New research by an international team of academics has found that descriptive logos can more strongly increase consumers' willingness to buy and can boost net sales compared with non-descriptive logos.

This is according to research published in the Journal of Marketing Research, and summarised in the Harvard Business Review. The results are based on seven experimental studies that analysed the effect of logo design on brand equity for 597 companies.

The difference: descriptive logos contain text and/or visuals that communicate the product or service the brand offers, such as Burger King. Non-descriptive logos, like BK competitor McDonalds, don’t indicate their offer in logo form.


Analysis reveals that it is typically easier for consumers to visually process descriptive logos, the authors write. Across all the different brands, descriptive logos:

  • “Make brands appear more authentic in consumers’ eyes
  • “More favourably impact consumers’ evaluations of brands
  • “More strongly increase consumers’ willingness to buy from brands
  • “Boost brands’ net sales more”

To analyse the financial impact of descriptive logos, the researchers looked at 423 consumer brands. Using financial information (including net sales, advertising and R&D spend, along with total assets), the researchers then asked assistants – who did not know the purpose of the study – to code whether these companies’ logos fitted into 13 different design characteristics (including shape, symmetry, colour, and, importantly, whether they were descriptive or not). 

Regression analysis allowed the researchers to explore the effect of descriptive logos on net sales with the financial details and logo design characteristics as control variables. The result was that a descriptive logo has a greater positive effect on sales than non-descriptive logos.

“When we tested our findings on the logos of 174 early-stage startups, they held true. We presented their logos and product descriptions to 2,630 individuals and found that descriptive logos were more often associated with a higher willingness to buy”, the authors write.

Different brands have different needs

Of course, there are significant differences between brands, not least if a brand is well-known or not.

“We observed that although having a descriptive logo had a positive effect on brand equity for both familiar and unfamiliar brands, the magnitude of this positive effect was much smaller for the familiar brands.” Familiarity and consistency remain fundamentally important.

The other key finding is that descriptive logos can have a negative effect on brands that deal with sad or unpleasant topics: think insect repellents, funeral homes, and palm oil.

“If you are considering creating or modifying a logo, our findings suggest that you might want to include at least one textual and/or visual design element that is indicative of the type of product or service your company offers”, the researchers write.

Beyond that, it is worth studying the use of getting out of the specificity brought on by a descriptive logo. A key case study here is Dunkin’s shift in both logo and name from Dunkin’ Donuts, when the brand needed to shift strategy toward a broader product offering than just donuts.

Sourced from the Journal of Marketing Research, Harvard Business Review, ANA Magazine