Thursday, April 24, 2008

Brands, Logos, and Sigils

When I first started studying sigils, or rather was first influenced by the writing of Grant Morrison, I was lead to believe that there was an ironclad connection between corporate marketing techniques and new wave/new age magick techniques. With further research into the topic, I’ve found the connection to be skeptical at best, part of either the demonizing of corporations by associating them with magical practices or perhaps over-run self-promotion, a sense of egotism in magick whereby similar practices are automatically presumed to be identical.

In the same way that few magicians use solid marketing techniques in their magic, few corporations (if any) use magick as part of their marketing strategy. However, what I have seen is an interesting blurring between the lines of magick and marketing with such pseudo-sciences as neuro-linguistic programming. Magick is updating with the times to become in itself a new pseudo-science that utilizes much of the same techniques practices in the business world, but businessmen aren't magicians. To add a final comment before moving on, when magick and marketing mix, as in the case with such geniuses like Grant Morrison, the result is spectacular!

In Anarchy for the Masses, Morrison is asked, “How much do corporations and governments use magick? Are some logos actually sigils?” His response:

Totally. I think we've overlooked it. Some of them know what they're doing; They've got access to some of the smartest minds on the planet. They're paying some of the cleverist people to develop NLPs, hypnotic strategies, to create fantasy realities so that we will buy, buy, buy or partake in these wonderful worlds they're offering. So we have to know; you've got to defend yourself against people who are trying to exploit your ignorance. Magick is actually so democratic. It's so communistic in its way, because it empowers everyone. empowers even the lowest person. I mean, get a Voodoo doll and kill your boyfriend! (254)
My question is then where does Morrison actually make the connection between corporations and magick, logos and sigils? The explanation isn’t there but rather subtly avoided.

Let’s look a little bit at the connection between logo/brands and sigils.

Logos and brands are often confused with each other but share a similarity in concept. Quickly, a brand is a label of ownership attached to a certain product which defines the value and characteristics of the product, what it does, how it is supposed to function, what type of commercial or social value it possesses, etc. The logo is a graphical representation of the brand, the symbol of the brand which conveys the before mentioned connotations of the brand. While logos are often believed to be primarily pictorial (ideogrammatic), most are actually linguistic (logotypal) or a combination of ideogram and logotype to allow cross-cultural recognition where the logotype is unrecognizable but the ideogram is recognizable.

A sigil is a magical symbol that pictorially represents a statement of desire or intent or goal of a magician.

Brands and logos are accused of being related to ancient traditions like Christian crosses or freemason symbols but the functions and origins of brand are unrelated. Branding first appeared as hot iron branding done on cattle to identify what cows belonged to what particular herder. This practice of cattle branding eventually made its way to other products such as wine, timber, and textiles. The association between brand/logos and mystic symbols is more retro-history than a true connection. Perhaps one might see a semantic drift in modern culture, however.

A connection between brand logos and sigils is that they are both symbols (which is really a stretchy connection). The difference is almost immediate because brand logos are representations of specific products while sigils are representations of desire or intent. One might wrap this idea back around and say that brand logos are representations of the desire to sell or the desire to make money, but this is a simplistic answer. The function of a brand is to represent a product with particular manufactured associations (prestige, safety, luxury); a sigil is a representation of a magical intent or a goal that the magician hopes to achieve: do sigils represent prestige, safety, or luxury? Do they build upon this same connotation between symbol and signified? What is the product behind the sigil? These are blind stupid questions that still need answering…

Brands are by nature of memetic. They are meant to be enduring (with the exception of viral companies who want to cash in and get out). They are meant to be widely distributed. Sigils are non-memetic. They are made to be disposable. They are meant to be personal. The intent and construction behind brand logos and sigils is vastly different because their life cycle is different. An enduring sigil, if not an oxymoron, becomes more Masonic, yes, indeed, but what is the difference between the caterpillar and the butterfly? How much is the basic characteristic or nature of the sigil changed if it is made more permanent?

Hypersigilia, on the other hand, more closely resemble brands. A hypersigil is a sigil which has been extended into a work of art, a magical story or film, for example. Hypersigils are meant to be memetic because the magic behind the hypersigil works strongest through a memetic cooperative interaction and investment of energy between the designer and the consumer. The more people who involve themselves in a hypersigil, the more powerful the magic. Likewise, hypersigils add in particular themes or deeper associations to promote the art or engage the consumer, similar to the product association of brands: a particular author might be associated with horror, science-fiction, creativity, high excitement.

To further complicate matter, brands are linguistic while sigils are not. Most brands promote a name as a symbol, the logotype as it is called, or add in an ideogram (symbol). The exceptions are McDonald’s, Nike, Playboy, and car companies who invest a lot of money into identifying their company with a simple logo. Sigils are by nature non-linguistic. They are subconscious. If brands are linguistic, how then can they be subconscious? I might be able to answer that later.

But what I would rather do than destroy the dreamy connection between brand logos and sigils is rather try to reinforce that connection by intermingling characteristics of brands with sigils or perhaps vice-versa. I will admit that isn’t easy. What I will do for the remainder of this blog posting is focus on the necessary characteristics of brands and then after some reflection hopefully return to make the brand-sigil connection more pronounced in another posting.

Non-Expansion: The power of a brand is in its name and whatever associations may come with that name. A common mistake that many brand names make is to over-saturate their name by applying it to every possible product to hypothetically increase profit. This brand expansion doesn’t work because it over-extends the brand name and destroys any specific associations. Think, for example, how many different American Express cards there are or how many sub-brands of Chevrolet cars.

