Lexicon® Blog

Posts Tagged ‘linguist’

Why Do All Car Logos Look the Same?: How Visual Identity Can Complement Brand Names

In Branding, Cars, Linguistics, Naming on October 20, 2016 at 9:19 am

As an exclusively verbal branding agency, Lexicon usually refrains from commenting on the topic of visual identity. But in some cases, design has an interesting parallel with brand naming: the basic forms used in a brand’s logo can communicate beneath the surface in the same way that the sounds and structure of a brand name can. For example, have you ever noticed most car logos have a round, container-like shape?

d_cars-1

A few exceptions make use of vector, or arrow-like, shapes – the Citroën logo, for example – or animal-based metaphors that project ideas of speed and strength onto the target product (e.g. Peugeot’s lion logo, Jaguar, Aston Martin’s or Bentley’s wings). Some brands even combine all three elements, as is the case with Ferrari and Lamborghini.

The logos of Lexicon-named Scion, Flywheel, and Turo all incorporate the rounded container or vector shapes.

containers

The pervasive use of container shapes in car brand logos contrasts with its scarce presence in those of other products, such as technology or apparel to give just two examples:

tech-and-apparel

So, is it just a coincidence? Did all car brand logo designers secretly agree to use this shape? Is it a simplified representation of the car as a container? Did all those designers choose the same basic shape unconsciously? Or can we just chock it up to a trend?

Whether or not this design decision was a conscious one, this subtle, non-verbal aspect of branding has meaning. The “container” is a well-known image schema, which cognitive linguists define as one of the basic building blocks of human cognition, and a powerful tool for creating meaning.

Image schemas are regarded as the basic scaffolding of human cognition. They offer highly abstract representations of spatial relations. It may seem obvious, but the topology of the container image schema includes an inside, an outside, and a boundary between the two:

container-image-schema

Image schemas are also pre-conceptual – rather than being taught about them, we learn them through our own bodily interactions with our surroundings. As infants, we see food outside of us which then enters our body when we are fed – our bodies are containers. Even prior to being born, we experience our mother’s womb as a container.

From these early physical interactions, we build upon and extend the logic of the image schema. For the container, we learn that inside contents are protected from outside conditions. Based on previous experiences of protection in our life (e.g., being inside our mother’s womb, being inside our homes, inside our beds in our bedrooms), we project these feelings of comfort and protection onto other experiences we have of containers.

The way brands are represented can take advantage of the container schema to borrow some of this equity of protection and comfort. For car logos, the use of the container shape subtly highlights essential properties of a quality car: protective, safe, and comfortable, which may extend to ideas of being reliable and dependable.

That brand names have the power to communicate beyond simple semantic meaning underlies most of our work at Lexicon. In addition to the association with various real words, Scion also sounds powerful; Turo sounds like a luxurious service. But brand names can’t communicate it all. A strategically designed logo can use image schemas to effectively complement the name. Scion’s logo helps it communicate power and protection; Turo’s looks luxurious and dependable. By understanding both of these verbal and non-verbal communication strategies, brands can double the effectiveness of their visual identity.

– Lorena Pérez Hernández, A member of Lexicon’s World Brand® Team

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Mondelez: A Rough Maiden Voyage?

In Brand Name Development, Brand Naming, Branding, Business, corporate naming, Linguistics, Naming on May 21, 2012 at 9:09 am

We have seen an enormous amount of press for Mondelez, the name planned for Kraft’s new snack division, to be spun off from Kraft’s grocery business. If in the marketing business any publicity is a good thing, then this is a good thing.

But the reaction has generally ranged from negative to mocking. The name, chosen from 1,700 candidates submitted by Kraft employees, blends mond (the root for “world” in some major European languages) with delez, stressed on the last syllable and intended to suggest delicious.

Some object to the new brand’s perceived clunkiness. Forbes.com jokes that we can recall the name better by associating it with a former Secretary of State, as in “Mondeleza Rice.”  A few commentators class this name with fabrications like Accenture and Altria. And rightly so. If a company is going to adopt a name whose message is obscure, why take three whole syllables to do so?

More ominously, in commissioning focus groups to judge Mondelez, Kraft apparently omitted Russians, even though the name needs to work globally. A number of Web sources note the name’s potentially vulgar connotations in Russian, where it can be broken down into something sounding like “monda-LEEZ.” We verified this with our Russian linguist, Fedor Rozhanskiy. To many Russians, manda is a slang word for “vagina.” Compounding the problem, “LEEZ” sounds like the Russian verb root for “lick.” The association is—unfortunately again—by far the strongest when, as Kraft intends, the last syllable is stressed.

Kraft’s official response has been a tad defensive. “The intention is for Mondelez to be a corporate name,” Kraft spokesperson Michael Mitchell is quoted as saying on several news sites, including nj.com. “It won’t be a consumer-facing name.” But given the reactions so far, we wouldn’t be surprised if Kraft ordered further testing before putting it to shareholders for official adoption.

That’s what we’d recommend, though we do wonder about the dust this case has stirred up. In what it seems to regard as a similar situation, the Huffington Post, citing the BBC, claims that “General Motors had to change the name of its Buick LaCrosse sedan in Canada after it found that the word LaCrosse is slang for masturbation in Quebec.” That’s not quite accurate. After learning that crosse was a slang term in Quebec, GM chose to introduce the car in Canada as the Allure. But in 2009 a new management canned the Allure brand and began to use LaCrosse in Canada as it does everywhere else in the world. The brand is doing well in Canada as elsewhere.

Navigating the globe with a brand name is a complex journey where language, culture, and marketing intersect. Very precise attention must go to details of pronunciation and to linguistic and social contexts that foster or temper disruptive associations. We’ve been navigating these waters for practically twenty years at Lexicon, where our GeoLinguistics service includes an international network of Ph.D. linguists that now numbers 77.

— Will Leben and The Lexicon Team

UPDATE: The London Times published an interview (6/5/2012) they held with Lexicon CEO David Placek. He remarked on the Mondelez name:

Mr Placek dismisses the name like a medieval guild member inspecting the craft of an amateur. “Mondelez…you hear ‘eaze’ like ‘sleaze’. I’m getting nothing from it. Maybe it would work for a restaurant.”