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Top Ten Controversial Logos

We all know the swoosh, and the bitten apple, Google’s colorful letters, and the BBC’s three black boxes. It’s no doubt that famous, and effective logos like these are remembered and become recognizable worldwide. We know them and recognize them instantly, almost as if they were a Stop sign.

Some logos, however, are memorable for all the wrong reasons. They catch the customer’s eye, but not in the way you’d want them to. They’re the ones that made headlines for being too controversial, or were seen as an oversight by the company. They’re the ones we know as the mistakes. And from each, there is something to be learned.

So, let’s delve into the top 10 most controversial logos and see what there is to learn amidst all this controversy.

In 2013, Yahoo released a new logo design. They hadn’t made considerable changes to their look in years, and felt the brand needed a refresher, and some new life. The design was simple, maintained their purple color, and their fun exclamation point. Unfortunately, the response to the logo was anything but enthusiastic. People were, generally, unimpressed with the new design. They considered it boring, thought that it lacked creativity, and was, generally, nothing worth paying much attention to.

What should you learn from this?

Yahoo wanted to breathe some new life into the brand, which is completely acceptable. But they probably could have done with only freshening up their old look, instead of going a step further to create this. The lesson? Don’t update for the sake of updating, or go crazy with the update if it’s unnecessary. Make strategic decisions and don’t force change. Basically – don’t fix it if it’s not broken, or you might end up being one of the most controversial logos.

#1

Yahoo

Yahoo Logo
#2

BP

BP logo

BP seems to have always been shrouded in controversy. It was because of this that they sought to rebrand. They switched up their previous logo, a green shield with the letters BP, for a completely new logo that represented a sunflower, designed by Landor Associates. This new logo was meant to express BP’s new dedication towards green growth.

The logo was a success, and BP was even labeled the greenest oil country. Until 2010, when there was a disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP was held responsible for the disaster and suffered intense backlash. In response, Greenpeace created a logo design contest to turn BP’s logo into an oil spill symbol. Since then, BP has spent millions more on damage control to try and salvage their image.

What should you learn from this?

BP made two considerable mistakes we can learn from. First, their original logo was a defensive symbol. It was a shield, which was an unwelcoming logo. So, first off – be careful with the symbolism behind your logo, and make sure it’s sending the right message. The second lesson is about their update: you should be aware of the vulnerabilities of your logo. An oil company having a logo inspired by nature made Greenpeace making fun of it rather easy. Keep these vulnerabilities in mind.

The Cleveland Indians have one of many sports logos inspired by Native American culture. The character in the logo is called Chief Wahoo and has been the symbol for the team since 1948. Of course, it’s a charicature and not exactly politically correct. It has received a lot of backlash for years for being inappropriate. Finally, this year, the Cleveland Indians will be making a change.

What should you learn from this?

The key from this is understanding that your logo should be considerate and appropriate. If your logo has some imagery that could be offensive to someone, maybe consider getting a new logo. Your customers will not appreciate an insensitive logo that sends the message that you don’t care. It may be difficult to abandon tradition for something new. But sometimes it’s the right choice, especially if the design is no longer appropriate.

#3

Cleveland Indians

Cleveland Indians logo
#4

Starbucks

Starbucks Logo

Starbucks has always included the siren in its logo. It’s famous, spread all over the world, and incredibly memorable. But in 2011, when they released their new updated logo, a lot of people expressed their unhappiness towards the design. Starbucks had done away with the black outline of the circle with the siren, and the words Starbucks and Coffee, sticking simply to the mermaid in a green circle. To them, it was a natural progression for their brand, and maintained the most important parts of their identity. Many customers, however, felt it was too simplistic and struggled with adjusting to the new look. Starbucks stuck to the design in spite of the complaints, and today it’s difficult to imagine something else stamped on their coffee cups.

What should you learn from this?

Basically, sometimes people are hesitant to change, but that doesn’t mean you should give your rebranding efforts up. Give it some time and let people adjust to the new design.

The Olympics always make headlines worldwide. But in 2012, it was that logo that captured people’s attention. The design for the games was seen as sloppy and poorly made. Around the world, people were outraged by $625,000 spent on the look, making it one of the most expensive logos of all time. In spite of the criticism, the design stayed and will go down in history as the 2012 Olympic’s logo. Years later, in response to the critiques, the designers behind the logo responded by claiming they expected some critiques, and felt that most of the complaints were intentional aspects of the design that they had been aware would stir some controversy. For them, it seems the design is still a success.

What should you learn from this?

Every logo is going to receive some criticism. Don’t take it too seriously, and be proud of your final product. Understand and be reasonable about the fact that not everyone will love the final look.

