The Importance of the Right Logo

When I was in college about a hundred years ago, I majored in marketing. Being an eighteen year-old, I knew I was clueless at the time regarding what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Both of my older brothers knew from an early age that they wanted to be mechanical engineers. That’s what they majored in, and that’s what their careers were in. My future seemed a little more vague.

Friends convinced me that marketing was the way to go. I envisioned myself sitting around a corporate board room bouncing marketing ideas off of my fellow co-workers – a scene not too far removed from Don Draper and the gang in Mad Men. I assumed I would be the brains behind corporate slogans, tag lines and most importantly – logos.

I am now more than forty years removed from getting my degree and that scenario that I envisioned, has never played out – not once.

While my career path has taken a few twists and turns along the way, and I rarely even use my marketing degree these days – I still find myself interested in the design of logos and how some have become iconic and some fall way short.

The right logo is priceless. Once you hit on the right logo, it should never be messed with. All my life, a glance at twin golden-arches announced McDonald’s. The Nike swoosh has no writing. It is about as simple as it gets, but everyone knows what company it represents. An Apple with a bite out of it? That’s another iconic logo.

I was reminded how important logos are this week, when Vanderbilt University introduced a re-branding. Effectively immediately, all branding, including sports teams, helmets and apparel will be replacing the popular logo that has been in place for over fifteen years, with something that has not been received well at all. Since about 2005, Vanderbilt’s primary logo was what they called the Star-V. They have suddenly decided to go with a gold, and non-descript V.



Although I live in Nashville, where Vanderbilt is located – I’m not a fan of Vanderbilt. I grew up a Tennessee fan, and that is where I spent my entire college career. Quite honestly, I’m having fun listening to the uproar among Vanderbilt fans. Tennessee’s Power-T is so beloved with fans, there is no danger in it ever being changed, because as we know – Change is Bad.


Listening to all of this reminded me of a mild uproar among IndyCar fans, in particular – fans of the Indianapolis 500 – a little over a decade ago. The famous Wing & Wheel logo of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has evolved since its inception at the very beginning days of The Speedway. When I was a kid, a version of the Wing & Wheel with very tall flags graced the cover of every program.


But they also used a more traditional version for baseball caps, etc. This more traditional version lasted for most of my life through 2008.

Old Wingnwheel

For decades, a glance was all you needed to know what this logo represented. The writing is there to tell you, but race fans don’t need that. They can tell. Granted, it is not as widely recognizable in certain parts of the world as McDonald’s, Nike or Apple, but among race fans around the globe – this was all you needed to see.

The beginning of the Centennial Era was in 2009. For three years, all IMS correspondence, apparel, souvenirs either featured the Centennial Logo (below) or that particular year’s specific race (i.e the 2010 Indianapolis 500 or the 2009 Brickyard 400, etc). This was not my favorite logo, but it harkened back to the days of yesteryear and I knew it was short-term, so I put up with it.


But when the Centennial Era was over following the 2011 Indianapolis 500, we were introduced to a new logo. It wasn’t a major remake, by any means. It was called an update with minor tweaks to freshen it up. The most noticeable changes were making the tire wider with a more squared-off edge, and for some reason – changing the direction of the tire.

New wingnwheel

Knowing how much I despise change, you can imagine my reaction. I griped on Twitter, Facebook and even wrote a post about it. I tweeted my complaints to Trackside one night and Curt and Kevin both shot me down and explained why this kind of stuff doesn’t matter. But to me, it did.

Looking back, they were probably right. I bought polos, sweatshirts, jackets and coffee cups with the new updated Wing & Wheel. I never give it any thought whatsoever. Whenever I wear older clothing with the old logo – I’ll admit it does look a little old fashioned. Then again, I’m old fashioned. I just pass it off as vintage, whenever I wear the old logo.

That’s why I’m enjoying hearing the local Vanderbilt fans have a complete meltdown over the loss of their beloved Star-V, and replacing it with some generic V. A group Vanderbilt hired in Boston, not the Boston Consulting Group, claims that this new logo was two years in the making. I think I could have come up with their new logo in about fifteen minutes and charged a small percentage of what they probably charged. But I can’t help but laugh at the outrage I’m hearing from Vandy fans over the change of their logo.

Don’t get me wrong, I still despise change – especially when it involves the Indianapolis 500. I can live with a few tweaks here and there of the iconic Wig & Wheel about a decade ago, but this current logo probably needs to outlive me. I can’t imagine having someone a third of my age, who knows nothing of the Indianapolis 500, to be given the task of completely remaking the Wing & Wheel. Once is enough in my lifetime.

George Phillips

8 Responses to “The Importance of the Right Logo”

  1. It would appear the Vanderbilt V now appears on most all of the Ukrainian military vehicles and helicopters. Wonder if the Ukraine and Vanderbilt used the same marketing firm?

  2. Jim Gray Says:

    I had a friendly yellow shirt (yes they exist) explain to me that the old logo was changed to update to a modern looking tire (tyre??). When they did that they changed the direction as a nod to the old tire looking to the past while the new was facing the future. It made sense even if it was a story made up after the fact. As for the Vanderbilt logo, I don’t envision any scenario where I would care.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I rather liked the change of direction of the tire in the updated logo because it is what an Indycar tire looks like turning left when viewed straight-on, as well as being the side of a tire you can see from the outside grandstands.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Alumni from my alma mater had a dust-up with the university president in the late 2000s after the president wanted to discontinue the long-standing interlocking letter logo, both for use in academics and athletics. While the president was not popular with faculty and alumni for other reasons as well at this time, it was after his announcement of the logo change that he was pushed to resign. The interim president quickly reversed the logo decision and the old interlocking logo returned for athletics use (it remained discontinued for a time in the academic departments) before it had ever really left. While the alumni’s attachment to the logo to the point of removing the university president over it (and other things) seems a bit much, the alumni were right. It is a good logo and changing it was a solution in search of a problem.

    That interlocking letter logo was updated a few years ago in a way similar to the IMS logo update, modernized/simpler/”cleaner”. Like the IMS logo update, it wasn’t really necessary, but also like the IMS logo update, the resulting logo is essentially the same and no less effective. The new Vanderbilt logo is a bit more of a departure from the old than the case with the updates from IMS or my alma mater though. Like my alma mater’s flirtation with a new logo over a decade ago, it is a solution in search of a problem.

  4. As for the Star V: The Star has a perfect place in the logo and here’s why” A Commodore, before the U S. Navy discontinued the rank, was a 1 Star Admiral, equivalent to a Brigadier General in the other branches. My guess is that the prevalent anti-military attitude among college folks now probably had something to do with its removal.

    (My youngest brother spent his freshman year at Vandy. He opted for Indiana for the remainder of his college career. Seems he didn’t much care for the idea of wearing “dress-up” clothes to a football game.)

  5. a logo change usually means a demographic change.
    college logos, mascots, etc. have always changed.
    Tennesse’s used to be VOLS with pioneer in a
    coon-skin cap and a rifle.

  6. sorry.
    left out an e.

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