It’s the vision of the future, all sleek, straight lines and button-less surfaces. Where SciFi in the past featured a more military-chic appearance (Think Terminator, Alien, Star Wars…) SciFi now features what I’ve described above (Blade Runner 2049, Prometheus, Black Mirror…).
In general, companies struggle to sleek down their designs where they can. Big name tech companies tend to either trend-set or follow closely behind to stay relevant, and their logos reflect that: they’re cool, clean, and impassive. Exactly what you’d want out of a computer, or a car. Not everyone needs to be that, though. Especially not food companies.
Minimalism has its place in advertising. Companies who’ve used it for years know how important it is for people to recognize branding from a split-second impression of it. They want other people to look at their consumers and think ‘oh, he’s wearing Nike Shoes’ or ‘oh, that’s an Apple phone’. The more complicated the logo, the more difficult that becomes. Minimalism works well here.
However. That doesn’t mean it always works. Extreme minimalism works best when the product isn’t meant to give you warm fuzzies. Adidas socks, for instance, are meant to make the wearer feel like they’re athletic. The same goes for a lot of North Face things. They may literally keep you warm, but they sell the image of athleticism, ‘wearing our clothes makes you a better athlete’. The symbols are three rectangles and three curved rectangles with the brand name attached. It’s basic marketing. Minimalism is cool, not friendly. Sharp edges and a lack of texture don’t look huggable or friendly – they look sleek. This is why minimalism isn’t perfect for every brand
And yet, a bunch are trying to switch to minimalism! Notably Smucker’s, of all brands!
The extreme of minimalism is usually used for instant recognition, even faster than a split second – you catch a glimpse of a logo and know who it is immediately. Other companies may not need that same instant recognition. Picture a scenario where you only catch a glimpse of the old Smucker’s logo. Only a glimpse, like you would for an athlete’s socks. Where are you seeing the jar? The store shelf? Someone else’s bag? A coupon in the paper? Food is stationary! It doesn’t need that glimpse-sight, it needs to be friendly! You see it most in the grocery store, maybe on trucks, their own advertising – basically anywhere you’d see Smucker’s, you have more than a half-second to look.
Besides that, the legacy Smucker’s logo still had glimpse-recognition, because it had been in use for so long! They shot themselves in the foot with this new, generic logo. It’s a colorful mishmash, and if not for the recognizable name at the bottom, folks may genuinely not be able to tell they sell fruit products. A rounded triangle does not look like a strawberry without context. The name added to the logo is working very hard here. They’re essentially trying to North-Face themselves, and rebuilding that recognition is going to take time. At the end of the journey, will it be as lovable as the berries logo?
A common piece of advice for marketeers just starting out is to make their brand distinguishable in black and white. The new Smucker’s logo fails this test because the colors are where it’s smidge of friendliness is stored. Take out the colors, and it just feels like a prototype of the Apple logo again.
And like many things, minimalism will be a time marker. Things come into fashion, stay a minute, and then leave again. Big shades, tiny eyebrows, low cut jeans, high cut jeans, blue eye shadow – you can probably picture a time when all of these were in style, and you watch as they cycle. Minimalism is also a style choice… but it’s not colored by nostalgia till it’s run it’s course, gone out, and come back in again. The original Smuckers logo was style-less. It literally could not have gone out of style – it’s just a cartoon of the fruit, and it’s been like 70 years! It’s survived the cycling, and it’s recognizable and nostalgic without being hideous! It’s survivable as a result! Why would you ever wipe all of that away for blobs of color and clean lines?
Yeah, the new logo is pretty – but without context it is meaningless, a fanciful mark instead of a concrete reference to fruit. Look at the side, here: Guitar Center doesn’t make any sense with the old logo, but it kind of does with the new. The new logo is vague. It could be guitar picks, or stylized pizza toppings, or a representation of the ‘rainbow’ of opportunities tech can give you. I can write a justification for any brand with this logo. It’s. Vague. There’s not enough info stored in the image.
Here’s my new proposed test for logos: if another company from a different sector and a different symbol decided to follow your lead, would the logo still make sense? If so, you’ve got a problem. Fruit companies and guitar manufacturers shouldn’t be sharing notes on logos.