Contraction: The more focused a market, the better the branding. Starbucks sells coffee and that’s it. The more a brand tries to sell, the less focused it is. Think about McDonald’s that currently has sixty or seventy items on the menu. How confusing is that for both consumer and employee? The less products sold by a brand, the better.

Publicity: Brands are not made through advertising; they are made through publicity and public relations. Publicity generally focuses on being the first in a new market.

Advertising: Brands are not made through advertising but need to be maintained once publicity fades. Advertising maintains a brand. Advertising generally focusing on being best and foremost.

Association: Brands must create a particular association to their name or logo. Safety, prestige, expensive, reliable, well-engineered. Once this association is made, it defines the product and cannot be crossed. Brands must also define the market, for example, a Kleenex is a type of tissue, Xerox is a type of copier, Scotch is a type of tape, Jell-O is a type of gellatin, Q-tip is a type of ear cleaning utensil, but all of these are brand names. What do you ask for when you want gellatin?

Quality: Brands are not based upon quality but rather the perception of quality. Quality of a product does not mean financial success; rather the image created by a brand name is more important. It’s all about image.

Category: The ultimate goal of a brand should be to create a new category or market. Home pizza delivery, expensive cars, roller skates, takeout only, gourmet takeout, etc.

Non-Generic: Brands need to stay away from logotypes that generally describe the product or company. General Electric, National Broadcasting, Service Merchandise, etc. Brands that use generic titles or names are begging to be ignored because no one can distinguish the brand from its advertising. Instead of an intelligent microchip, we have Intel. Instead of General Video, we have Blockbuster. Name your child Kristen and see how popular she gets: thanks, mom! Naturally, the name should reflect the product. Mountain Side Videos just doesn’t make sense. The name should be unique. Depot and Planet are too common a name. Alliteration also helps: Blockbuster, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Weight Watchers. Lastly, as a side note, names should be kept short and simple: I can’t spell Schwarzeneggar and have trouble with Abercrombie and Fitch as a URL.

Company: A company should use its name as its brand name. Think of all the fashion designers who do this. The only danger is to make sure that the company has proper brand contraction so that the name and brand back each other.

Siblings: A certain brand can only last so long and at certain times, launching a new brand is important. The risk of this is to create brand expansion, the benefit is to maintain control over a market. Wrigley’s chewing gum is the most popular brand family: Big Red, Doublemint, Freedent, Extra, Juicy Fruit, Spearmint, and Wintermint. Notice that in each of these cases, the names are different. Each sibling needs to be unique and not a Diet, Light, or New. NyQuil and DayQuil are not siblings but expansions. Time, Fortune, Life, Sports Illustrated, Money, People, and Entertainment Weekly are all the same company. So are Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Siblings should remain in the same market (gum, magazines, restaurants) but appeal to a different market segment (age, sex, ethnicity, flavor). The brands must be different so that they are not confused.

Shape: Logotypes should be horizontal because of the way a person’s eyes function: left to right, not up and down. Logotypes tend to be more widely used than ideograms because of recognition value. Arby’s and Mobil use vertical ideograms that complicate their logo. Similarly, logtypes work better than ideograms because a connection needs to be made between the ideogram and the logotype. Billions of dollars have been spent connecting Nike with its swoosh. Why spend the money?

Color: Red catches attention. Blue indicates stability. White means purity, black means luxury. Green is healthy and environmentally safe. Light blue or silver refers to diet foods. I’ve been meaning to talk about the use of color, particularly color magic; someday I will.

Consistency: The market is always changing so should a brand. Uh, no. A brand has to create a particular association to its name which is impossible if the brand is constantly changing. It is best to limit your brand. Think Jack Daniels beer and think about the confusion.

Mortality: Sometimes a brand needs to be killed off. The time usually comes when a market ceases to exist, for example, non-digital cameras are going the way of the dinosaurs, so what are non-digital camera companies going to do? Launch a new brand and kill their old brands.

I’m exhausted and still have maybe another half a dozen brand characteristics to go over.

If you are thinking, hey, how do any of the above characteristics relate to sigils or magick, you’re getting the idea. They don’t, not really. In my next post, I’ll finish off brand characteristics and possibly force a connection between sigils and brand logos.

Maybe you can do that for me…

6 comments:

Patrick said...

Interesting stuff, I'd agree that corporate logos don't quite match the concept that Morrison discussed in his Pop Magic book. The sigil process Grant describes is an individual one, the golden arches or Nike swoosh he describes seems more like the kind of hypersigil he did with The Invisibles, something that's dependent on the attention of others to give it power. Grant made The Invisibles as a sigil to create Invisibles, so the more people who read the series, the more powerful the sigil becomes.

That's what I see the brands as. They create a symbol that becomes embedded in your subconscious, so merely seeing the swoosh brings to mind a lifetime's worth of ad campaigns. That's why I think they invest the money to associate Nike with that symbol, it becomes less about promoting a specific brand, and more about an idea of athleticism or cool, something like that. By transcending language, they hit us on a deeper level and make us more likely to buy the product.

And, they turn the swoosh into a fashion statement on its own. The greatest success a brand can have is to get people to advertise for them, by choosing to put the logo on themselves, they then promote the brand.

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logos said...

Instagram Logo

Nike logos

Ahmed Aref said...

Businesses use sigil magic everyday to influence people’s feelings, desires and ideas. you want to avoid sigils that are meant to be coercive or override someone’s free will.