Chances are that before you even started reading this post, you could already distinguish what company the red and yellow sign is advertising in the picture to the left. But did you realize that even though the sign doesn’t even show the words “McDonald’s,” you already made the connection? That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call the epitome of brand recognition. But McDonald’s isn’t the only company that has reached that status. Nike, Apple, Pepsi, and most recently Starbucks, have all gradually transitioned to a simplistic, non-alphanumeric logo.

So what does all this have to do with the flying cars next to the McDonald’s sign? Well, it can be argued that McDonald’s was the first company to stumble upon this trend through product placement in the 1997 film, “The Fifth Element”.

The movie portrays a future reality with New York City as a galactic hub with both humans and alien species. The main challenge was to design a fictitious environment where English wasn’t singled out as the dominant language. Because of that challenge, the designers of the McDonald’s logo decided to strip it down to just the golden arches on a red background with no text. Despite some resistance from corporate, the company realized what a strong brand recognition this design had and started implementing their cleaner logo into their international brand strategy. From a logistical standpoint, this strategy was genius. One logo would be effective in any country, no matter the dominate language or alphabet. Logo design for TV and print advertisements, along with packaging, was simplified like never before.

While this type of brand recognition is the goal for almost any company, the shift only really works with strong brands that have almost ubiquitous popularity. However, with the outreach many companies are doing to reach a global audience, our bet is that we’ll be seeing a lot more of these rebranding strategies in the near future.