What is a Picture Really Worth? – Logos in Advertising

by Donna L. Roberts, Ph.D. & Sergio Del Bianco

Advertisers frequently rely on the famous cliché “A picture is worth a thousand words,” fashioning images that create a world and tell a story that they hope will lead a consumer to purchase their product.  The oft-quoted phrase is derived from an article by Fred R. Barnard in the advertising trade journal Printers’ Ink (later renamed Marketing/Communications) where he encouraged the use of images in advertisements that appeared on the sides of streetcars.  In a 1927 issue Barnard stated “One Picture Worth Ten Thousand Words”, labeling the advice a Chinese proverb, which he later admitted he did, “so that people would take it seriously.”

Perhaps the most pervasive application of this kernel of wisdom is the brand logo.  Logos (also called signature cuts) represent a specific example of a branding effort whereby a stylized version of the advertiser’s name and/or symbol is repeated in order to represent the organization as a whole.  It has been compared to a trademark because it represents a uniquely recognizable symbol and provides quick recognition of the brand (Arens, Weigold, & Arens, 2011).  The logo may or may not include the firm’s name and is primarily intended to make a quick, identifiable and easily remembered visual connection to the brand.

Advertisers use logos as a cue to instantly identify the brand and evoke an immediate reaction based on associated thoughts, memories and emotions.

How well can you identify common logos?  Take this online test to find out:


Arens, W., Weigold, M., & Arens, C. (2011). Contemporary advertising. (13th ed.). Hightstown, NJ: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Barnard, F. R. (March 10, 1927).   One Picture is Worth Ten Thousand Words, Printers’ Ink, pp. 114-115.