Bull's-eye view on company logos

The most iconic company logos, like this one The most iconic company logos, like this one on a Target shopping cart, and those for McDonald's, Apple and Nike are visual cues that are seared onto people's consciousness without their even realizing it, the experts say. (May 15, 2012) Photo Credit: Bloomberg News

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In almost every corner of the world, golden arches symbolize something. So does a red bull's-eye. The same is true for a half-eaten apple. Ditto for the well-known swoosh.

The most iconic company logos such as those of McDonald's, Target, Apple and Nike are visual cues that are seared onto people's consciousness without their even realizing it.

That kind of influence has always been valuable, but now it's priceless. Companies are fighting for the shrinking attention spans and wallets of consumers who increasingly get their information on tiny cellphone screens. And as companies expand into emerging markets, images matter more than words. The brand identity that a logo brings can pay off, and companies know it.

"Logos are a symbol of who you are, a rallying point, an identification of the company that lets you stand out from others," said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys Inc., a New York customer research firm that measures company image.

Here's a look at how two iconic logos evolved.

Target: Hitting bull's-eye

Target Corp.'s bull's-eye was born when department store operator The Dayton Co. decided to open a discount chain in Minneapolis in 1962.

Stewart K. Widdess, Dayton's publicity director, was given the task of naming the company so shoppers wouldn't confuse it with the department-store chain. After considering 200 other names, Widdess came up with both the name Target and the now ubiquitous red-and-white bull's-eye.

The first logo had the name "Target" written in black over a red and white bull's-eye with three red circles and two white circles. The store's first print ad campaigns used the Target as their theme with the tagline: "Aim straight for Target discount stores."

The bull's-eye was simplified in 1968 with a red center, one white circle and one red circle, without the name on top of it.

"It's incredibly eye-catching in general and it's a simple, clean design," said Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor Associates. "It's one of the strongest brandmarks in the marketplace."

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McDonald's: it's golden

Would McDonald's Corp. be the world's biggest fast-food chain if it kept its original symbols -- the McDonald family crest or "Speedee" the chef -- instead of the Golden Arches?

McDonald's was started in 1948 in San Bernardino, Calif., by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald. But by the early 1950s, the Oakbrook, Ill.-based company began to franchise and grow rapidly when businessman Ray Kroc bought the company.

Dick McDonald thought the design for the first franchise building was a bit boring, so he sketched in the now-famous yellow arches, dubbing them the "Golden Arches," according to Mike Bullington, McDonald's archivist. Then, McDonald's hired sign maker George Dexter, who added in yellow neon and the arches soon became emblematic of McDonald's restaurants.

Still, they weren't yet part of the logo. Originally, McDonald's used the McDonald family crest, a shield with a dragon, fish and boat icon on it, as the logo. When it began to open franchise restaurants, road signs incorporated a single arch along with a chef character called Speedee, which was intended to represent McDonald's "Speedee Service System."

It wasn't until 1968 that the double arches became the company's official logo.

"As a symbol, it's simple and sticky," says Adamson, the branding expert. "Show the logo to kids without the word and they'll know it's a hamburger and French fries."

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