Why Google just made its biggest mistake

Google's original logo

Google’s original logo

When I was about 10 years old my step dad shaved off his beard.

The entire time I’d known him – since I was 3 – he’d had a huge, wiry brown beard. It had occasionally been trimmed, or left to grow ‘Ned Kelly style’, but the beard was him.

My memory is not clear on why he decided to shave it off after all that time, but suffice to say, in my mind, he’d made a huge mistake.

I actually ran from the room in terror at seeing this ‘strange man’ with a clean face. He was NOT the same person. He was no longer warm and cuddly and entirely trustworthy. He was a clean-shaven stranger masquerading as a trusted figure in our family home.

It sounds ridiculous, but it took me a long time to get over that. I stared and stared at his clean-shaven face for days, unable to process the change that had occurred.

The point was, for me, his identity was inextricably tied to his beard. I trusted that guy with the big beard. Without the beard, how was I to know he could be trusted?

When Google changed its logo recently, it also, shaved off its beard.

As a young, rule-breaking start-up, we grew to love our new friend Google the search engine. It seemed honest, transparent – a start-up for the people. It made things easier, made more things possible.

It kept ‘the big guys’ on their toes – dictating web content priority based on its own magic, secret algorithm, which changed suddenly and without much warning.

But yet, it stayed humble.

For nearly 20 years Google has led the digital transformation – literally stamped out a path for how the internet should function; what people should be able find, on what devices.

And was it even selling anything? Not that we noticed.

Obviously, Google was making a ton of money, but in our eyes, it made it off the backs of rich companies that could afford to advertise. And it even declared the listings that were paid for (See! Still on our ‘side’).

And did it have an ego-maniac at the helm, claiming he was a visionary genius? No, just two PhD students wanting “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.

Democratising information – how could you not love that?

As Google grew, the organisation itself seemed like an oasis – Googleplex was the Disneyland of workplaces – interns tripped over themselves to work there. It became the stuff of career mythology.

We grew to love and trust Google so much, we couldn’t help incorporating it into our everyday language – brands don’t turn into verbs overnight!

And with that trust came an assurance that we knew every inch of that humble serif logo. It looked like a semi-broke start-up that a couple of uni students started in a friend’s garage.

It looked like it remembered where it came from.

In contrast, the new logo, to me immediately said ‘multinational faceless corporate brand’ and with that, the trust factor plummeted.

Google's new logo

Google’s new logo

How can a font make that much difference, I hear you ask? Surely it’s just a logo.

As illogical as it might seem, as consumers, we connect with brands emotionally – just like family members – so an unexpected change in appearance can trigger all sorts of seemingly irrational responses.

In the case of Google, nothing about their business model or company history had changed, but the moment they ‘modernised’ their brand mark, I felt they’d forgotten me – forgotten the humble little human who helped Google them to the top of the world.

Halcyon Creative