#5

2012 London Olympics

2012 Summer Olympics logo
#6

Dirty Bird

dirtybird holding

Dirty Bird is a fried chicken catering service. They caught a lot of attention with the release of their logo, which featured a D and a B to create the shape of a rooster. However, for a lot of people, the logo ended up looking phallic, and not like a rooster. This led to it appearing on our list of most controversial logos. People were angry, claiming it was inappropriate and rude. But with a name like Dirty Bird, others disagreed and believed it was a funny take. Whatever your stance, the owners claim they never saw the phallic image and that it was, in fact, supposed to be a rooster. In spite of all the confusion, the logo still stands and, if anything, got the business into a lot of headlines.

What should you learn from this?

Simple as can be: sometimes your logo will end up meaning something different than what you intended to people. Try to keep your eye out and consider these misconceptions but realize that, at the end of the day, it’s in the eye of the beholder. And that, every now and then, you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously. Logos can be fun, just make sure they send a message you’re comfortable with.

In 2009, Tropicana orange juice changed its packaging and its logo. The new look was cleaner, and more modern, which was the brand’s goal with the redesign. In spite of this, critics surged forward, angry at the abrupt and considerable change. Customers were seemingly all in agreement: it was better before.

Eventually, the critics seem to win. Tropicana reverted back to their original design as they realized just how unhappy their customers were with the new look.

What should you learn from this?

Don’t underestimate the attachment your customers may have to your current look. In Tropicana’s case, this was their major pitfall. They completely abandoned their previous look and found their customers felt betrayed. If you’re in search of a more modern look, and feel you may alienate your customers, our advice is to try to avoid changing too much all at once. If Tropicana had made slow and subtle changes, the whole process probably would have been more effective.

#7

Tropicana

Tropicana Packaging before and after
#8

Procter & Gamble

P&G Logo

Procter & Gamble had had the same logo since the 1930s. However, in the 1980s, allegations of satanism symbolism within the logo began to surface. People noticed an inverted “666” in the man’s beard, horns at the top and at the bottom, and the 13 stars in the logo. To many, this was all the proof needed to claim the company was involved in satanism. The company ignored the allegations.

But the rumors got worse. Eventually, Procter & Gamble abandoned the older logo for a simpler P&G logo featured nowadays. And, in the process, they won a $19 million lawsuit against competitors who had spread many of the rumors regarding satanism.

What should you learn from this?

Every now and then, you might have to do some damage control with your logo, and give in to critics. But it’s important you stand up for yourself, like Procter & Gamble did with the lawsuit. Understand that there is a chance your logo will be misconstrued and develop a plan for how you will respond to it.

It was 2008 when the people of Belfast were enraged. The city had spent $280,000 on a new logo. The result, after months and months of research, was a heart-shaped B, with the word Belfast in it. People found it generic, but grew truly enraged when learning numerous other brands already had almost identical logos. Spending such a huge amount for an unoriginal logo angered the people of Belfast, and managed to get this logo right in the middle of our list of most controversial logos.

What should you learn from this?

It’s easy: you need to double and triple check that a design has not been used before. You want your logo to be unique and specific to your brand, and having it being used elsewhere defies this purpose. So, check that your logo is original before going forward with the design, or be prepared to face being a controversial logo.

#9

Belfast

Visit Belfast logo
#10

Airbnb

Airbnb Logo

In 2014, Airbnb released a new logo. It was a simple symbol that would soon be around the world, and all over their website to help people find a place to stay. The issue? Tumblr users went crazy the moment the logo was released. Many believed it looked inappropriate, or that it reminded them of phallic imagery or something similar. It brought about a whole debate, a guessing game of what exactly the logo looked like.

Most designers, however, praised the logo. It was efficient, adaptable, and flexible. One even called the controversy as to the inappropriate imagery completely immature. Whatever the discussion was online, the logo is, to this day, Airbnb’s official look.

What should you learn from this?

If your logo is effective and a rational choice, but controversy ensues because of the imagery behind it or something similar, give it some time and this will pass. Let the controversy pass and proudly go with your logo.

Learning From the Controversial Logos

top 10 controversial logos

There’s clearly something to learn from every logo controversy. And, hopefully, this list has helped you learn more about what to avoid, if possible, and how to react if you do encounter one of these controversies.

If you feel ready to take the leap, knowing now how to get past the controversies that may appear, start your project today with DesignBro, where a quality logo design, made by professional and experienced designers, only costs $199!

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Written by Christiaan

Besides having grown up in the design Industry, Christiaan has advised some of the world's largest companies on their branding & packaging designs. Has been the resident judge for design awards, and has spoken at numerous global design & marketing events. Christiaan founded the London office of the award-winning Cartils agency, and has founded the DesignBro.com platform.

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