The Birth of the Walmart Asterisk

Walmart Logo, Detail

In what has to be the most under-whelming, ill-executed unveiling of a major brand repositioning yet, one of the largest retailers in the world, Wal*Mart has recently released a formal (albeit band-aid) of a press release to their web site confirming the logo change that has surfaced.

It’s obviously a global re-branding effort that will costs tens of millions of dollars.  And it certainly won’t happen overnight. This time, however, I’m one of the many struggling to understand the hype around the results.

On June 30, Wal-Mart Stores unveiled the new brand image direction while issuing a statement that “Walmart’s U.S. locations will update store logos as part of an ongoing evolution of its overall brand.”  That, in all its glory, has to be one of the quietest brand revisions for a nation’s giant retailer in history.  Take a cue from QVC…a launch that took root and quickly revised the brand’s value positioning in short order.

Consider the visual revisions for yourself;

Wal*Mart Logo Revisions

Wal*Mart Logo Revisions

The hyphen has disappeared.  Gone, too, are the sharp, uppercase letters spelling out the name of the Bentonville, Arkansas company and the pointy star that served as a hyphen.

However, in my humble opinion, the new icon is questionable.  The sunny burst of color appears after the “Walmart” name in what could be an asterisk begging for a footnote.  Perhaps a brand strategy in itself – but a linguistic cue that must be met with future guidance and structure.  Is that what the largest retailer in the world really wants to represent the core of their values?

Walmart’s new tagline of “Save Money. Live Better” certainly sets the tone – but graphically, I think they’ve missed the mark in reiterating that tone visually.

To date, there’s been no reasoning nor any explanation of what the new “star burst” visually represents –  or why they’ve revised the company brand to a single word… so far, all we have to go by is the logo that replaces the 16-year-old sans serif that was as thick and heavy as the middle-american beige boxes it garnished for so many years.

As a point of reference, consider Wal-Marts’ brand image development over the past 4 decades, copied from this page.

Walmart Logo History

Currently rumored to have been designed by New York-based Lippincott – the revision to entirely title case supposedly helps “humanize” Walmart with a name that reads more like Mike, Steve, Will or Sarah – but does it really set a more familiar tone?

“(The new sunburst) looks organic. My sense is they are trying to say, ‘we’re an eco-aware company,'” says Marty Neumeier, president of Neutron, a branding firm in San Francisco.

It’s true that over the past two years, Wal-Mart (Walmart*?) has increasingly offered eco-friendly, sustainable packaging and products; as well as substantially reduced its truck fleet’s energy consumption.  But does that mean the company is truly dedicated to eco-brands, and their more expensive impact on our consumer economy?

I’m not sure what “eco aware” means in this retail giant’s case other than “we’re riding the consumer friendly green wave”.

Neumeier goes on to note that the revised Walmart* brand image lacks the distinctive power of the most successful logos, such as Target’s bull’s eye, which is immediately recognizable.

Wal-Mart’s sunburst, in contrast, “is designed so simply that there’s no ownership to it,” Neumeier says. In other words, it could be used by almost any corporation.  And as such – it lacks ownership, which I believe is a critical mistake for this retail giant.

Robyn Waters, a former VP and design consultant for Target, interprets Wal-Mart’s new logo as a signal that the retailer might actually be becoming more “original”. “I never thought the star said or meant anything. It was just generic.”  Generically speaking then, it has little value.

Many other design observers are focusing on Wal-Mart’s new typeface, which breaks with the company’s 46-year tradition of utilizing bold capital letters.

Brand image/logo design aside, the “new and improved” store environments and actual application of the refreshed logo will define the longevity of this new image.  I remain skeptical that it will suit the core values the retail bohemouth has developed over the years – and may not provide them with the respositioned brand awareness they are obviously spending millions to achieve.

The real question here is…what do YOU think about it?

38 Responses to “The Birth of the Walmart Asterisk”

  1. Sunfell Says:

    I probably have a different reaction to the wally-world asterisk than most people. When I see it, I automatically think of a ‘splat’- which is what Unix programmers call the asterisk.

    Welcome to Splat-Mart!

    I shop there only when I have to, or I need to walk a long distance in a sheltered space. My new ‘supercenter’ is huge, so I can do a few laps inside it and get some exercise in!

    • smartblog Says:

      Interesting point! I never considered the health benefits of jogging around the vast retail wastelands of Splat-Mart. You’ve forever changed my perspective. Thanks!

  2. Grafix Says:

    If you look closely, it’s a stylized “WM” for Walmart.

    • Larry DeVincenzi Says:

      Great insight! You’re the first person to ever make note of that. Thanks!

  3. Jonathan Finer Says:

    I’ve became a fan of the asterisk since I recognized the ‘hidden’ WM a couple of months ago. Somewhat akin to the FedEx hidden arrow… actually a clever design.

  4. Sporting Goods Associate Says:

    When Sam Walton died in 1992, The dash became a star in memory of him. When you make a wish …usually its on a star. Sam was the Star in Wal*Mart and the reason for the change. As far as the new design…. The “WOW” factor is what its all about. Walmart is changing all the stores inside and out to be exactly the same where-ever you go. For now the real reason… well its a secret, but worth the wait 😉 (_(_) (_!_) (_)_)

    • Larry DeVincenzi Says:

      Thanks for the inside story and tip SGA!

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  6. Walmart vs. Wal-Mart | Bentley's Blog Says:

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