For this week’s assignment in Visual Language, we needed to choose a logo that is successful and explain why we think so. I decided to choose Travelers Insurance’s famous red umbrella because I use to work with the company and they really understood branding through a logo. I thought it would be the perfect case study for this assignment.
The umbrella first appeared around 1870 in a newspaper ad for the young insurance company. It became the official trademark when it was brought back in the early 1960s and was given its signature red hue by Harry W. Knettell who was the account executive for Travelers and Vice President at the Charles Brunelle advertising agency. Unfortunately, I could not find anything on the original designer.
In 1998, Citicorp and Travelers merged as part of a 70 billion dollar deal, in what was the largest corporate combination of the time. The Citigroup chief executive, Sandy Weill, was in love with the Traveler’s red umbrella and constantly sported a red umbrella pin on his lapel. However, the next decade was a confusing time for the logo. Citigroup had an incredibly difficult time using the logo in advertisements because of the strong connection most people made to the insurance company. The logo itself also made much more sense with an insurance company than for a global banking giant. I think any logo that is so tightly coupled to a company that a 70 billion dollar merger can’t change it is a pretty successful logo.
In 2007, Citi re-branded itself and the umbrella became a free agent. Travelers, who now well understood the power of the logo, set off to reclaim their trusty red umbrella. The exact price for the transaction was never published but experts estimate it to be in the MILLIONS. I don’t think there can be greater proof of a logo being successful than the acquisition price being seven figures. But it was not just the insurance company who was excited to see the return of their long lost logo, but the city of Hartford as well. Hartford is commonly referred to as the insurance capital of the world and the city as always been closely associated to the logo. After reacquiring the logo, Travelers had a yearlong campaign built around the logo itself.
The umbrella is the perfect logo for an insurance company because it says everything that needs to be said without words: It will shelter you during a storm. I think this Travelers executive, who was quoted in the New York Times in 1964, said it best, “It illustrates the concept of protection, it is friendly, it is warm, and it is very merchandisable.”
Here is one commercial from the yearlong ad campagin: