Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What's Going on With Lower-Case Logos?

A couple of days ago, I went to read the daily news on The logo that has been with this joint venture between Microsoft and NBC has been around since the inception of the network. Here is what I was used to seeing:

But instead of the familiar image, I found they had replaced the logo with a new one. No big deal, right? Of course not. Companies freshen up their trademarks and images from time to time. Look at the evolution of the Morton Salt girl, or Betty Crocker over the years. But I have noticed a trend that sometimes works, and sometimes doesn't. That is the use of lower case logotype fonts. Here is the new MSNBC (or is it msnbc) logo. In this case, I believe it works, particularly since the type is boldface. I actually like this one better than the original.

The place where it doesn't work, in my self-proclaimed expert opinion, is in the logo of the new AT&T. This is the company formerly called SBC Communications, and before that Southwestern Bell Telephone, before it bought out its old parent company and assumed its revered name. AT&T, which once actually stood for something (American Telephone & Telegraph) had kept a bold face, all caps logo through many iterations. When I was a small child, this is the logo they used:

Pretty straightforward, and easily recognizeable. Then in the 1960s, they updated to a stylized "Bell" mark:

Still, nice, bold letters. A look of power and monopoly worthy of the parent of the old "Ma Bell". Then Judge Green comes along and on January 1, 1984, AT&T was separated from its former operating companies, leaving it with AT&T Communications (formerly Long Lines), AT&T Information Systems (equipment), Western Electric (Now Alcatel-Lucent), and a few assorted odds and ends. The newly-formed "Baby Bells" got group ownership of the Bell trademark. The original Bells formed at that time were Pacific Telesis, US West, Southwestern Bell, BellSouth, Ameritech, Bell Atlantic, and Nynex. Only BellSouth, Southwestern Bell, Bell Atlantic, and US West kept using the familiar symbol at first.

AT&T, stripped of its Bell System and Bell logo adopted the "death star" logo which had "lines of communication circling the globe". I worked for the company at the time, and noticed the number of lines varied depending on what size and on what item it appeared.

In the 1990s, the company reduced the lines, simplified the logo and added some mild 3-dimensional shading, to this:

Notice, the typeface remained constantly bold and upper case text. Finally, when SBC acquired the old AT&T, they once again updated the logo. The new globe is cool enough, but the new type face was changed to lower case and unbolded. This just doesn't work at all, in my opinion. I don't dispute the decision on the globe going 3-D, nor in using the AT&T brand. Still, the lower case text just looks so blah! So here is what we are left with:

While we are discussing logos, and particularly the MSNBC logo above, I am reminded of a major "uh-oh" moment for one of its parents, NBC Television. Back in the 1970s, the network paid a gazillion or so bucks for a new logo, dumping (temporarily, as it turns out) the familiar peacock logo. Ask any baby boomer, and they can certainly recall the announcer saying, "The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC!" Except in my house, it was only in black and white, since we didn't have a color TV until I was in high school.

The new design introduced by NBC with much fanfare, was a stylized "N". Unfortunately, the Nebraska Educational Television service had been using it for years, and had paid $100 for it. Turns out it was the best $100 they ever spent. The small network sued NBC, and settled for another gazillion dollars, a bunch of TV equipment, and lots of publicity.

Ultimately, NBC superimposed a small peacock over the "N", and eventually reinstated a simplified peacock. Here is a comparison of the two.

One of NBC's best known logos is an audio logo; the NBC Chimes. They are the musical notes G, E, and C, standing for General Electric Company, the network's one-time owner.

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