As a business owner looking to market your new enterprise, can you build a successful brand using a stock, template or ready-made logo? Maybe. Should you? That’s the $99 question..
Here’s how stock, ready-made & template logos are supposed to work: for a few bucks – anywhere from $25 to a couple of hundred – you select a “logo” (bunny quotes intentional) from a library or “ready made” designs from their searchable data base or “logo store.” Most of the logo examples you’ll find are previewed with generic typography that spell out something like “your company name” which is literally what you’re supposed to do. Insert your company name there. Download the files, slap this new “logo” on your branded assets – letterheads, business cards and the like – and you’re all set. Brand in a can. Sounds great, right? It could be. On the other hand..
Snowflakes & fingerprints.
The idea of a logo is to be original. Unique. One of a kind. Obvious, right? Now, did you know that most sites that sell template, ready-made and stock logos offer two options? They do. The first – the more expensive one naturally – is you end up owning the logo template outright. That’s fair enough. It’s yours to do with what you want (save some potential ownership issues we’ll get to in a minute.) The second option – the cheaper one of course – is what they refer to as “non-exclusive logos.” or on one site “standard” logos. How this is even a thing is beyond me, but here’s how that’s supposed to work. You don’t get any ownership to the logo (some will offer a license for non-exclusive use) but “time share” it with a bunch of other companies who use “your logo” as “their logo” too. On top of “your company name here,” it’s “their company name here.” And “the other guy’s company name here.” Etc. So mch for fingerprints and snowflakes.Before you bought that logo template, and well after you buy it, other companies will be downloading the exact same ready-made design – perhaps in a different color scheme – and attempting to market themselves with
your logo their logo as well. This is, of course, the exact opposite of a snowflake or fingerprint and would look something like this:There’s been an uptick in this stuff over the past couple of years, and a lot of the credit (or blame) can be attributed to our old bugaboo, design contests. Here’s why..
Design contests and unloved logos.
Most commercial design contest platforms also have some sort of logo template store and it’s actually quite logical that they would. As the majority of people submitting design work into contests – for this exercise, logo design contests – never win anything, save ending up with a ton of rejected logos collecting digital dust on their hard drives. And a lot of expended time for which they didn’t receive a farthing of recompense.
Never missing a chance to
screw up the design ecosystem further bring buyers and designers together, design contest companies figured they could sell these abandoned concepts too (while also collecting a hefty percentage to do so.) They don’t have to do a lot to make the sale, save set up a few more pages of CMS, it’s found money with an ROI that’s extraordinarily high. Someone else is shouldering the labor cost. The designers see it as a chance to recoup something, anything, of the substantial amount of time they’ve wasted entering contests without any return. The platforms’ cut? That is almost admirable in its audacity – 70% on a major one – while the actual creator of the work gets a paltry 30%. I gave up a long time ago trying to get designers to realize they’re being fleeced – that’s akin to herding cats – but it creates yet another avenue where the least amount of effort is the only worthwhile avenue to take. For this reason, you’ll often find stock or template logos that are complete knock-offs from other sources. Contest sites will pay lip service about policing submissions. If only that were true. They rely on the people submitting logos to keep an eye out for copied logos with an obvious heritage from somewhere. Our stupid boat logo shows up in their digital shelves on a fairly regular basis, even after being repeatedly eliminated from contests on their platform because everyone KNOWS it’s a toxic design that’s been bootlegged by everyone and their dog.
Usually on design contests. On their platform.
The. Very. Same. Logos.
Run a Google search for ‘logo design templates’ and a lot of the first two pages – some 20 top results – feature the same logos in their “exclusive” libraries. How can that be? It would appear logo template sites are purchasing their logo ‘library’ from some central source and making them available on ‘cookie’ cutter web sites (there are companies to whom this is stock ad trade.) Online job postings like this began appearing around the same time as do-it-yourself logo generators and stock logo sites became common (and before gig sites like Fiverr hit the scene:) Some sites belong to the same people, the theory being this; put these logo templates on enough web sites and pepper Google with enough search results and hopefully someone will eventually find it using this or that set of keywords. Further, most of these sites operate on “consignment” – the designer gets his/her cut when/if their logo sells – so the designers who’re trying to recoup their time investment are using multiple sources to maximize their chances of selling something. Anything. To somebody. Anybody.
Desperation has always been the handmaiden of shortcuts.
You get what you pay for.
I’m not going to quibble about the pricing save pointing this out – paying $5, $12, $19 even $99 for a stock logo well net you exactly what it should, the adage “you get what you pay for” is almost universally accurate. From-the-ground-up design requires a skilled designer, with experience in many skill sets who can create timeless design – a logo is supposed to last the life of a company – with an eye for reproduction, application and demographics. Good design requires a great deal of interaction between the client and designer, an understanding of the company, the target market, and the limitations of planned and future applications. That certainly isn’t present in a library of stock logo templates. How much effort, how much research, how much pre-development, and how much effort is a designer going to put into a twenty-dollar art project? Or a project they hope might sell sometime in the near or distant future?
Successful companies pay tens of thousands of dollars in R & D (Research & Development) for their branding, of which a logo is the cornerstone. And while in theory, there’s nothing wrong with using a design that has already been created in your logo (as long as the ‘fit’ is there,) the idea that others are using the exact same design defeats the purpose of a logo entirely. Remember our snowflakes?I challenge anyone to show me a successful company that purchased a shake-and-bake logo from a stock site. Not surprising really. These sites know that the majority of their clients are in startup, cash starved and will go out of business fairly shortly (if they manage to get off the launch pad at all.) Selling a slap-and-tickle ready-made template to some one who may not be around next month means that their ‘multiple user’ business model works.
