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Logos: Branded for Life

How corporate logos rule your subconscious.

Our world is saturated with commercial images. Each of us is subjected to 3,000 to 10,000 brand exposures every day—not just in television commercials and on freeway billboards but also via the decals on people's T-shirts and the logos on our coworkers' coffee mugs. Psychologists are discovering that exposure to brand images can have a profound effect on everything from honesty to creativity.

To test the effects of brand logo exposure on behavior, researchers set up an experiment in which subjects saw either the Apple logo or the IBM logo subtly displayed. Then they were asked to name as many uses for a brick as they could think of. People who'd seen the Apple logo were more creative—as long as they valued personal creativity to begin with. In another experiment, people were exposed to the logo of either Disney or the E! Entertainment network. Those who saw the Disney logo answered questions more honestly.

"Every brand comes with a set of associations," explains study co-author Gavan Fitzsimons, a professor of psychology and marketing at Duke University. "When we're exposed to logos, those associations fire automatically, activating our motivational systems and leading us to behave in ways that are consistent with the brand image"—and our preexisting drives. Over the years, all the Think Different ads we've seen have seared a link in our brains between Apple and creativity. The same goes for Disney and honesty. Unless, of course, you're a disgruntled duck. —Jay Dixit

You Go, Logo!

What can brand logos do for you? A few (untested) suggestions: They could...

  • Motivate you.

    Ugh, you're slogging up to your fifth-floor walk-up after a long day. Just glance down at the North Face logo on your sleeve. To the summit!

  • Start fights.

    Want to liven things up at the office? Don a WWF SmackDown! cap and get ready for people to rumble with you.

  • Help you find stuff.

    Where did you put your car keys? Glance at the Google logo and the search is on! —Matthew Hutson