Google: Branding and showing no re-Morse

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Google replacing their logo with morse codeInteresting to see that, as usual, Google have flaunted one of the golden rules of marketing: Don’t fiddle with your branding.

In recognition of Samuel Morse’s birthday (he of morse code fame), yesterday ‘the Google’ replaced their ubiquitous rainbow logotype with it’s morse equivalent.

While they have toyed with their core branding for many years — who could count all the bears, snow and athletes and changing typefaces? — this is the first time I can recall them having NO readable logotype on their most central internet identity.

I have to admit I’m a little in two minds about this.

Part of me thinks ‘awesome, they’re breaking the rules and having fun and doing crazy stuff. More power to them!“. Google fanboys everywhere will grin broadly, say ‘aw shucks!” and become a tiny bit ‘fanboyier’.

But what about the people at the other end of the spectrum. What does your nanna think when her browser opens and her homepage doesn’t read right anymore? Or your six year old niece? Or your 45 year old mechanic, who’s steadfastedly avoided computers for years till now? Have they maybe broken something? Should they do a restart? Should they ring their son/friend/resident IT geek friend?

Ok, sure, they will probably work it out. It says ‘Google Search’ on the button, after all. But if they experience even 5-10 seconds of mild bewilderment, is that a good trade-off? Would it have been that much less effective to reproduce the morse letters directly below their alphabet equivalent? I’m not so sure.

Of course, Google are the very large gorilla in the loungeroom. Ultimately they can do what they like.

Nevertheless, as a company renowned for it’s regimented user testing — recently so well-documented by Doug Bowman and their 41 shades of blue testing — it would be interesting to know whether they even try to test user reactions to their logo shenanigans.

Actually they appear to have done a similar thing with braille back in 2006

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  • mrtunes

    if anything, the 96 year old nana should get it better than anyone else ;)

  • http://www.aikon.com.ve joaquin_win

    I think those will get used to the “new” logo after those 5 minutes and use the search engine anyway. Next day, everything will be back to normal and eventually they’ll understand the internet – erhm, Google – does that from time to time (that change in google’s logo, is a constant) :P

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    My nanna’s sharper with her hieroglyphics than her morse. ;)

  • http://www.redfishbluefishdesign.com jeffvdovjak

    I think this one is a little over-analyzed. It would be different if it was a small brand. But someone like Google… That’s like saying car manufacturers shouldn’t change the look of their cars. Google made a recognizable change for 24 hours. Their website layout hasn’t changed. Their colours haven’t changed. And their ideas haven’t changed. Quite often you open Google and find the logo looks a little different in honour of something important. I think you might be thinking that some internet users are pretty stupid. The 96 year old grandma would probably chuckle more than the 25 year old programmer. And the 6 year old daughter is likely to just type in her keyword not even noticing the change.
    If someone changed the colour of your front door on your house, would you go looking for your kitchen somewhere else?

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    Possibly is over-analyzed, Jeff.

    But on your analogy to car manufacturers? I’d think it is closer to Ford changing the Ford badging on one model for a 24 hour period. That blue badge is what makes it a Ford. Would they risk orange badges, even in a brochure, for the sake of being cool? Doubtful.

    But they aren’t Google either.

  • Tim

    the 6 year old daughter is likely to just type in her keyword not even noticing the change

    As a father of a 6 year old daughter, the first thing she would do is notice and then ask me why it was different and what it meant. Just because kids are young doesn’t make them stupid or ignorant.

    If someone changed the colour of your front door on your house, would you go looking for your kitchen somewhere else?

    The analogy here is wrong. The argument in the article is more “If someone changed your door to look like a picture frame, would you still know it was a door?”

  • guruguy

    This whole analysis reminds me of purchasing ‘Enter the Matrix’ second hand on PS2. I purchased the game, and when an elderly relative came over, she thought I was ripped off because the game was broken, displaying all these weird symbols while loading. However having said that, this relative has never touched a computer in her life. I am confident that anyone able to use a computer will get what Google is doing, as it still has the colour scheme going. If not, they will put it down to a failed experiment and not repeat it again

  • Tim

    Alex, I don’t think it’d over analysed at all. Even if they are “the Google”, they have an entire business model that revolves around the flow of information and effective communication. ie. Can you find what you want and is it relevant?

    The only people who get the benefit of a change like this are the people that see the logo very regularly and know they like to do things like this.

    Sure you can still find what you want on the Internet using their service in that state, but what if you were looking for Google for the first time? Would you realise you’d found it?

    I think because they are the size they are, and have the influence they do, they have even more of a responsibilty to make sure that potential accessibility issues like this are avoided even if it was only for 24 hrs.

  • Anonymous

    Umm, is this really an issue worth discussing?

  • Lukevdp

    I think you have a great point. I mean it’s fine when they do rings for the Olympics, but seriously how many people know of Samuel Morse?

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    @guruguy. That is a perfect example. Exactly the sort of person that most of us don’t see.

  • kira8080

    You really have nothing to write about anymore, don’t you ? :-|

  • seloh

    Google has done a nonreadable logo before, in braille (January 4th 2006).

    Anybody who uses google for over a month knows they change the logo from time to time for a day. Which is becomeing more often, I remember when it was still once every so often on some “special” day now it’s almost every week.

  • kira8080

    Sorry for the tone of the post above, it was borderline insulting to the author and I’m sorry about that, but I can’t find a way to edit it. What I meant is that it really doesn’t matter…

  • Edenya

    What about making people just THINKING.

    Try to make them learn new things, try to interest them about real life, try to make them feel just a bit curious?

