How Brands Evolved

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” – Jimmy Dean (Actor)

With the New Year coming quickly, we’ll be facing a lot of changes. Change is inevitable. We change our diets, change our style, change living arrangements but we also change our business’ branding and direction. Changes happen for a multitude of reasons – ranging from new developments within an industry to the change of clients’ wants. With these factors, we also must change and adapt to reach our destination.

Even though change always happens, and can occur in many different ways, it can be a scary challenge to face, as there can be a lot of work and unknowns. Luckily, there are already several industry leaders that have faced these challenges and from which we can all learn. Here’s a breakdown that focuses on specific companies and the evolution of their branding. You’ll be able to learn what changes they went through and why they implemented the modifications they did!


AOL was originally founded in 1983 as Control Video Corporation. In October 1991, they changed to America Online. Finally in April 2006, they officially adopted AOL exclusively. View more about the company.

CVC logo
Their 1983 logo is reminiscent of IBM and the like. Back in the 1980s, brand identity happened more as an afterthought, rather than a carefully planned creative initiative. It certainly inspires a technology type of feel, evoking the dot matrix printing of the time.
America Online logo
As they introduced online connectivity, their 1991 company name and logo changed accordingly but kept a similar blue-purple color as part of the brand. They used both a typographic and graphical logo combination, which allowed them to use the graphical element (the top "blocky" part) as a watermark logo element on their products. The combination of the script font and the block font is a nice touch. The font for "America" denotes future, computers, minimalism -- while the font choice for "Online" is more organic, human, softer while also giving us the sense of "cords" or connectedness - especially as all the letters literally are connected to each other (as a contrast to "America").
AOL logo
The company underwent major changes in the years that followed - and were even part of an acquisition. In 2006, they officially retired "American Online" and exclusively went by AOL. As such, their logo changed appropriately. Their iconic graphic morphed into a 2.0 version - more web-friendly - but still retained the same color. As the company simplified its name, it also simplified its logo. While long-time users of America Online could still relate to the brand, it was also different enough where new users could utilize the platform and feel it was a new product.

Apple, Inc.

When Apple was first founded in 1975, it went by Apple Computer. With the evolution and growth in technology, Steve Jobs dropped "Computer" from the business name in 2007 to better reflect their shift into other consumer electronics. This makes complete sense when we look at the subsequent products: iPod, Apple TV and iPhone! View more about the company.

Apple Computer logo
The company had QUITE the logo at the beginning. Before the advent of apps and web 2.0, logos were much more ornate. Since they weren't yet designed to be embroidered on corporate swag or legible on tiny smartphone screens, they could certainly be very elaborate. As depicted here, the company gave a history nod to Newton in their logo, but overall the imagery didn't convey the brand of the company - or even the new, innovative type of product they were selling. No surprise this logo barely lasted the first year.
Apple rainbow logo
In a radical change, Jobs hired someone to overhaul the entire logo. The iconic Apple logo was born - though it wasn't as minimalistic as the current one. The colors were vivid and playful, a nice contrast to the serif font of its company name. The graphic worked as a standalone on their computers, and was easy to spot from a distance. The clean look of it evokes a functional yet organic and aesthetically pleasing design - everything that Apple is and aspires their products to be.
Apple logo
As mentioned above, with the emergence of web 2.0 and minimalism influences trending, the iconic logo lost its colorful and playful attitude and adopted a classic, monochromatic look. The new computers - with their metallic sheen - looked better with a monochromatic logo, and at the end of the day, the shape is still very recognizable. Without "Computer" in its name, the company brand could now better reflect that they were no longer selling just computers - instead, a sophisticated lifestyle.

Shell Oil Company

Unlike some of the other examples, Shell has not changed its company name since its inception in 1912. Its logo, however, holds a different story. View more about the company.

Shell logos
Many companies take a literal approach to their logos: Apple has an apple and Shell has a shell. Naturally, what makes one logo stand out from the other is the execution of that literal, visual translation. Shell tried a few different variations on their logo before they settled on the fan-like look. Since the company's inception was near the turn of the last century, its logo started in black and white.
Shell 1948 logo
The advent of color would help kickstart the logo's global recognition. Originally chosen around 1915, the colors appeared in conjunction with Shell's Californian gas stations. The red and yellow combo has many origin theories, one of which is that by using colors found on the Spanish flag, Shell hoped to bond with its California customers - a majority of which were early Spanish settlers. (Could it be that Shell leadership at the time just really liked ketchup and mustard?)
Shell 1971 logo
Its 1971 version is a clean, modern take on the previous logo. Since reproducing images on a smaller scale caused them to lose sight of tiny details, the new logo was simplified. Now, Shell's logo has such brand power, that it is rarely even used with the typographic part.


This is a company that has kept its name since creation but has seen a lot of changes in their logo design. View more about the company.

Volkswagen original logo
Volkswagen had a bit of a magic-eye-trick of a logo when they started out. Black and white, of course, the logo clearly has some of the distinguishing features still present in the current logo (specifically, its center), but like many of the logos of other companies in its era, quite ornate even if geometrically so.
Volkswagen 1939-1945 logo
The logo was modified to show only the middle "gears" in the years immediately preceding WWII, which was a much needed simplification of its original branding. The extra "flags" of lines proved to be too distracting to make out the subtle weaving of the V and W in the logo.
Volkswagen 1945-2000
Post WWII saw a minimalistic and modern take on the logo - Volkswagen was ahead of its time, branding-wise, as it adopted this web 2.0-friendly brand identity before logos truly even became synonymous with brand identity. Like its previous logos, this version retained its "wheel/tire" look, but appeared more approachable. As its image throughout the years is one of "fun to drive and fun to look at" (see: the Beetle), this updated logo shows the organic, quirky side of the company very well.
Following the war, the Volkswagen logo would go through several transformations, such as the introduction of the blue color, a brief affair with a square around its circle, and varying border sizes. Interestingly in 2012 the company chose to bring back the extra details in their newest refresh of their logo. Rendered to look like a 3D image, the logo appears to take on the characteristics of a car - shiny, fun, and ready to take you to unexplored places!

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Evin Charles Anderson

For more than a decade, Evin Charles Anderson has explored the intersection of performance, production and promotion. As the CEO and Creative Partner of Waverley Knobs, featured in Lifehack and CEO Blog Nation, he helps clients shape, shoot and share unique and engaging brand stories that inspire action, innovation and change. Evin’s independent, Hollywood and commercial film experience and marketing expertise means he not only knows how to visually tell a story for his clients, he knows how to position that story for real-world impact and business results.

In addition to running Waverley Knobs, Evin is a professional actor and director, as well as co-creator of the podcast Branch Out: THE Marketing and Digital Media Podcast. He also teaches acting, directing and marketing classes for the City of Cambridge in Massachusetts. Evin’s film Paperthin has been featured at The Magwill Film Festival in California, and Waverley Knobs’ short film, The Heist, has been featured in Examiner and MobileMovieMaker.

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