This is my second entry in a series that reviews popular logos hoping to uncover what makes them so effective and unique. In the process, I’ll build my understanding of solid design principles and better articulate my craft using “plain English.”
Designer: The Partners (NYC)
Industry: Household, healthcare and personal care products
The Colgate product line dates all the way back to 1806, initially applied to household starch, soaps and candles. And by 1896, it became the first brand associated with toothpaste sold in a collapsible tube called Colgate Dental Ribbon Cream. By 1906 these tubes were being mass produced and the Colgate name has been a front-runner in dental hygiene ever since.
The strength of the brand is unprecedented, as Colgate is the only brand in the world purchased by more than half of all households (64.6%). Coca-cola holds 2nd place, with 43.3%.
Colgate’s uses a strong wordmark that has seen refinement over the years, but never an “overhaul.” They’ve kept a consistent presence in the marketplace by employing clean white letters atop a bold red field. An extra burgundy shadow helps create separation and lift for each character. The shape of the red field leans forward with an angle, emphasizing continual advancements made by the company.
Colgate utilizes an italicized sans serif called Colgate Ready for its design. Three different weights were crafted by renowned type foundry Fontsmith (London) and intended for use across all communications. The wordmark itself has a few modifications including an elongated descender on the letter “g,” and some tailings that might actually be considered serifs (see “g” and “a”). Perhaps these soften the type, giving it slight curves and a slight humanist feel.
The italicized letters are interesting because they match the angled ribbon and depict forward momentum. For a company over 200yrs old, it’s important to remind consumers that this product is still relevant – life-changing, even. These bold white letters do just that.
Nothing empowers a brand like color and Colgate wields its red with authority.
Historically speaking, the red field remains as an homage to the product’s origin story. Prior to Colgate’s introduction of the collapsible lead tube, toothpaste came in glass jars. Their innovation and wide-spread production made quite an impact. When the product first hit the shelves in 1896, the box featured a wide red field resembling a “ribbon.” The accompanying tagline read “comes out a ribbon – lies flat on the brush.”
It’s pure speculation, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the original color choice was meant to replicate positive medical associations made with efforts from the Red Cross Committee (Geneva Convention, 1864). As time wore on, the font changed but the essence of the brand did not.
In recent years, The Partners (NYC) were asked to freshen up Colgate’s image. They worked hard to identify and build upon the existing “DNA” of the brand. That red ribbon became a chevron that figuratively tied Colgate products to their end users, and visually lifted the Colgate name to the foreground of each impression.
This bold red field plays a different role in the world of consumer psychology. It’s energetic. The deep red generates high-contrast and lets those pearly white letters jump off the page. I think it helps keep the consumer focused on the results they hope to achieve – a mouthful of clean, white teeth.
In retail, red is often associated with high-impulse purchases and great value buys. There’s a reason almost every sale sign you see is white type on a red backdrop: it conveys urgency. Rather than weigh the literal benefits of one brand over others, the consumer will likely just grab the red box and go. The strength and contrast of the Colgate brand makes choosing simple.
Clearly, the Colgate brand has been successful. Like many legacy brands, however, the logo itself doesn’t carry a particularly distinctive personality. It is simply an indicator of the quality folks have come to expect from Colgate products. You simply won’t be risking your health by snatching the long red box on your super market’s personal care aisle.