    Why not trying to have a 5 seconds break on a whole day – even for elders or youngest.

  • nitlas

    Cowardly blog post.

  • RoguePlanetoid

    I saw this logo yesterday and thought – another great way of marking something such as a birthday, special event etc, and being Samuel Morse’s birthday this made sense – did you miss the point of this? I am not sure what direction Sitepoint is taking, but it is one I have noticed for the past couple of weeks, the quality of blog posts has gone down, however this takes that to a whole new level.
    Plus this brings up the point that a lot of people cannot see the logo anyway or read it straight from the graphic – this is what that is like and a complaint like this shows a “why are you not catering for me” attitude, it’s Google you know it is because you visited the website.

  • http://www.mikehealy.com.au cranial-bore

    Someone I know thought it was because they’d just installed IE8. I wonder if Microsoft got many ‘render in IE7 mode’ clicks for Google that day?

  • http://www.thedesignroom.net spoondevil

    That blue badge is what makes it a Ford. Would they risk orange badges, even in a brochure, for the sake of being cool?

    I’ve seen orange ones, red ones, white ones and blue ones. I think they did them for special editions.

  • http://www.iiicreative.com bholli

    Car manufacturers also needed a bailout…I don’t recall Google needing any bailouts. Until that happens, I wouldn’t question any of their business practices.

  • https://twitter.com/scotthoff scotthoff

    I used it all day and did not even notice!

  • mikey t

    Thinking like this is why broadcast media speaks on a middle-school (if that) level. Lets push the envelope a little and make people think… even if its just for 5-10 seconds.

  • http://www.krues8dr.com krues8dr

    Google is already a verb, I don’t think there’s even the slightest hint of confusion among users. The whole point is to stop and make you think for a second, and in that they have succeeded overwhelmingly. Apparently, some people think a little too hard about it, though.

  • tamia

    i saw what they did and noticed the nod to Morse and immediately I got it and thought it was cool as heck. i think the point of going to that page is to go to the search box. everything else on the page was still consistent so there was enough of a branded connection to let you know that you were on the google search page.

    even if you don’t see the logo, sometimes there are enough elements in addition to the logo which will allow you to recognize the brand.

    i loved what they did with their logo

  • http://www.tibobeijen.nl Tybe-O

    In the light of this discussion it’s interesting to take a look at http://www.opera.com today. Compared to that, google’s alternate appearance stayed very close to the original.

  • glenngould

    I liked what Google did. They might have placed a tiny google logo somewhere along with the morse equivalent, but I prefer the way google took.

  • http://www.arwebdesign.net samanime

    I think this would be bad IF they also changed the text input and buttons. As long as they see those, they know they’re in the correct place. Also, I think the colors of Google have become very recognizable, even for people that mostly avoid computers. Google is such a big brand people say “Google it” instead of “Search for it”.

  • Anonymous

    My homepage is set to Google. When I first loaded the browser, it was pretty early in the morning. When I first saw the logo I actually thought that my connection was broken since it looked like the logo wasn’t loaded properly. :-P

  • Leni

    When you’re an 800-pound gorilla you’re at risk of being perceived as slow, heavy and rule-bound.

    This sort of thing very effectively says: “We’re light, nimble and fun!”.

    Kudos to the Google Marketing team.

  • http://fcOnTheWeb.com ferrari_chris

    Who said there was “NO readable logotype”? You make it sound like knowing Morse code isn’t cool anymore… :P

  • userbiasa

    Their website layout hasn’t changed. Their colours haven’t changed. And their ideas haven’t changed. Quite often you open Google and find the logo looks a little different in honour of something important

    I agree with Jeff, minus his analogy of course :)

  • John Doe

    Personally, I liked the idea. They found a way to keep their simple site fresh and unique. When seeing little fun changes like this, they seem less like a money hungry corporation, and more down to earth. It’s a way for them to develop an online identity and personality. As for it not being readable, it keeps people talking. If your grandma calls assuming her computer was hacked, you’ll end up telling all your geek friends, and blogging about it, so it’s free advertising. Plus I live with two other people who are not very computer literate, and I can’t recall the number of times I’ve heard them say, ‘hey, did you see the google logo today?’.

  • http://don.glasstowndesign.com Donniep

    I think the fact that there are this many responses to this post is why they do this sort of thing. I wonder how many people saw this and said to someone else “Hey did you see google today”.

  • Phil

    @Lukevdp maybe some people will discover who Samuel Morse was… I agree with Edenya & Leni

  • Derf88

    Like you said, I don’t think Google has anything to worry about when it comes to their branding. They have such a strangle hold on the search engine market that it wouldn’t matter how many times they change the logo, people are still going to Google search. I actually think it’s a good thing…..it shows they can be light-hearted and have a little fun sometimes and there’s nothing wrong with that……if your company can afford it like Google can. Back in March they had the logo in Braille format as well to celebrate the birthday of Louis Braille who is the inventor of Braille.

  • http://www.calcResult.co.uk omnicity

    “what if you were looking for Google for the first time?”

    How many people do you _really_ think that applies to? And how many people hit the home page, now that almost everyone’s browser has a search box in the corner?

    Usually trolling is found in the comments – shame to see it happening in proper articles.

  • timmustoedesign

    Google have been doing this sort of thing for years. At Christmas we get snow and santa, at easter we get bunnies and easter eggs.

    When an important anniversary comes up they do something cool like the morse.

    I don’t really think it can harm their brand – i think that 90% of users will think its clever and fun, and the other 10% will be a bit bewildered until they figure it out and then think it’s clever and fun. and they’ll be mentally prepared for the next time Google gets messed about with.