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  • Writer's pictureIan Morris

5 of The Most Iconic Brands that Work Without Words

What have Mastercard, Starbucks and Toyota all got in common? They’ve all switched to textless logos and, in doing so, cemented their place in the iconic brand superleague. Here, we explore why their wordmarks have bitten the dust…


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You know a brand has entered a new stratosphere when it ditches the wordmark from its logo. And in recent years a slew of big names have done exactly that, paring back their logos to just a simple powerful icon.


It’s a bold move, there’s no doubt about it. Nothing says brand confidence like chopping the name off your logo. So who’s at it and why? Let’s take a look…


The ones whose names no longer fit the bill…



Logos of Mastercard and Starbucks, only the icons

Iconic brands: Mastercard


In 2019, Mastercard dropped its name from its logo, relying on its interlocking red and yellow circles to do the talking. The striking graphic has been part of the logo since the Sixties, but it’s thought a couple of factors played a part in the name going. A study by the company showed that more than 80 per cent of people recognise the logo without the wording, therefore it could comfortably stand alone. But then there’s the fact that, in this digital era, the future of payments is no longer just about cards. So surely the less emphasis on the word ‘card’ the better.


Iconic brands: Starbucks Coffee


The Seattle-based coffee king scrapped the ‘Starbucks Coffee’ wordmark from its logo a decade ago now, leaving it all up to its famous mermaid to do the legwork. Dropping the word ‘coffee’ made total sense – over the years, Starbucks’ menu has extended way beyond cappuccinos to include everything from Hickory ham toasties to pink coconut Refreshas. But it took confidence to ditch the word Starbucks. That said, the chain has become an international kingpin, with more than 32,000 stores dotted across 80 countries. So that is one famous mermaid.


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The one with its eye on the digital prize…


Logos of Toyota and Doritos, only the icons

Iconic brands: Toyota


Last year, Toyota unveiled a new look with some pretty hefty changes, dividing opinion in the process. The company swapped its famous red for monochrome, switched to a flat 2D design, and removed the word Toyota altogether, joining the likes of uber-confident Apple and Nike in the ‘iconic brand’ category. The thinking behind it all was to have an ultra-simple look that flourishes in a digital, mobile-first environment. But more than that, the Japanese firm was keen to achieve a more premium feel and a greater level of consistency through its pared-back revamp.


The one who used it as a PR stunt…


Iconic brands: Doritos


Doritos dropped its wordmark – albeit temporarily – as part of a PR ‘debranding’ stunt aimed at Gen-Z, a corner of the market that’s anti overt advertising. The snack company removed its name from its branding across all channels, replacing it with ‘Logo goes here’. The firm also launched an ‘anti-ad’ on YouTube, opening with the statement: ‘The following is a paid message for a chip so iconic we don’t need to name it, ‘cause this is an ad with no logos, no jingles, no gimmicks. Just those red and blue bags with the stuff you love in it.’ Certainly one way to get attention.


And the ones where it was a no-brainer…


Logos of Apple and Shell, only the icons

Iconic brands: Apple


Ever the trendsetter, Apple showed it was way ahead of the game when it shrugged off its wordmark back in the Eighties. Rob Janoff’s iconic bitten apple, resplendent in rainbow colours, was coupled with the company name until 1984 when it made the switch to a wordless icon. It was an easy decision on several levels – firstly, unlike the Starbucks’ mermaid or Mastercard’s circles, the graphic effectively says the company name. Secondly, Apple’s all about sleek, minimalist design, so an ultra-simple logo has to be the one, surely. Its 21st-century brand kudos suggests it was a winning move.


Iconic brands: Shell


Here’s another brand whose name screams out for a wordless logo. After all, you’re hardly going to look at a picture of a shell and think BP. Interestingly, Shell was the original trailblazer on this front, representing its brand with various shell iterations from 1900 until 1948. However, the company entered the Fifties with its name appearing alongside the icon, where it stayed for half a century. In the Nineties, bosses decided it was time for the shell to go it alone again, and it’s stayed that way ever since.



Why are iconic brands removing their wordmark?


✔ The ultimate statement of brand confidence ✔ Removes visual clutter – key in a small-screen, digital environment ✔ Great option for brands that have diversified and whose name no longer fits ✔ Creates a strong, contemporary look ✔ Allows for greater consistency across all platforms ✔ Ideal for international brands, transcending languages


Building strong brands is what we do, day in, day out, at Threerooms. If you’d like to discuss a project, get in touch today.


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