It’s the elephant in the room of identity design. The old dog that keeps learning new tricks. It’s the animal logo.
Animal logos just won’t go away. In this age of digital, adaptive identities, they’re alive and kicking, leaping, squawking, growling and meowing, more noisily than ever before. An expanse of the world’s collected corporate identities resembles a vast menagerie. And, like cats guarding their patch, brands with pet personas seem prone to conflict. The ongoing legal spat between Disney and Canadian DJ/producer DeadMau5 over his use of a mouse-head stage mask with big black ears is just the latest high-profile dispute concerning an animal trademark.
In 2013, Counter Print published Animal Logo, an entire book of the things that has since sold out. “The use of animals in logo design has been a constant within branding,” says CP’s Jon Dowling. “They are successful within the field of logo design because, whether they are simple and playful or sophisticated and current, they manage to put a smile on your face, evoke an emotion or elicit a response.”
Humans have been making images of animals since woolly mammoths roamed the earth. Coats of arms bore lions, eagles, stags, martlets, fish and dragons, all elements of a sophisticated symbolic hierarchy. Then, in the middle ages, the retail trade picked up on pictures as a way of attracting illiterate shoppers, and animals represented an uncomplicated way of getting straight to one’s brand values, or whatever they were called 350 years ago.
The black horse still used today by Lloyds Banking Group was first recorded outside a goldsmiths in Lombard Street in 1677 – a badge of purity, integrity and strength. How many citizens of 17th century London got the symbolism or simply thought they’d found a purveyor of fine equine stock, we’ll never know. But from there or thereabouts, animals and birds were part of the shorthand of corporate identity.
The first US registered trademark was the Averill Chemical Paint Company’s grandiose eagle on a rock, holding a paintpot. Since then we’ve had HMV’s Nipper, the Pathé rooster, the Lacoste crocodile, the Playboy bunny, the Ferrari horse, the Qantas kangaroo, the WWF panda and a million pale imitators.
In the 1960s, Michael Wolff and Wally Olins offered a startling departure from Swiss-influenced monochrome symbolism with their crafty fox for Hadfields Paint and Chemicals and counter-intuitive hummingbird for Bovis, the builder. And today: Twitter, Firefox, Mailchimp, TaskRabbit…. We’re still mad about our furry, feathery, leathery friends.
Why? They still work in any language, and in the absence of language. And they still offer that instant association with positive character attributes. A rabbit is industrious, unthreatening and cruelty-free. A monkey is clever and courageous. A lion is noble and proud. A mouse is … well, let’s not go there. Even if a brand itself is objectionable, its animal persona will probably be harder to hate, although not in all cases.
It’s an overcrowded market, and paws and claws get trodden on. There’s plenty of scope for confusion. More relevant to identity specialists than Disney’s pursuit of DeadMau5 is the bird fight settled earlier this year between clothing retailer Jack Wills (pheasant logo) and House of Fraser’s clothing division (pigeon logo). Although the birds looked alike, it was the conceptual similarity – the idea of a well-dressed bird – that was deemed to have caused confusion in consumers’ minds and which swung the case Jack Wills’ way.
Carrollanne Lindley, trademark lawyer and partner at Kilburn & Strode, says, “Where the marks contain one or two similar elements, but also contain other distinctive elements, this may not be considered enough to create deception or confusion. On the other hand, marks that differ from each other in only some respects may still be considered confusingly similar overall.”
So beware, animal-loving logo-ists: it’s not the species that counts but the way it’s dressed.