top of page

Contextual Research Report

Benetton hearts.png .png
Opal fruits to starburst.jpg
The history and development of trademarks and logos,
and the evolution of Corporate Identity


The extensive history of trademarks, logos, and corporate identity spans centuries. Exploring the significance of these marks and why they carry so much weight, it is important to begin by understanding identity as a human condition.


What is Identity?


“The fact of being who or what a person or thing is” according to the Oxford Dictionary.

                                                                                                      Also“a close similarity or affinity”.


Identity answers the question 'Who am I?'


This is important as having an identity can give a sense of belonging, which is integral to wellbeing and confidence. It creates self-awareness and defines us as human.


Nature of Identity


Identity is a complex and multifaceted concept that encompasses various aspects of

an individual, a community, or an entity's characteristics, beliefs, values, and affiliations.

It is inherently dynamic as it reactive to external factors, this forces it to constantly



French writer Alphonse Karr encapsulates the nature of identity in one sentence “Every

man has three characters - that which he exhibits, that which he has, and that which he

thinks he has.” For me, Karr is suggesting that identity is a matter of perspective.

We often see ourselves differently to others and even our own opinions are not a true

reflection of who we actually are.


Identity is not confined to a singular definition but rather reflects the complexity of human experiences, relationships, culture, and personal introspection. Individuals possess multiple identities that intersect and influence each other, creating a unique mosaic of identity. Breaking those down is challenging because there are many overlaps but here is my crude attempt at broadly categorising them:


  • Personal Identity – this is built from characteristics specific to an individual, beliefs, fears, and aspirations. It also includes self-perception which is formed through social interactions and experiences.

  • Social Identity – deriving from group affiliations such as nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, supported sports teams and music preferences. It can also come from roles within society, for example profession, parental, volunteer.


  • Cultural Identity – group members are bound by shared values, beliefs, customs and languages, or perhaps strong likes or dislikes. A shared heritage or history made up of experiences, narratives and traditions can enforce those group’s bond.


  • Professional Identity – occupations can form a large part of a person’s identity as it is such a big part of life, often retirement or change of career can result in an ‘identity crisis’ for some, especially institutionalised roles such as Soldier. Another facet of professional identity can be shaped by work ethics, values and expertise.


Much of these aspects of identity are formed around social constructs and can be influenced by cultural narratives, societal expectation, and external perceptions, for example media depictions of beauty are collectively accepted as the norm and are aspired to.


These Identities can be expressed through behaviour, the activities we partake in, but the biggest way in which we express our identity externally is through our choice of things (or lack of in some instances), the clothes we wear, how we style ourselves, our mode of transport, the artwork and furnishings we chose to decorate our dwellings. Every decision we make feeds towards the picture of our identity. In essence, our identity is the culmination of choices we make.


Origins of Trademarks


The idea of logo design, characterised by minimal yet powerful images symbolising specific brands, is often considered a modern phenomenon. However, people have employed emblems and distinctive marks for centuries, possibly even stretching back thousands of years, to distinguish and identify themselves. Interestingly, a significant portion of historical symbolic design has focused on visually conveying identity.








Prehistoric global societies are responsible for laying the graphic arts’ foundations with cave paintings. Around 8000 BC, civilisations around the Middle East crafted pottery, conveying diverse cultural, ethical, and religious messages. Even in this ancient era, cultures expressed ideas through symbols and illustrations. Ancient Egypt, particularly from 4000 BC, stood out. They developed hieroglyphics as a formal writing system, using

images for words or sounds. Around 2000 BC, grids appeared in Egyptian designs, an aspect fundamental to logo

design, ensuring proportions were maintained and a consistent replication of a design was certain. Concurrently China was developing their own form of representational pictogram language as were the Sumerians in Mesopotamia with cuneiform.


Livestock Branding is a practice that began with the Egyptians around 2700 BC, and is still current today, techniques having changed very little in nearly 5000 years. Branding ensured ownership of livestock was clear. Although ancient Romans chose symbols that were believed to offer a magical protection to the animals.

Religious symbols were used as a form of logo to signify a unity. Druidism which is known to have flourished in Britain, Ireland, and Gaul (France) from the first century BC used symbols such as the Triskelion, a symbol of strength and progress, the Triquetra, the Pentagram along with the Celtic cross, which symbolised harmony of the four elements. Many religions from the 1st century such as Gnosticism, Christianity which used a variety of crosses and fish and Anglo-Saxon Paganism also used emblems like those of the Druids.


