Theme : Badging – A Badge Can Speak a Thousand Words

We look for subliminal messages.


A few years ago, brand consultants Landor redesigned the Citroën logo to be more rounded and, in their words, ‘liquid’. That is a strange adjective, since the chevrons famously represented the helical gear teeth that André Citroën patented and whose success he built his company on. In their current form the chevrons no longer seem to suggest precise technology and, therefore, it could be argued that Landor has done its job well in capturing the essence of 21st Century Citroën.


Fiat are the consummate tinkerers to diminishing returns. Has there ever been a facelift at Fiat that didn’t spoil the looks of its predecessor? Why do they do it? Is it politics or lack of confidence? Around the start of this century, Fiat got through 3 logos in 7 years, ending up with something that tries to combine everything from its past. If a company finds it so hard to settle on a logo, what hope for an overall strategy?  Tellingly, the most minimal logo dates from Fiat’s most creative years.

RoverThe simplifying of the Rover badge on the SD1 was typical of the time. However, it said more about the state of affairs at Rover than it probably meant to. The SD1 was a commendable answer to a cynical brief, a Rover that was cheaper to produce and, despite David Bache’s flair and Spen King’s ingenuity, the cost cutting was all too obvious in the final result. In later attempts to re-establish a veneer of prestige to the model, there was a return to the more traditional badge, but no-one was ever entirely fooled.

Mini Countryman copySince the original Mini existed in both Austin and Morris forms, there was never a simple badge identity for BMW to filch. Therefore, for the MINI revival, they resorted to that old staple cliche, the winged badge. It’s not a great design but, kept small, it is just about OK. However the huge thing on the back of the bloated Countryman is truly ironic, a ‘Kick My Arse’ sign for the convenience of all detractors. Someone at BMW has a sly sense of humour..

VWVolkswagen has always had one of the most memorable logos, which it is hard for even the pushiest brand identity guru to mess with. However, their secondary badging has varied. The body coloured badging of the 90s was interesting and I liked it but, for anyone who has had a car resprayed by a chancer in a railway arch, there is the inescapable feeling that someone forgot the masking tape. The die stamped graphic on the late 90s Polos was dire for too many reasons. Then someone had the brainwave of forming the lettering from a horizontal cylinder. On a chrome surface this gives a generous reflection, from road to sky, and looks very substantial. It is a simple trick, but a clever one, adding to the Golf’s reputation for solidity.


I believe that BMW invented the ‘Badge Delete Option’. In the 70s, it was suggested this was a way for the Geschäftsführer to underplay his choice of car in front of a resentful workforce which, given the discreet nature of German luxury cars of the time, might have been practical. In the status conscious UK, it was of course entry level BMW 316s that had that box ticked, in the forlorn hope that you might mistake them for something with a bigger 6 pot under the bonnet. In theory I like badge delete though, in practice, it can make differentiating the dawdler from the racer more difficult.

MaybachThe recent, now unlamented, Maybach logo was a strange thing. It was, in essence, the same badge that had graced the pre-War limousines. Back then it seemed to complement the cars but, grafted onto the front of an oversized Korean taxi, it had as much class as the cap badge of the Maybachian Astral Commandos from a 1976 episode of Doctor Who.

JaguarMascots are not really badges. Although, perversely, the mascot endured for years on US Jaguars, it was American safety legislation that contributed to William Lyons incorporating the leaper in side wing badges, rather than a mascot, on the first XJ6. This worked rather nicely, and his willingness to do this, underlines that Lyons was certainly not the traditionalist that Olde Worlde Jaguar enthusiasts would like to imagine. But leapers should leap forwards, not sideways, and the transverse versions seen on today’s cars seem wrong. Does Jaguar really know where it is going?


General BadgesHistory is full of redundant badging that brags of now commonplace technology. The ‘Disc Brakes’ badge on Mark 2 Jaguars was a nice piece of Bill Lyons trumpeting, suggesting the need to warn following drivers of the fearsome potential for retardation that vehicle possessed. I drive an old car that boasts of its fuel injection though, as it does so in French, the Eurosnob in me quite likes that. A quarter of a century ago, makers were finally getting engines to breath properly and, for any 4 cylinder, a badge proclaiming “16 valves” was mandatory though, again, I still quite like the Italian “sedicivalvole”. Today, alternative power sources are what gets the badge makers excited.


11 thoughts on “Theme : Badging – A Badge Can Speak a Thousand Words”

  1. I despair at the rounded chevrons but it is possible that Landor did not understand their significance or more likely that they understood that most of the customers buying the new cars wearing them would not. You touch upon the redundancy of some badges and one the always amuses me is the RTS badge on local Holdens. RTS denoted “Radial Tuned Suspension” for the ever so modern radial constructed tyre and by the time the badge disappeared in the mid 1980’s I doubt you could find a crossply tyre to put on your car. I like to think that the marketers and accountants were so disinterested that rather than finding out what the badge meant, they thought it better to leave it on, just in case.

