AT&T tweaks its logo after its purchase by SBC, publicly giving `a fresh start to a cherished icon'

New logo symbolizes a company's new start


What's in a logo?

As AT&T Inc. officially began its first day of business yesterday since its acquisition by lesser-known SBC Communications, it unveiled a new logo with a slightly jazzed up, three-dimensional version of the iconic globe that has symbolized the company for so many years.

The symbol doesn't look vastly different from the old one. Same shape. Similar blue coloring. The minimal tweaks underscore the delicate nature of corporate logos themselves as the companies they represent, the customers they serve and the world around them change.

"We wanted to signal a fresh start to a cherished icon," said Larry Solomon, a spokesman for AT&T. "We wanted to reinvigorate what is one of the most recognized symbols in the world."

The nation's largest telecommunications provider hopes that the new mark helps usher in a new era while holding onto enough of the old image that people feel a familiarity with it.

The new, more three-dimensional image symbolizes services the new company offers in a world where phones no longer just make calls, AT&T said. The lowercase type now used for "AT&T" is meant to be more welcoming in an environment where the company long ago yielded monopoly status. And parts of the globe are transparent to represent clarity and vision.

AT&T conducted focus groups and considered several logos before settling on its choice.

AT&T will promote the new version over the next several months by displaying it on more than 50,000 company vehicles, 6,000 buildings and more than 30 million telephone bills. The logo will also be seen in the largest multimedia advertising campaign in the history of AT&T or SBC.

"A logo is the initial visual image that anybody is going to have of a company," said Rob Marsh, vice president of creative services for LogoWorks, a Utah company. "It represents everything the brand stands for. The potential customer is going to have their initial reaction to the company through the logo."

A logo can be as key to a company's image as its name. Corporations spend millions to perfect them. And logo reincarnations happen for all sorts of reasons - from new directions to changes in technology.

The image of the Betty Crocker woman was updated a half-dozen or so times before the food products company wearied of keeping pace with the times and decided to replace her with a red spoon. (The red spoon evolved from a red oval in an annual report in the 1950s.) As times changed, the female portraits didn't reflect the diversity of women, or men, who liked to cook.

"The representation of a real woman changes so quickly - I mean the clothes, the hair, everything - that it was kind of hard to keep it current and up-to-date, and it wasn't that relevant to consumers," said Pam Becker, a spokeswoman for General Mills Inc.'s Betty Crocker brand.

Kanbay, a Chicago information technology company, has changed its logo to reflect its mission. It was once a general services company, but now focuses on financial services.

"We'd gotten to the point where there was no brand significance to the logo," said Geoffrey Nixon, Kanbay executive vice president.

The Michelin man, named "Bibendum," got a slimmed-down look on his 100th birthday in 1998 as the company sought to modernize the brand.

The image, recently featured as one of the business world's most recognized icons by Fortune magazine, had been changed earlier for cultural reasons: He was in a runner's stance with his hand pulled up, but consumers in Asia mistook the hand for a fist. The company gave him a waving position instead. The Michelin brothers came up with the idea after seeing a stack of tires they thought would look like man if it had arms.

"As it spread across the globe, we wanted to make sure he was respectful of all cultural differences around the world," said Lynn Mann, director of public relations for Michelin North America.

Logo changes don't always work: In 1991, Kentucky Fried Chicken announced to eliminate the word "fried," it was changing its logo to adopt the more health-friendly "KFC" to appeal to a public worried about weight gain. This year, as it tries to revive sales, the company announced it was bringing back "fried" at its new stores to draw on its Southern roots and rekindle business.

Companies risk confusing customers if they change a logo too many times, experts said. "The harsh reality is that the consumer doesn't stay awake at night wondering about a company logo," said Paul Ostasiewski, an assistant professor of business at Wheeling Jesuit University of West Virginia. "You can only make an impression on a customer's mind so many times. If you change too much, people will lose track of who you are."

Companies are often reluctant to make overhauls of their symbols and nameplates - for good reason, experts said. "AT&T has credibility," said Rachel Weingarten, president of GTK Marketing Group in New York. "When all the little `Baby Bells' showed up, AT&T still stuck it out. You don't want to change that too much."

But ultimately, the success of a company hasn't much to do with its logo. "It's no longer good enough to look good on your letterhead or business card," said David Melancon, president of FutureBrand North America, a brand-strategy company. "You want it to be as compelling as the brand is. You can't just lipstick a pig with the logo. You have to change the issues as well."

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