Heraldry is a system of visual identification and symbolic representation primarily used in medieval Europe to distinguish individuals, families, institutions, and regions. It involves the design, display, and regulation of coats of arms, which are unique graphic emblems typically depicted on shields or banners. It originated when most people were illiterate yet a bold, striking, simple design was easy to recognise. Especially useful on the battlefield to clearly differentiate between armies.

Heraldry was not limited to individuals; it extended to institutions, cities, and regions, creating a visual language that conveyed lineage, allegiances, and achievements. While its

prominence declined over time, heraldic practices and symbols

continue to influence modern visual branding, family crests,

corporate logos and even sports teams.


Military insignia are symbolic emblems used by armed forces

worldwide to denote rank, unit affiliation, specialisation,

achievements, and roles within the military hierarchy. They serve

as visual identifiers, allowing for quick recognition and

differentiation among personnel. 

Industrial Revolution 


During the Middle Ages identifying marks became even more prevalent as tradesmen such as Stone Masons, Gold and Silversmiths, papermills and even Bakers inscribed their work or products with their own marks or that of the guild they were affiliated to, denoting quality and origin.  

The 18th and 19th Century brought the rise of mass production, and this led to the need for brand differentiation, allowing producers the opportunity to stand out from the competition and appeal to consumers. This was where logos as we know them today began to emerge, displayed on packaging and advertisements for those products. During the 1800’s industrialisation spurred a formalisation of trademarks and offering a legal protection to those brand identities. These early examples were often weighted with a lot of detail and information.



Logotype, originating from ancient Greek and translates simply as ‘word’ and ‘tupos’, meaning ‘impression’. The abbreviated term, Logo has become more commonplace and encompasses work marks, trademarks, identifiers, pictographs, and icons.


With the onslaught of consumerism after the wars, there was a rapid growth in merchandising. The act of wrapping, displaying, and advertising a product became an industry in its own right. The sophistication and simplification of logos was clear to see throughout the 20th Century. Companies started focusing on creating cohesive visual identities. And from the 1960’s, design agencies like Chermayeff & Geismar pioneered modern corporate identity.


“A mark is both form and substance, image and idea. To be effective, its forms must be familiar enough to be recognisable, and unusual enough to be memorable. The design must be simple enough to be read in an instant, and rich enough in detail or meaning to be interesting. It must be contemporary enough to reflect its epoch, yet not so much of its time as to appear dated before the decade is out. Finally, it must be memorable, and appropriate to the ideas and activities it represents.”

Formula for a Logo as given by designers Ivan Chemayeff, Tom Geismar and Steff Geisbuhler. (What is Graphic Design?, p120 (Quentin Newark) 2002)


The very first documented brand management can be traced back to Procter & Gamble in 1931. Neil H. McElroy, an advertising manager at P&G, famously advocated that each brand within the company should be managed separately. His proposal emphasised dedicating teams to each product, treating them as independent enterprises. McElroy's rationale was that this approach would delineate distinctive qualities for each brand, mitigating direct competition between similar products. This notion, termed product differentiation, has since become a fundamental facet of effective marketing campaigns.


Corporate Identity – More than a logo


So, what is corporate identity? 


In short, it’s a promise. 


A promise of what that brand stands for, what they can offer through association, and a promise of who they are. Corporate identity refers to the visual and conceptual representation of a company, encompassing its values, mission, culture, and personality as conveyed through various elements. It's the outward face of a business, shaping how it is perceived by both internal and external stakeholders.


It is important at this stage to emphasise that identity and brand are not the same thing. Identity refers to a visual framework utilised to distinguish a company's objectives, values, and character. Brand represents the perception of a company held by the market.


Components of Corporate Identity:

  • Visual Elements: Such as Logo, Colour Palette, Typography, and other visual assets specific to the brand ( This may too include audio eg. Apple ‘bong’ or McDonalds ‘I’m loving it’)

  • Brand Guidelines: These are standards governing the use of visual elements to maintain consistency.

  • Communication Style: Tone, language, and messaging used in all communications.

  • Values and Mission: Core beliefs, ethics, and purpose guiding the company's actions.

