Sony took to the stage at CES 2020 last week to talk PlayStation 5 and, with fans dying to learn something about the new console, showed off…its logo. Among onlookers there seemed to be one of two reactions to the reveal: an indifference to the insignificance of it all or jokes at how similar the logo was to the PlayStation 4 logo.
The former, to their credit, kind of have a point. In December, Microsoft showed a lot of its new console, from its hardware design to its controller, while the first concrete thing Sony reveals is a logo It was a little disappointing to say the least. But anyone mocking the logo itself as lazy or wondering why it’s so similar to the last one is missing the point.
Over the last few years there has been a massive transformation in the world of fashion. Or at least in the way its presented to the world. Many of the planet’s biggest labels have decided, seemingly all at once, to abandon unique logos that had served them for decades in favor of a new look. The timing of the changes was coincidental enough but the way every new logo ended up looking the same is where things take a turn for the weird.
In 2018, Rob Walker wrote a piece for Bloomberg outlining how brands like Burberry and Saint Lauren had not just updated their logos recently, but had ended up rebranding to arrive at almost the exact same place: a sans serif font that appeared more utilitarian than bespoke.
Walker’s story ends with a possible explanation for the convergence. “The new Burberry logo isn’t very different from those of other fashion brands, but that’s also by design. After all, a tuxedo may communicate an image of refined taste, but not if you’re the only person at a party wearing one.”
Yet that uniformity also comes at a cost, as there’s now little to distinguish these brands visually. Luxury shopping areas the world over now look like old Grand Theft Auto games, every store with the same sign and font out front. Fashion’s new logos might have something they want to tell us, but in breaking with the past they’re also saying something else: that in chasing a contemporary trend they’re willing to walk away from some of their own history.
One of the risks a change in branding can bring is that it can wipe out the public’s connection with its past. Sometimes that’s the point, like if a bold new era is called for, or if a bad stretch requires some freshening up. The flipside is that from Ford to McDonalds to Nike a timeless logo conveys more than just some vintage style. It embodies a sense of continuity, of longevity.
So when Sony unveiled the new PS5 logo, which is almost identical to that of the last three consoles before it (the PS3 initially launched with a “Spider-Man” font before ditching it), that’s fine! Not every console generation needs a new brand identity. Indeed in Sony’s case there’s a lot to be said for keeping things steady for as long as possible.
For a name that in the 1990s was associated with being the new kid on the video game scene, PlayStation has grown into a brand that can trade on its history. It has the two biggest-selling home consoles of all time (the PS2 and PS4). It’s credited with being the driving force behind the transformation of the space from a kid’s pastime into a global entertainment juggernaut. A big part of PlayStation’s appeal is that it has a library of long-running exclusives you can’t play anywhere else.
That’s a powerful and identifiable legacy. And the company’s classic ’90s logo is synonymous with that. If you see a PlayStation logo on a product in 2020 you know it’s from the same lineage that people have been buying and loving for over 25 years.
Compare that to its main video game competitors. Nintendo’s logo will outlive all of us, but its recent console naming efforts (cough, the Wii U) have been a disaster. And Microsoft is even worse. The Xbox changes its logo every console and has employed a series of names in which no console is ever linked to its predecessor.
Rather than build a new identity each time, new Sony consoles are simply stacked atop the memory of the last. Of course the PS5 logo is the same as the PS4. The PS4 was an incredibly popular piece of hardware, and this is its direct successor. It’s immediately apparent that the PlayStation 5 is a newer and complete upgrade over the PlayStation 4, with the “5” simply replacing the “4.” The King is dead, long live the King.
Make fun of it if you like. Call it a phone-in, call it old-fashioned. But this is a brand now entering its fourth decade, in which nearly everything (RIP Vita) it’s done has been a huge success, and sometimes keeping that good thing going can be the best thing a company can do.
- Words: Luke Plunkett