For new brands, logos are easier to remember.

It’s happened to the best of us: You encounter a familiar face, perhaps out of context, but a name to put with the face escapes you.

“I experience this phenomenon all the time,” says Sara Loughran Dommer, assistant professor of marketing. “When I see a former student of mine, I often have a hard time putting a name with the face. But if a student emails me and I read their name, I can easily picture what they look like.”

Dommer compared notes with a colleague, who had similar experiences with recalling names and faces. “We are marketing people,” Dommer says, “so we wondered: Would this phenomenon translate to brand names and logos, where the brand name would be the student’s name and the logo would be the face?”

Dommer and her colleague Jeffrey Parker, associate professor of marketing at the University of Illinois Chicago, set out to answer this question through a series of studies. And they found that indeed, when encountering a new brand, consumers are more likely to accurately recall the brand’s logo when cued by its name than the converse.

PS Smeal What's in a Name?

“Consumers most commonly identify newly encountered brands by either their names or logos,” says Dommer. A critical concern for brand managers is making sure new customers will be able to accurately recall their brands’ names and logos. Dommer and Parker examined consumers’ ability to recall newly encountered brand names when they were cued by logos, and vice versa.

The researchers conducted three studies using between 200 and 400 online and student participants. To avoid any familiarity with already existing brands, Dommer and Parker selected six brand logos from European companies that were unfamiliar to the U.S. participants but easy to describe, then paired each logo with a fictitious brand name such as Retcon or Aglet.

In the first study, participants were asked to memorize brand name and logo pairs, and the researchers tested participants’ memory for each. They found that participants more easily could recall a logo when prompted with a brand name than recall a brand name when cued with a logo.

PS Smeal Artificial Intelligence
Sara Loughran Dommer, assistant professor of marketing

As the researchers hypothesized, when participants viewed accurate text on the left side of the screen and an inauthentic logo on the right, they more easily spotted the counterfeit logo.

“Then we wondered if maybe we’re just better in general at recalling logos than recalling names,” Dommer says. To test this hypothesis, for their second study, the researchers used the same set of stimuli but assigned each brand and logo pair a distinct color. Participants were shown a set of six logo-name pairs for thirty seconds, then asked to describe the six logos or provide the six brand names, with color as the cue — for example, to name the purple brand or describe the purple logo. The researchers found no difference between participants’ ability to recall brand names and their ability to recall logos. “These results tell us that the asymmetry likely exists only for name-logo pairs and doesn’t hold for other cues,” Dommer explained.

The cue-recall asymmetry the researchers found in the first two studies has implications for situations in which recall is critical — such as when a product’s authenticity is in doubt. “Counterfeiters often slightly alter brand names and logo designs so as not to infringe on copyrights, making it difficult for consumers to distinguish counterfeits from authentic merchandise,” Dommer says. “The results of our first two studies suggest that consumers should be better at recognizing a counterfeit logo when cued with the name than at recognizing a counterfeit name when cued with the logo.”

The researchers tested this hypothesis by conducting a third study in which participants were instructed to imagine they were shopping online for a pair of luxury sunglasses. Participants were randomly assigned to one of two cue conditions. Because English-speaking participants read from left to right, the cue in both conditions was placed on the left side of the screen so it would be encountered first. One group of participants viewed the name “stylish Aglet sunglasses” and a description on the left side of the screen and a photo of the sunglasses with the Aglet logo on the right side of the screen. The other group saw the photo on the left and the description on the right.

As the researchers hypothesized, when participants viewed accurate text on the left side of the screen and an inauthentic logo on the right, they more easily spotted the counterfeit logo. Conversely, participants who saw an accurate picture and logo on the left, and a misspelled product name on the right, were less likely to spot the counterfeit.

“What does this mean for luxury brand managers and online shopping sites?” Dommer says. “Most luxury brands have a section on their website about how to spot counterfeits, and it often focuses on logos. Our study shows that it’s important to pay attention to how brand names are spelled and presented as well. Platforms like eBay want to deter counterfeits, and we argue that the way product information is presented matters. Maybe we don’t want to put the picture on the left, like eBay currently does. It might be of benefit to put the text on the left and the picture on the right.”

Dommer and Parker recently published a paper in the journal Marketing Letters detailing their findings.
The researchers see potential for future studies on how consumers build brand knowledge through names and logos. Most marketing stimuli are multimodal, they pointed out; for example, Netflix has a name, a logo, and a signature “ta-dum” sound, and Cinnabon incorporates the scent of cinnamon into its brand.

“Each of these elements is a part of the consumer’s brand concept,” Dommer says, “but will cuing each of these pieces of information equally bring to mind the other pieces of information? Answers to questions such as this could provide valuable information for marketers and brand managers.”