The logos featured above are just a few of those that have been described as “iconic” in 2013 news stories. The term “iconic” has become quite a buzzword in recent years, particularly with reference to logos, a fact that is borne out by an analysis of news stories in the LexisNexis Academic database.
As depicted in the graph above, the last decade has seen a great increase in the number of logos described as “iconic” in news stories. This trend was preceded by an earlier spike in the use of the word “icon.”
Use of the word “icon” (from Google Ngram Viewer)
Using Google’s Ngram Viewer, we can see that use of the word “icon” in books peaked in 2001 and has fallen off somewhat since. The popularity of the word seems to have increased over the twentieth century as it began to be used in contexts outside its original meaning of a religious work of art. The word, which derives from the Greek term for “image,” became used as a synonym for “symbol,” and took on heightened importance in our increasingly visually-driven and celebrity-obsessed society.
Use of the word “iconic” (from Google Ngram Viewer)
On the heels of “icon” came its adjectival form “iconic,” which, as Google Ngram shows, is seeing a steady increase in use. In today’s media environment, the term seems to pop up everywhere, describing all manner of products, institutions, and people. Perhaps nothing shows the extent to which it has permeated the culture and cements its status as a buzzword as its use as the basis of Pepsi and Mountain Dew’s most recent seasonal promotion: the “Iconic Summer.”
As a descriptor of logos, “iconic” has a lot to offer. The qualities of instant recognition, striking visual appeal, and universally-understood meaning that “iconic” suggests are certainly all that could be hoped for in a logo.
But the cavalier use of the term to describe logos threatens to undermine its efficacy. The bar has been set so low for logos to be considered iconic that any mark with any degree of fame, familiarity, or simply age seems to qualify. “Iconic” is in danger of becoming nothing more than a marketing term, stripped of all its meaning, in the same way that words like “delectable,” “sumptuous,” and even “decadent” have been reduced to mere puffery in the dessert menu of a mediocre chain restaurant. Let’s try to save “iconic” from such a fate by reserving its use for the logos that truly deserve it.