In January 2014, Cadillac introduced a new version of its “crest” that will appear on new products including the 2014 CTS and 2015 ATS Coupe. The new crest is wider and flatter and no longer has the encircling laurel wreath. The Wall Street Journal labeled it “bolder” with “more edginess.”
When a car drives past you, usually, the first identifying mark you see is the car logo. A pouncing jaguar, then it is a Jaguar. The Spirit of Ecstasy then it is a Rolls Royce. More utilitarian logos include Chevrolet’s “bowtie emblem” or Volkswagen’s encircled “VW.” Because of a logo’s ability to serve as an identifier, it is uncommon for a motor company to makes changes. To serve as an identifier, companies invest time and money in designing and advertising. Consumers must build up an association with the logo through repeated exposure, and for the association to positive, the exposure must be controlled. Whether through media, experience, or hearsay, companies make a significant investment in their logos because they are intended to serve as a symbol of the company.
However, while changing a logo is not common because of the initial outlays in time and money, change is not unheard of. Over the years, numerous car companies have decided to alter or completely revise their logo. Often the change is to reflect a new direction for the company or a merger of two or several companies. In 1926 Daimler, operating as Mercedes, and Benz merged to create a single company, Mercedes-Benz. To reflect the merger, a new logo was created combining the Mercedes star and the Benz wreath. Today, the simplified logo is an encircled, three-point star. Another example is Audi’s four rings. In 1932, Audi merged with three other independent motor companies: DKW, Horch, and Wanderer. At first, the new logo included four rings, each holding a logo of one of the merged motor companies. Later, the logo was simplified with the removal of the logos from the merged motor companies, leaving only the four rings.
For Cadillac, the new crest was meant as a symbol of its new direction in product and design. The executive design director explained that the changes were meant to reflect “the evolution of [its] Art and Science philosophy.” In other words, the lower and leaner look of the crest is meant to match the current car design. Months before the official announcement, Cadillac tested the new logo at Pebble Beach on the Elmiraj Concept. Rumor had it that Cadillac was testing out the new logo after comments from potential customers about the logo being outdated or old-fashioned.
The crest was originally based on the family arms of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, an aristocrat who founded Detroit in 1701. It was topped with a crown and surrounded by a wreath with the aristocrats name. In later years, Cadillac attached a crown to the top of the crest and replaced the wreath with wings which took on several different shapes. Then, in 2000 Cadillac made another alteration to its logo, creating a more geometric look by eliminating the wings entirely and removing minute details from the logo, including the string of ducks.
The sleeker, simpler logo recently released is a far cry from the ornate, complex design that first was the Cadillac crest, but throughout the years, Cadillac has clung to the jeweled look and crest shape. It also kept the colors representing the brand’s qualities: red for power, blue for valor, black for wisdom, gold for wealth, and silver for purity/charity. Besides maintaining the representative elements of the logo, the design team also had to consider practical things, such as how the logo might fit on the steering wheel, key fob, and side panels. Other considerations were the European pedestrian safety standards that require the logo not protrude too far from the vehicle and the logo not impair long-range radar.
The similarity between the old and new logo will preserve the goodwill Cadillac has accumulated over time, and with the registration of the new logo Cadillac will also preserve the legal protections afforded under trademark law. Of course, the old logo will not completely disappear, at least not for some time. The logo from 2000 with the wreath will be around for some years still. It will still appear on dealership signs and on cars already in circulation. This logo may maintain its trademark protection as long as it satisfies the legal test of 1) used in commerce and 2) serves to identify the source. Thus, Cadillac is equipped to move forward in new directions with the edgier logo while retaining the benefit from past logos.
* Lindsey M. Chessum is a third year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law. She has a Bachelor’s in Economics & Business and a Bachelor’s in Philosophy from Westmont College. She spent nearly two years in the stock market industry prior to law school, and upon graduation in 2014, Ms. Chessum plans to return to California to practice business law.