  • Corporate Culture: Work environment, ethics, and values upheld within the organization.


This cohesion of a brand is important to its success because it builds several things: 

  1. Brand Recognition: A strong identity helps it to be memorable and easily recognised.

  2. Trust and Credibility: Consistency in identity builds trust and credibility with customers.

  3. Differentiation: Sets the company apart from competitors, highlighting unique values and offerings.

  4. Employee Engagement: Shaping the culture, fostering a sense of belonging and purpose internally, this always radiates outwards.


The Implementation and then maintenance requires a consistent reassessment of all aspects of the brand, ensuring that communications continue to align with its values and objectives. Brand audits and adjustments are often undertaken to adapt to evolving customer preferences.


Evolution of Corporate Identity


50 years on from its inception, the concept of corporate identity as a successful marketing approach was well established. The 1980’s and 90’s brought the rise of digital technology, specifically the advent of personal computers and later the internet. This was a hugely transformative period, changing how brands communicated and interacted with consumers. Markets were now operating globally, necessitating brands to adapt their identities to resonate with diverse cultures and broader markets. I recall a variety of brands during this era, mostly food and household items, renaming products to unify and streamline their brand portfolios across continents.










Brands needed to navigate cultural differences sensitively, impacting how they presented themselves to a global audience. A brand which fully embraced this diversity early on was the United Colours of Benetton, but quickly subverted and weaponised this sensitivity in their ad campaigns to generate publicity through shock and outrage.


Design trends shifted towards simpler brand identities, focusing on clean logos and visuals for instant recognition. Companies began to invest more strategically in branding, recognising its value in differentiating themselves in competitive markets. Brands shifted their focus towards enhancing consumer experience, not just the product, but influencing how they portrayed themselves and interacted with customers. The intent, to create emotional connections, relying on evocative storytelling to build brand loyalty.


These decades laid the foundation for current branding strategies, taking a holistic approach to create immersive brands, they project ideal lifestyles to consumers. From this base the new millennium has created a highly brand savvy population. It is now a given that even the smallest of start-up brands have a comprehensive marketing strategy, an understanding that visibility is everything. Brands are constantly interacting with their audience, through email and social media campaigns. But they are not just broadcasting content, but also engaging audiences to contribute and become part of their narrative. We have produced a generation of people that are so self-aware they are branding themselves to influence others for gain. 


Another benefit, digital technology has gifted the consumer industries is analytics. This has become big business and integral to developing and maintaining a successful corporate identity. Information gathered everywhere in our digital life is harvested and analysed to understand consumer behaviour. This offers a great deal of insight into a potential successful marketing strategy. However, this powerful tool is not only is it being used to predict but exploited to change our behaviour.


The current trend for brands is a focus on tailored experiences and authenticity.

Sustainability is very important, emphasis on eco-friendly practices and ethical branding. Visuals that are clean, simple, and minimal for instant recognition. Adaptable for versatile use across various mediums and devices.


The Future of Branding


I predict the future of corporate identity is poised for a dynamic shift toward digital-first approaches, emphasising adaptability, personalisation, and sustainability. Brands will likely prioritise seamless digital experiences, adaptable visuals, and customisation while integrating values of social responsibility. Expect immersive technologies, data-driven strategies, and AI integration to drive personalised, engaging storytelling. Minimalist yet timeless designs will persist, fostering community engagement and co-creation for deeper consumer connections.

Medieval Bread stamp.jpg
Normandy Watermark.png
Masons Mark Project.jpg
Cuneiform BBC.jpg

Sumerian Cuneiform

Egyptian Hieroglyphs


Alphonse Karr c1876

Pagan Symbols.png
Christian Symbols.png

Hispano-American cattle brands by ranch used in hot iron branding

Ancient Egyptian tomb image of cattle branding. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The language of Blazoning

Coat of Arms

Rank marks of the British Army

Hallmarks of a goldsmith

Medieval bread stamp

Normandy 'pillar and grapes' watermark 

Stone masons mark

Coop 19C Logo.png

19th Century Logos and advertising

Early Co-operative Society Ltd logo


Opal Fruits to Starburst

Marathon to Snickers

Jif to Cif

Oil of Ulay to Oil of Olay

Simplification of the Ford logo over time

Benetton Magazine Ad c1984

Benneton Billboard ad 1996

bottom of page