The world’s greatest logo

By Wally Olins
December 26, 2011

(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

Whenever I’m interviewed about branding I almost always get asked: “What is the world’s greatest logo?” By which I suppose the interviewer means, what is the world’s most recognised brand?

Well, a brand isn’t a logo. A logo is literally a symbol, a symbol of what the brand stands for. Of course, there are some symbols, or logos, that are full of meaning, which represent a universal idea recognizable in all human societies. But many of the world’s greatest and most memorable logos have no intrinsic meaning at all — they simply are the visible manifestation of the core idea behind the brand.

And there’s one logo in particular that encapsulates this. It’s the Red Cross.

Over the last 150 years or so, the Red Cross has become the ultimate symbol of an organisation that stands for humanity. In its behaviour in battle zones and elsewhere, the Red Cross is so completely vulnerable, neutral and defenceless that it has become virtually invulnerable. You just don’t attack the Red Cross.

It’s the great global brand — the exemplar of what a brand should be. And yet, as far as I know, not one of those drearily predictable brand valuation organisations has even recognised its existence, let alone attempted to put a price on it.

Why? Because, like so many great brands, its true value is incalculable — it is literally priceless.

The logo is simply the Swiss flag reversed. It has no religious connotations even though the Red Crescent, its sister organisation, implies that it has. Everybody, everywhere in the world knows the Red Cross logo and respects it. Everyone, everywhere in the world recognises what it stands for. It runs hardly any advertising campaigns but its logo and its name are instantly recognizable.

The story is that after the Battle of Solferino in 1859, in which Austrian, French and Sardinian (Italian) troops slaughtered each other in enormous numbers, a Swiss citizen, Henri Dunant, wandered on to the battlefield where he saw thousands of wounded soldiers from both sides lying screaming in agony, as they waited to die. He was so moved by the suffering that he set up what became the Red Cross. It has no nationality, no prejudices and no interests other than humanitarian aid.

So the lesson we learn from this is that the world’s greatest logos embody and enshrine in symbolic form all the characteristics that make the brand so unique. Great logos communicate great brand values instantaneously.

Perhaps people wanting to build brands should remember that. Building the brand takes time, trouble, research, discussion — and then a strategy, followed by an idea — a clear, simple idea. Like Apple, whose idea is simplicity — or the Red Cross, which stands for humanity. After you have the idea, you can start to visualise it. You can tell your customers, your staff, your suppliers, your investors what it means.

Of course, the brand needs to be enshrined in a logo — but the logo is not the brand.

2 comments

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“It has no nationality, no prejudices and no interests”, but it looks so much like a Christian cross (Flag of St. George, look at the flags of England and Georgia) that for the billion or Muslims of the world (about a fifth of the global population), it’s the Red Crescent.

The Israelis don’t like the cross or the crescent, they want a blue diamond instead.

Posted by furbian | Report as abusive

WOW I never thought of the Red Cross as an LOGO.
It was just something that i thought existed from the beginning of the time, who would have guessed that after I saw this video [ http://youtu.be/ppLEbAaXFZU ] I would search for “great logos” and come to this site to learn something new….It’s just mind-blowing

Posted by bofe | Report as abusive