  2. Another area of badging is that of typefaces. These tend to be left well alone, since they are pivotal for brand recognition. When a manufacturer chooses to update or alter their typeface therefore, it tends to say something quite specific. For instance, when Citroen changed their logo, they also softened the typeface. This appeared to be an attempt to reposition the brand in the light of changed market conditions and the launch of the up-scale DS series. It says, ‘We’re fluffier now’. Instead of suggesting technology of the oily mechanical variety, it now offers a ephemeral image of ‘creative technology’ – a concept as nebulous and marketing-led as it sounds.
    A couple of years ago, Jaguar also altered their typeface, offering a slightly flattened, fatter series of letters. The aim here is clearly to separate the brand from the old heritage cream tea image, ushering in a more contemporary visual language. It said: ‘We’re not in the Inspector Morse business any more.’
    By contrast, Lancia’s recent logo and typeface alteration was merely a cynical attempt to shoehorn the noble shield and flag onto cars it was never designed to adorn. In fact, the exercise saw the deletion of the flag element entirely. Any fool and his dog could see it was a ridiculous idea, and when it failed, Marchionne probably just shrugged and said: ‘well, it was worth a try’. Meanwhile, the damage to Lancia’s emblem, as well as its reputation and heritage is incalculable.
    Meanwhile, a company like Mercedes-Benz has no need to play around with typeface and logo style. In fact any change would merely amount to needless tinkering. When you’ve got it, you don’t need to go messing about with your branding. Anyway, as we have learned from the foregoing, it would send out entirely the wrong signal.

  3. Exactly. The typeface and badges for any company are the standard under which they battle in their market; incessant change merely dilutes the solidarity in which you stand within your company and in the mind of your customers. Evolution is understandable, commendable and necessary but when you feel that the change is merely whimsical you begin to wonder whether there is any planning in place and your allegiance is misplaced.

  4. As much as I detest the “liquified” look of the double-banana chevrons and the terrible relation between the two elements, the graphic designer only starts sobbing quietly when I see the typeface that accompanies them. I can’t for the life of me remember a more misguided, ill-advised and poorly executed typographic treatment of late. The letterforms have no visual coherence to speak of, they look dated, flimsy and, above all, very gimmicky, which essentially communicates to the public – we’re all frills now.

    1. I’m still following you, but rarely have time to contribute or figure my output would just be a rehash of some of the previous comments. Still hovering around though.

    2. Hi: thanks for updating us on your status. I lurk at Curbside Classics for the same reason. I look most days but don’t comment much.

  5. There’s actually a good reason why the badge on the Countryman is so enormous. Well, it’s actually a terrible reason, but regardless, it’s not simply because marketing deemed it a top idea (notwithstanding that they doubtless did). A little birdie at BMW tells me it’s that way because accounting insisted the Countryman’s badge-depress/boot-opening mechanism had to be shared with the 6-Series. Thus, the dimensions of the circle, and hence the logo, are dictated by the size of the 6’s BMW emblem, because it’s the same part with different print.

    All of which makes you wonder why they signed off on spending a bunch of extra cash to do the tail-lamps as panel-enshrouded jobs.

    I must admit, I always liked the ‘hollow’ Polo typeface – it communicates a sense of frivolity, even if the rest of the car is as serious as a shoelace. Some logos reflect a good deal of thought that 95 percent of owners will never be any the wiser towards, but please those who take the time to appreciate them. The Grande Punto is a case in point:

    See? It’s a driver, sitting down, arms outstretched. And there’s a dot – a point, if you will – denoting the head.

    It’s hard to think of similar flights of fancy in recent years. It all seems to be about formality, seriousness, professionalism. How very tedious. It seems to me the 1990s was the last period where there was meaningful differentiation between the the styles of alternate manufacturers. I have to admit to an inexplicable soft spot for the italic font that Ford used for the first Mondeo. Something something softer, caring, friendly decade, probably.

    Eóin makes a very valid point about the value of well-designed, long-lasting emblems. I would go one step further in fact, and say that the main element that dates any emblem (no matter how old) is the fact of its replacement. If VW, or Mercedes, or Ford, or Pirelli had constantly chopped and changed its logo for the last fifty years, social conventions dictate we are trained to consider anything but the latest update as dated. Yet we do not consider them dated, almost entirely because they remain the representation of their latest work.

    A cynic (who, moi?) would suggest that putting distance between Lancia’s back catalogue and its current output was precisely the point of the latest logo update. A realist might reason that allocating those monies toward product development instead might have proven a more useful allocation of resources. But when a company is top-heavy with smug marketing grads, smug marketing solutions tend to be the knee-jerk response to all manner of problems, perceived and otherwise.

    1. The 90s had some terrific model-specific fonts: Renault, Ford and Fiat, if memory serves. I think post-Modernism had an influence. The company logo anchored the car, the model badge floated a bit freely. These days it is about uniformity because if the Polo’s badge is in a different font to the Sharan my head will be confused to bits.

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