Backend branding

August 3, 2010

Commuting to and from CoreBrand’s LA office, I think about a lot of things. Mostly about how we really need to get an office closer to my home. But I also get to spend a fair amount of time staring at backends. Of cars.

Commuting to and from CoreBrand’s LA office, I think about a lot of things. Mostly about how we really need to get an office closer to my home. But I also get to spend a fair amount of time staring at backends. Of cars.

Besides the model name, most cars have the manufacturer’s logo. Some also have the name of the manufacturer written out — the logotype, I suppose — sometimes locked up with the logo, sometimes separate. And others, well, they kind of do what they want.

Which got me to thinking. What should they be doing? Why are they doing what they’re doing? And what would I do if I had to?

Take Toyota. I think they have an instantly recognizable logo — even if it is a fairly recent newcomer (1989). To me, it doesn’t need to literally say “Toyota” below the logo to say Toyota. But up until very recently, it always has.

Almost smashing into a new Prius the other day, though, I noticed that the word is gone. Was it this year? Last year? I don’t know. Regardless, does it signify a new confidence in their logo by itself that they never quite had before? Is it an aspiration to join the ranks of manufacturers who hardly need to say their own name?

Other members of the no-name club are Mercedes, Audi and, to some extent, BMW and Volkswagen (which has the single best logo in the business). The only reason I’m hedging on the last two is that BMW’s logo does have the letters BMW in it, and VW is pretty much VW’s name. But, yeah, the Germans have beautiful clean backends. Try to find the word “Audi” on the back — or any other part — of an Audi. But you know what it is. Unless you're Shep's wife.

Come on, how nice is this:

Audi TT backend

Beautiful. And the car’s not bad either, if you're a flight attendant.

One of the Germans — Porsche — has even gone a step further. You know it’s a Porsche, they say, so why should we waste money on a backend logo at all? Let's just use the model name.

Pushing it one step too far, though, when Porsche launched the Boxster in 1997, they considered not using any logo at all. Not on the front. Not on the back. For safety reasons, however, they were required to put one on so that people could tell the front from the back. The front has the logo. I think.

Mazda took a sneaky step into the no-name club too. Their logo is alright, but doesn’t (yet) quite have the standalone quality of the Germans. Good thing they added “Mazda” to the front of pretty much all of their model names. One way around it, I suppose.

You definitely know you’re behind a LAND ROVER or a RANGE ROVER. Although you never really know what the difference between a LAND ROVER and a RANGE ROVER exactly is. Although I believe they both mean I HAVE MONEY. Or you’re in BEVERLY HILLS.

Poor Volvo has an awful logo. And they know it. So no logo on the backend of their cars. Instead they just click the “justify” button on the design-o-matic and space the letters in the word Volvo out to fill whatever space is available. Not so many Volvos parked outside International Institute of Kerning in Basel. Volvo, please see us for a proper logo.

Doctor B. once told me that Subaru was the Japanese name for the Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters. And he's never wrong. About stars. Why Subaru's logo has six stars, then, has always been a mystery to me. That said, I did see a nice bit of typography on the back of a Subaru the other day. There might be a Saab or two in Basel.

What about some of the Americans?

Ford? Good. Like Nissan (or even BMW), incorporating the name into the self-contained logo makes for clean and recognizable backend branding. Not German precision, mind you, but close. And Ford’s blue oval is Ford’s blue oval. Unless it’s Subaru’s blue oval. And, ever increasingly, Toyota’s and Lexus’ blue oval on their hybrids.

Chevy? Um, I mean, Chevrolet? Sometimes good — the little bowtie right in front of the model name (even if that might be a “do not” in most branding books). Sometimes bad — the massive clown bowtie.

Jeep? Good. Can’t come up with a good symbol? Don’t need to. Just own clean simple type. Totally appropriate for what’s sold as a practical, rugged vehicle. No messing around. It is what it is. Like the big old "FORD" that used to be on the back of pickup trucks.

So what’s the takeaway from my unofficial survey of the backends around LA? What kind of logo would I design for my car company?

Taking my cue from the best out there, it would have to have some kind of circle or oval — like Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Volkswagen, Ford, Nissan and Toyota. It would probably have the company’s name within the shape — like BMW, VW, Ford and Nissan — since, well, you don't know the name of my car company (yet!) and I do like a nice clean backend. That would be it. That would be the best I could do.

Unless I was German.

My one beef with Toyota is that they obviously hire teenagers to name their cars — Yaris, Matrix, Prius, Venza — and then use the back-of-the-notebook scribblings of these distracted high school boys as the “logos” for the model names. Stop it.

I just Googled Volvo’s symbol and it’s supposedly the ancient symbol for iron. Who knew? I thought it was the symbol for male. Or Mars. It’s hard to tell.

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