Logology

The Surprising Reason Why All Bank Logos Look the Same

How a shift toward logo modernization in the 1960s ushered in an era of rubber-stamp designs

James I. Bowie
Marker
Published in
9 min readAug 14, 2020

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Outlines of various bank logos such as Chase Bank, Bank of America, etc.
Illustration: Dora Godfrey

When a new logo is unveiled these days, we know what to expect. An announcement on the company website and social media, peppered with the usual branding buzzwords: “iconic,” “bold,” “unique.” Perhaps an inspirational video that concludes with a dramatic reveal of the logo, like Airbnb’s Bélo symbol. Maybe even a diagram that shows how the mark conforms to the golden ratio, like this one for Apple. All done seemingly not so much in the hope of provoking a positive reception, but rather heading off an online backlash.

Until around the second half of the 20th century, the thought that a logo would have to be formally introduced and justified to the public would not have crossed the minds of many company executives. But in the 1960s, more companies began introducing new logos in newspaper advertisements.

Headlines from 20th-century newspaper advertisements introducing new company logos. Image: James Bowie

To get a sense of how such advertisements functioned, I searched an online newspaper archive across the 20th century for the phrase “our new symbol” and found 327 such ads. All but two were published after 1950. The graph below shows that these ads appeared most often from the late 1960s through the 1970s, and that just over half of them were introducing new logos for banks.

Newspaper ads introducing new logos spiked in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Image: James Bowie

There’s a reason banks were trumpeting their new logos. As prominent institutions in local communities, they needed the credibility that well-considered design programs would provide — and they had the resources to pay for and promote them.

Banks, with their reputations for stodginess and conservatism, were initially slow to warm to trademark modernization.

In addition, by the 1960s, many bank symbols were prime candidates for…

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James I. Bowie
Marker
Writer for

Principal at Emblemetric, Sociologist at Northern Arizona University. Data-driven reporting on trends in logo design: Emblemetric.com