A photo of a vintage Cadillac caught my eye recently. The close-up shot included a detailed view of Cadillac’s old logo … and an interesting detail.
Did you know there were ducks in Cadillac’s logo? Six of them actually, up until 2002. Okay, they’re not ducks; they’re merlettes. The design is from the coat of arms of Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac — the French explorer who founded Detroit in 1701.
This shout-out to Cadillac’s Motor City heritage, served up in such a unique way, reminded me of another great brand narrative — Starbucks.
May I Buy You a Cup of Pequod?
Starbucks is named after the first mate in Moby Dick. In the coffee company’s early days, however, the founders were going to name the company after Ahab’s whaleship: Pequod.
How many of you can envision a Pequod on every corner or standing in a long line just to spend $5 on a cup of Pequod? The founders are nautical fans, and you can see this influence in their logo as well. In fact, as Starbucks’ logo has evolved, the mermaid has become increasingly prominent.
Starbucks’ logo evolution shows how it has refreshed its successful brand without losing its core narrative. It’s actually focusing even more on its narrative through these design refreshes.
Staying Relevant Without Losing Brand Equity
But what if your story isn’t relevant any longer? That brings us back to Cadillac. An ancient coat of arms on the hood of a Cadillac helped the brand get a reputation for being the car of choice for retirees everywhere. Cadillac needed broader appeal. So in 2002, it ditched the ducks as part of the company’s dual focus on “art and science.” The current version of the logo, supporting this narrative, is an evolution of the original logo. The refresh was inspired by Piet Mondrian.
Storytelling is a bit like archaeology in that you don’t create a story, you uncover it. It’s great to see the stories unearthed by the Cadillac and Starbucks visual identities. Each of them is a reminder to brands of the importance of narrative. Every good brand has a story behind it. Great brands also know how to adapt these stories to remain relevant to changing consumers — without losing hard-earned brand equity.