The original title of this post was going to be about the value of logos that are abstract vs. ones that are representational. In other words, does it look like a squiggle or do I see something in it? The particular case I was going to use is The Prudential. The Rock of Gibraltar is a wonderful metaphor, one that perfectly illustrates the power of metaphors. Not only is it a visual metaphor but they also use it verbally — “Own a piece of the Rock” “Rock Solid” and so on in advertising campaigns for over 100 years.
Instead this has become a mystery story. How or why did Prudential rewrite their official history of logo design?
Early in my career I was a market research analyst at Ted Bates Advertising. For five years I had The Prudential (and Prudential Bache and Prudential Real Estate) as my client. Starting in 1984, and at a great cost, Prudential introduced a new logo that was a highly stylized version of the Rock of Gibraltar.
This is what it looked like:
Almost immediately the company began to have problems with their branding. Life insurance agents — the lifeblood of the company — were in an uproar about the new logo. Market research revealed that customers and prospective customers were having the same problem. There was an interesting bit of co-creation going on. People thought it looked like a piano or the wing of a new jet plane – or worse. This was true in qualitative research and in quantitative research. At the same time it scored very well on desirable attributes of modern, innovative, forward moving and so forth. On attributes it was great. In people’s minds it was, well, not a disaster, but certainly nothing to write home about.
So, again at great cost, the company set about to redesign the logo and make it more representational of the Rock of Gibraltar. Or at least of a rock of any sort. Once the new “old” logo went up, the problems went away. Quickly, quite quickly in fact, people forgot all about the short-lived abstraction.
After much looking, I finally found it at the Cooper-Hewitt website.
Now finding this wasn’t easy. In fact, if you go to the official “Rock Collection” on the Prudential website, you’ll see no trace of the 1984 version. Instead you’ll see the following history.
Which brings me back to the title of this post. Why did Prudential leave out the 1984 design? I don’t want to read minds. It may just be an innocent decision based on the amount of space they had. What would George Orwell say?