Refresh or rebrand: Some fundamentals of iconic logo

Published November 25, 2020, 11:30 PM

by Diwa C. Guinigundo


Last week, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) surprised everyone by introducing a new logo “in keeping with the changing times.”

Since then, social media has been abuzz with comments, feedback, and even memes.  The public raised issue not just with the design. Aesthetics is a matter of taste, of which standards may be difficult to find. Main criticism was that the new logo bears semblance to the United States’ coat-of-arms,  the Indonesian emblem, and even that of a local beer.

The public also questioned the timing of the change — in the midst of a pandemic no less, and the consequent costs that would follow what the BSP claims to be a refresh.

To adopt the logo, public funds would have to be spent on public information campaigns; on changing office signages spanning Luzon to Mindanao; on office letterheads, on calling cards, IDs, labels, among other collaterals. The new logo will also have to appear on banknotes, with all the feathers and wings, claws and scales engraved on our coins. The BSP will have to spend real money to implement a refresh.

What does one expect of an iconic logo?

An iconic logo captures the vision of the institution.

For instance, Apple logo is a monochromatic apple with a portion bitten off. We can draw from Walter Isaac’s biography of Steve Jobs that he was partial to simplicity, something “fun, spirited, and not intimidating.” The bitten Apple could have some reference to Alan Turing, considered the father of theoretical computer science, who was humiliated and never recognized for his contributions. He bit an apple laced with cyanide. Jobs must be so determined to avoid this fate. The logo has become iconic because Apple continues to  deliver on the vision of the founder.

An iconic logo also embodies what the product is all about.

This is true for Nike’s swoosh logo which was designed as a wing of the Greek goddess of victory, Nike. The slogan “Just do it”  made the logo unique. The company name was dropped in 1995 when the swoosh proved enough that it stood for Nike, plain and simple, for movement and speed. Originally red, the icon became black “to make it sleek and classy.” This logo was originally executed by a graphic design student in 1971 who was paid $35 for 17 and a half hours of design work.

Based on the feedback elicited by the proposed BSP logo in social media, it is challenging to justify why a refresh for the BSP is now necessary.  Based on feedback, “changing times” as basis is not flying as well as eagles. Change is constant and a logo cannot reflect times that shift constantly. A change of logo is justified to reflect perhaps a rethink of one’s mandate like the transition of the old central bank to the new BSP in 1993.

This was precisely our mission after Amando M. Tetangco Jr. was appointed governor of the BSP in 2005. He assigned us the oversight of the Corporate Affairs Office (CORAO) and chairmanship of the Numismatic Committee. Our task was  to overhaul both the logo of the BSP and the design of Philippine banknotes and coins. Governor Tetangco allowed us latitude to conceptualize, consult with experts, relevant parties, and various stakeholders before going up to the Monetary Board for approval.

Our idea was that the new logo should capture the new vision of the BSP and its fresh deliverables.

For at that time, the new logo introduced in 1993 was not fundamentally different from the previous logos of the old central bank. They all depicted the wheel of industry because among its specific objectives under the old charter was “to promote a rising level of production, employment, and real income in the Philippines.” The new BSP is not the economic agencies combined.

It’s a matter of record that the men and women under Governors Gabriel Singson, Rafael Buenaventura, Tetangco, and Nestor Espenilla were inspired to be the best and the brightest in central banking. Fundamental changes were introduced in the BSP’s monetary policy framework, banking supervision, and payments and settlement system. Society was more engaged in economic and financial literacy, financial inclusion, and greater credit access for small business. The first three governors were globally recognized as best central bankers in Asia. The BSP earned its stripes as a good, credible, and highly respected independent central monetary authority that delivered on its mandate.

So there were strong reasons to launch a new logo in 2010 that reflected the BSP’s new responsibilities and what they required, the vision of a modern independent central bank. For this task, we requested talented artists from both CORAO and the Security Printing Complex to submit to us various studies. There were critical decision points.

What image should the logo reflect?

Bank Negara Malaysia has its logo with a stylized barking deer. This animal makes bark-like sound when it sees danger ahead. Hong Kong Monetary Authority uses the same bauhinia flower of the Hong Kong government. While a sterile hybrid, bauhinia stresses continuity because “each Bauhinia blakeana offspring in Hong Kong comes from a part of its parent.”

After months of sustained discussion and consultation, we decided on the Philippine eagle. It can snatch a prey heavier than itself, with eyesight that allows it to see miles ahead and a wingspan that keeps it in the air without much effort, a great representation of a central bank!

Should we use a generic image of the Philippine eagle?

We decided on a stylized version to make it more iconic as it is unique. As now glaringly clear, a generic picture of an eagle will not achieve distinction.

In designing the 2010 BSP logo, aside from the very first concern of not having a mark deceptively similar to others, the talented artists from CORAO also thought of how the logo would render. How would the logo appear on paper, in black on white; in white on black? Would it be practical and be aesthetically placed on banknotes? On coins? Would there be recall? Would the logo appeal to all generations and not just boomers with heartstrings for colonial times?

These were all matters of consciousness that went into brand formulation of the 2010 BSP logo. They were all considered, every single one of them. We believe the logo we produced in 2010 captured the spirit of both the institution as well as the men and women who delivered with extraordinary competence and integrity even in most challenging times.

The BSP now says the proposed logo builds on the “strong brand” of the current logo. If it’s strong and flying high, why change the uncaged eagle with one clueless generic eagle that gets itself imprisoned in a closed golden cage?

We are not sure what the BSP means by the proposed logo being a refresh rather than a rebrand. If this type of communication were to be used to launch the proposed logo, many will find it difficult to understand. Many more will find it difficult to accept and recognize the proposed logo.

It will never be iconic.