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I remember an old Mad Magazine spoof of the auto companies that included the line, “Build me a car that I can af-FORD.” Well as it turns out, Ford, the only one of the Big-Three American automakers to avoid the government bailout, put its trust in the company’s logo. According to the New York Times, “Ford put up its logo, headquarters, factories and other assets to qualify for $23.5 billion in loans that helped it survive the recession without needing a government bailout like General Motors and Chrysler.” Notice the asset that is listed first: the Logo. I am often asked how valuable is a strong logo?

Ford’s Chairman, William C. Ford Jr. answers that question: “We weren’t just pledging our assets. We were pledging our heritage.” On the Ford website they explain why the logo has so much value, “Along with our factories and equipment, one of the assets we mortgaged was our none other than our iconic logo – the blue oval. The blue oval has long been associated with Ford and as a brand logo, it’s recognized worldwide.”

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The Value of the Logo

We define a logo as the image that captures not only where a company, product or service is but where it wants to be. It embodies the aspirations and future of the organization as well as representing the values of the past. Budelman, Kim and Wozniak write in Brand Identity Essentials (Rockport) that a logo is, “a picture…that represents the collection of experiences that form a perception in the mind of those who encounter an organization.”

The Ford Logo’s Heritage

According to the New York Times, the original Ford logo was created by engineer Childe Harold Wills, one of Ford’s first executives, “who borrowed the script from his own business cards.”

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In 1966, the logo was almost replaced by legendary designer Paul Rand (creator of the IBM logo) who proposed a modernized style to Henry Ford II. “According to Rand, it was too radical a switch,” said Steve Heller, graphic design historian and the author of the book “Paul Rand.”

Looks like Henry Ford II made the right call in saving the Ford logo which in turn has now been used to save The Ford Motor Company. When you think about your logo and your brand identity, does it reflect the value of your company? Is it an emblem of your heritage? Next time somebody asks about what it means to design a logo, I will say that we are in the business of using visuals to transform abstract concepts into marketable assets. How much would you pay for a Billion Dollar asset?