That 70% is hard to turn a nose up to I guess.
(Yeah, I know, but it was the best I could do) We’ve found other examples of our work in template libraries – even bought one for a lark – and while that exercise might have been amusing, the purchaser of any of these logos would also be legally exposed, if the original owner wanted to make hay. They’re using a logo that they don’t have the rights to use and while they may be unaware, any first year law student will tell you that ignorance is never a good defense. If you do use one of these logos, it’s almost in your best interests that you don’t become successful. If your company grows a substantial bank balance, it’s pretty safe to say that the legal beagles will come a-sniffing at one time or another. Why? It’s highly likely that someone in the chain of ownership will claim that you’re using a logo that you have no rights to.
With any of these template sites, there are ownership, copyright and trademark issues that are insurmountable. Simply put – who owns these logos? Who was the original designer? Some student cranking out themed pseudo-logos at $5 a pop? Rejects from some a design-forum contest for another client? Did they properly transfer ownership to the template library owner? Does the site (Bob’s Template Logos or Not Bob’s Template Logos) have the rights to transfer ownership? Just because you buy a design, it doesn’t necessary follow that the ownership becomes yours. It also true that anyone gains certain ownership rights through usage, so ownership rights become foggy. Foggy always equates into headaches. And potential expense
What if there’s more than one company using the same logo as their corporate identity? That shouldn’t be a unexpected – it’s part of their business model after all. Perhaps “the other company” decides to lay claim to the copyright due to their perceived rights accrued by usage. That equals a legal quagmire and quagmires are always expensive. What if you – or the other guy – wanted to trademark one of these logos? Well, you can’t. So, you’re going to buy a logo, pay thousands, or tens of thousands in reproducing your $20 logo on your branded assets, only to find out, maybe years later, that somebody else has laid claim to it. What can you do for recourse? Go back to the web site you purchased it from? Sure. Considering the real costs involved, a $20 refund is a pittance and should be easy enough to get. Or perhaps not. Many well tell you it’s an “as is” sale. If the web site is still online, good luck on finding out who’s behind it. And if you can find out, pray they’re located in the same country as you because international lawsuits get exponentially more expensive the more borders you have to cross.
Safety in disclaimers?
If you take a look at the TOS (Terms of Service) of these web sites, you’ll see that they assume no liability whatsoever should your ready-made template logo bite you in the ass. They’ll claim they’re just “middle-men” putting “designers and buyers together” and if anything goes wrong, it’s between you and the designer. Whether or not these disclaimers would hold up is anyone’s guess – the sign on the $5 coat-check that says they aren’t responsible for your coat is nonsense. They are. The sign stops 90% of people from going any further.
In any case, their stated position is that you’re buying your company logo from someone you don’t know, whose ownership rights on the logo itself may be tenuous to begin with. They’re not going to help you if it goes south. And they’re going to sell the logo you’ve purchased to somebody else. How many warning lights do you need?
The following is going to sound like a shameless plug (and maybe it is, but it is our website) When our studio transfers a logo to clients we first lay claim to the design – warranting that we designed the logo as an original work of art – and are subsequently transferring all those ownership rights to the client. Very cut and dry. We own the logo and now you own it. If we were ever to represent a work that isn’t ours, or something to which we don’t have suitable rights, we’re liable and would be out of business in a heartbeat. And we’re fairly easy to find – we’re been around since 1996, a legally incorporated company and all our contact info is readily available. As a click-and-mortar company – our in-house designers create all our logos. Their work is contractually the property of The Logo Factory Inc. and thus, we can legally transfer these rights to our clients. Simple.
Bad design sold cheap is still bad design.
From a design perspective, and while some logos on ready-made stores are decent, many are crap. Many aren’t even logos but a bunch of generic scribbles and swooshes thrown together in shapes that may, or may not, resemble a symbol of something. Then we slap the phrase ‘Company Name’ and ‘Tag Line Here’ in some non-descript font and we’re all set. The theory has been tied to monkeys and Shakespeare. By displaying enough scribbles and swooshes, to enough sets of eyes, hopefully one of these pieces of crap will mean something to somebody. And hopefully, that somebody is willing to plunk down $12, $20 or $50 via their PayPal account. It’s a numbers game – and each site visitor is simply a mark.
Slapping on a company name.
Logo templates also make a rather onerous assumption – that the company name (and the font used) – is some sort of afterthought that can be slapped on any logo. As a designer this notion horrifies me. The company name, and the font used, is an integral part of any logo design. The visual text solution for ABC Car Repair is not the same for Bob Johnston and Sons Car Repair. Nor should it be. These template logos use off-the-shelf fonts, in their native form (as opposed to customized and outlined,) so that any company name can simply be typed in (as fast as humanly possible), rather than integrated as a vital part of the design. You can also forget about kerning, sizing, etc.
Wham, bam, thank you brand.
Having said all that, if you’re paying twenty bucks for a logo, you are getting exactly what you’re paying for, a logo value vs. cost sliding scale. Consulting and or direction by seasoned industry veterans? Not a chance. Technical assistance and after-market help? Nope – just wham-bam thank you-ma’am design. Or brand I guess.
Not the stuff of successful logo legends.