(NO) Hidden Meaning

Getting your message across in a logo can be like talking on a cell phone with bad reception. It may end up a little garbled or your audience may not hear you at all.

The Procter & Gamble® logo featured above was used for 60 years before being scrapped in 1995. For most of the time it was used, it was the subject of a ridiculous urban legend about P&G’s supposed ties to the devil. Probably not the message P&G was going for.

Here’s one that tends to get through. What do you think of when you see the vertical lines in the Cisco® logo?


It’s a stylized Golden Gate bridge, a call out to the city that gave the company its name.

Here’s one that often isn’t noticed at all. Can you spot it?


Did you see the arrow in the negative space between the “E” and “X”? It’s cool when it gets across.

How about the message in the Amazon® logo?

Amazon smile

The curved line is both: a smile with a dimple; and a callout to the A to Z guarantee when you buy on Amazon.

Some logos are meant to playfully mislead. For example, this mark, where Hooters® is pretending that no one is thinking about breasts:


It’s great to include a hidden or overt message in your logo as long as you can avoid an unintended negative interpretation. What hidden messages have you seen in logos lately?



Trademark is NOT a Verb

“We trademarked that phrase.”

“I really want to trademark this word.”

I’ve almost stopped worrying about this jarringly wrong usage.


But I can’t let it go, because it’s more than grammar.

You can say: “I want to patent this invention” because the U.S. government will actually create rights where none existed and then grant those rights to you. “Patent” as a verb means to obtain a patent for an invention.

But you can not say: “I want to trademark this word” because the U.S. government can only acknowledge rights you already have. You can say: “I want to register this trademark.”

How much does it matter? Remember Doug Lehocky, the dude who spent about $50,000 to file more than 150 applications to register things like APPLE.COM and MICHAEL JACKSON?It’s clear that Mr. Lehocky thinks the Trademark Office is like the Patent Office: You ask them to give you exclusive rights to a trademark and they conjure those rights out of air and award them to you.

But that’s not how it works. An understanding of this distinction would have saved Mr. Lehocky $50k.

To register a trademark, you first create your own rights by using the trademark to sell stuff. Then you ask the Trademark Office to check out what you’ve done. If the Trademark Office agrees you’ve created those rights, then it will register the rights so it’s easier for you to enforce them.

So don’t use “trademark” as a verb. OK?

I’ll shut up now.