyota’s or Mercedes Benz’s. In brand association tests too, the symbols feature prominently.

Let’s not forget that in today’s crowded world, brands need multiple associations and touch points with their consumers, who are constantly being wooed by several names across categories. Does your brand have something it can be strongly associated with?