Close your eyes for a moment and try to get a mental image of Amazon.com’s logo. You probably see something like bold, lowercase black letters with a slight orange curve under them. Like many brand marks, the logo is there to represent the company in an immediate, visual manner, replete with a healthy dose of symbolism. But Amazon’s has a hidden meaning. The orange curve (see the logo here – no need to trust your mind’s eye!) is intended to invoke recollections of a smile. And note that the curve is an arrow, starting at “a” and extending to “z.” This, too, is intentional, as Amazon wishes to express that they have everything (or, at the time, every book) “from A to Z.”
Amazon is, by no means, the only organization to slip hidden, perhaps subliminal messaging into its brand marks. For example, FedEx wants to express not just your packages, but also the idea that those parcels are always moving forward. Its logo, below, does that in an extraordinarily subtle way. Pay particular attention to the white space between the orange “E” and “x” — it forms an arrow, pointing ahead:
(Can’t see it? Or think it’s a simple coincidence? The presence of the arrow in the company’s Arabic logo is both obvious and forced, and the designer of the logo explicitly notes that intentional inclusion of the arrow.)
Others doing similar things? Goodwill’s smiling logo doubles as a lower-case “g.” Tostitos’ mark features two people — the lower-case “t”s – sharing a tortilla chip. And if one looks carefully at the mountains in Toblerone’s logo, there’s a bear, symbolizing the city of Bern, Switzerland — the town from which the chocolate hails.
But not all shadows and silhouettes are intentional. Rumors once circled the crest of lions on boxes of Marlboro cigarettes; the white space under the lions’ legs create a shape loosely similar to a pair Ku Klux Klansman cloaked in white, who together hold a sign reading “Veni Vidi Vici” — Latin for “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Some suspected that Marlboro was a front for the Klan, but this has been widely debunked.
Bonus fact: In the early 1970s, FedEx was in dire financial straits, needing an infusion of cash to maintain operations. Venture capital was likely on its way, but not soon enough. As recounted by supply chain expert Roger Frock in his book, Changing How the World Does Business: FedEx’s Incredible Journey to Success (see page 101), the company needed $24,000 to make a jet fuel payment, but only had $5,000 in cash. The company’s founder, Fred Smith, sprung into action: he took the company’s last $5,000 and went to Vegas. Smith won an additional $27,000 and the company survived.
From the Archives: In Super Mario’s World, Clouds are Bushes: Click to see, and you’ll, well, see.
Related reading: “Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities,” by David Airey. 60 reviews — and five stars on average.