Last week we talked about what happens when critics judge new ideas too quickly and often risk sentencing great ideas to obscurity; in that case, Airbnb’s new logo that was compared to “certain female anatomy.” (Branding Gone Wrong) But what happens when the creative process is killed before great solutions can even be developed? This is what apparently happened when North Star Destination Strategies, a Nashville-based tourism branding firm, was first hired by City of Clearwater, Florida staff and subsequently fired by Vice Mayor Doreen Hock-DiPolito (Read more HERE) because they created a sexist logo.
Negotiations were almost complete and North Star was about to be retained to create a brand identity for the community, when Hock-DiPolito learned about a branding job the company had done for a Florida economic organization.
To be fair, I don’t think the logo is very good to begin with. But whether or not you agree that the mark was a sexist logo, the bigger question is whether or not one participant’s opinion — in this case Hock-DiPolito’s — is an appropriate reason for the firm to be passed over. While it’s possible that the iconography does suggest a male business slant, it could just as easily be argued that in today’s business casual environment, a necktie simply represents a traditional or serious business attitude. And further, nobody involved has any idea whether or not the decision makers at Enterprise Florida asked for a logo with a necktie in it in the first place.
Look at this logo designed by Herb Lubalin for Families magazine in 1980. At the time it was created it presented a perfect representation of a family inside the word family itself. Thanks to its elegance, simplicity, strong messaging, and impeccable graphics, this mark is one of my favorites and a piece I return to whenever I need inspiration. But by today’s standards it would be pretty easy to argue that Lubalin’s Families masthead is a sexist logo and inappropriate simply because it shows a taller person (insensitively representing a male father), a shorter person (a possibly sexist view of a shorter female mother) and a single child (don’t get me started!).
So what does this logo say about families with same-sex parents?
How about childless families?
How about blended families with many more children?
How about same-height parents? How would this logo make them feel?
Of course I’m being sarcastic but the question remains – when do specific and picayune interpretations of symbolism become more important than the symbol itself? Looked at under this microscope, it’s doubtful that many accepted brand symbols could survive at all. Each one is a sexist logo.
Apple? Isn’t the once-bitten apple the symbol for original sin? Does that mean that religiously observant believers should buy their computers and smartphones elsewhere?
Chevy? Their bowtie logo is clearly a symbol of masculinity. Does Clearwater Vice Mayor Hock-DiPolito find Chevy’s mark unacceptable also?
Starbucks? The Lady Godiva mermaid woman is topless for Pete’s sake. Does that mean men aren’t welcome? How about mastectomy survivors?
Truly offensive logos such as The Washington Redskins’ have no place in today’s increasingly tolerant and democratic society. No matter how you try to defend it (and regardless of how long it’s been in use) the title “Redskin” is an offensive slur against Native Americans that must be changed.
But to neuter the power of symbolism, and the people who create those symbols, simply because someone doesn’t understand what the symbol represents is an egregious overreaction and sets a dangerous precedent for mediocrity.
After all, even Sigmund Freud agreed, “A cigar is sometimes just a cigar.”