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What is this logo called love? Can too much love be a problem? Apparently for the State of New York it is. And it is the concept of love that is on the line.

The rationale for changing New York’s iconic tourism campaign was put forth by Governor Andrew Cuomo as, “Other states have been more aggressive in attracting tourism than New York. We were the best and we were the first, but somewhere along the way we lost that.”

Gov. Cuomo announced a reinvention of the iconic logo as part of a $5 million tourism advertising campaign. New Yorkers and visitors are asked to submit a sketch of their favorite New York activity to replace the heart in the logo — where it has been since the mid-1970s.

On Valentine’s Day this year I was teaching my Communication Design class at Hostos/CUNY and used the “I ♥ NY” logo as an opener for the class. I tried to convey the significance of this design where Milton Glaser took a common symbol (the heart) and transformed it into a verb (love). We all take this for granted today. The most common rebus solution would have been to change the “I” into an eye. “In the modern era rebus designs have been around since at least the 19th Century,” says design author, Steven Heller, “I would argue that the concept goes back to ancient times. Rebuses were used with early Roman letters.”

I Love New York Logo

I Love New York Logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And yet I think the way that the heart conveys “love” is beyond the usual visual forms of a rebus. It has meaning as a verb, and promotes an action that we proudly take. This was no more evident then after the 9/11 attacks when New Yorkers of the world boldly embraced their love for New York. Milton Glaser redesigned a special version of the logo with the words “MORE THAN EVER” and added a small black spot in southwestern section of the heart to represent what happened to New York City.

The new campaign by BBDO Advertising asks people to submit sketches of their favorite activities that are then placed in the logo in lieu of the heart. The only reason this even works is because the symbolic concept of “love” is so embedded in our mind’s eye that we associate “love” with the typographic treatment “I ___ NY” in the classic American Typewriter font. Milton Glaser said, “The new campaign creates some difficulty transforming a noun like “pizza” into a verb, but presumably assumes that since you’ve done it once you can do it again.” Time will only tell whether this new incarnation will last. Milton shared his assessment of the original logo in a video for bigthink.com as, “I did the bloody thing in 1975 and I thought it would last a couple of months as a promotion and disappear.”

I Love New York Logo

In the old days, marketers and brand owners worked hard to reassert their ownership of a brand. “Band Aid” became “Band Aid Brand.” “Kleenex,” “Ketchup,” and “Xerox,” all struggled to hold on to their trademark status. Today’s current branding trend is to promote your brand as a verb. Miriam Webster added “google” as a verb to its dictionary in 2006. Facebook is happy if you “Facebook your friends.” Milton Glaser confirmed that, “The innovation of ‘I Heart NY’ was the transformation of a noun into a verb.” And then he added that, “this is scarcely observed.”

The brand becomes a verb as people embrace it in their lives. Milton Glaser created a logo whose visual symbol became a verb, and that is something we all can love.

I Love New York Logo Sketch

Milton Glaser, 1976. Ink and tape on paper envelope, Museum of Modern Art, NYC

Special thanks to Milton Glaser, Steven Heller and Jim Keller for their insights on this article.

A Challenge to Readers:
Can you think of any other logos as “verbs”? In most cases, the name of the product may become a verb, like “to Google something” “to Facebook someone” “To Tivo a tv show” But in the “I (heart) NY” logo the verb is expressed in the visual. Please send us examples of other logos where the symbol is a verb.