One of the most fascinating and creative professions at the moment, carried on by those who create and keep flourishing brands like Nestlé, Mercedes, Google, was born with a very concrete, down-to-earth, utilitarian purpose: distinguishing a cow or a horse from the animals of the competing breeding farms.
As it often happens in history, technology has given new impulses to creativity. When photography was born, desperate landscape painters thought that their art had come to an end but soon after found new creative solutions, and the following century saw great experimentation as never seen before.

With the correct proportions, brand designers are now facing a new, though only slightly innovative, technique, which will open a new season of creativity in the field of branding on animals: chemical branding.
As you can imagine, fire branding creates a scar and is definitely painful. Brand shapes must be simple because you cannot expect that an animal weighing 400 Kilos stays still when it is about to be inflicted with a strong pain.
Chemical (‘cold’) branding selectively destroys the pigment-producing cells of skin and hair.
Freeze branding is relatively painless and is as effective as hot branding. After 6-10 weeks from the application of cold branding, any white hair growth will make the brand visible.

Jörg and Christine Aurich of The University of Veterinary Medicine of Wien presented a study on “The Veterinary Journal” which contributed to bury hot branding technique for good and to support chemical branding, also according to the European legislation which foresees a microchip for each animal, therefore making the visible branding of the animal unnecessary.
In the first place, the passage to chemical branding wasn’t well accepted by the old-fashioned breeders who loved baking their beloved animals’ backsides. In Germany, count Breido zu Rantzau, President of the Deutsche Reiterliche Vereinigung, the exclusive German equestrian association, in an article featured on the “Sueddeutsche Zeitung” declared that “if well branded, a horse is more marketable” and “only the brand identifies one breeding farm from another or a breed from another. So it has always been, and so it must remain”. Finally, last May the German government banished the hot branding of horses.

The practice of cattle branding has given us epic scenes in western films. Cowboys riding their horses at very high speed stopped the calf with the lasso to impress the brand. Soon after the poor animal was set free, full of pain.
The origin of modern branding goes back to the conquering of America by the Spanish, who brought to the new continent their astonishing and highly complex brands, whose charm derived from ancient European lineages; symbols that with the time had become difficult to interpret and that represented the history of a continent which had developed by accumulation.

The first American breeders wanted basic and easy to remember designs. Like their successors, the main idea is that of a first visual impact which must be easy and effective, without leaving attention to a nonexistent historical background. Very charming is the brand of the rising sun, represented with an opened semicircle at its basis, and 5 concentric bars to the exterior.
Form these early beliefs derive some rules which are still valid nowadays. The brand can be made of letters, numbers, or designs. Letters (see picture) can be used alone, together or combined: they can be horizontal (1), lied down (2), connected (3), combined (4), overturned (5), or hanged one under the other (6). Designs and numbers can be used in the same way as letters. In some cases, there are images alone. Three rules are respected when reading a brand: a) reading from left to right, b) reading from top to bottom, c) when a brand is delimited in a form, it must be read from the extern to the intern.

Nowadays, a commercial or public brand can be made out of a graphic sign (Nike’s “whisker”), a sequence of letters (ABB) or a sequence of letters that create a real or newly invented word (Novartis).
With time, symbols that inherit the significance of the represented object have turned into more elaborate forms. Brands-pictograms become brands-ideograms, where they acquire the chance not only to represent reality but also abstract concepts. The ladder of Yeguada de la Escalera (see picture) is a brand-pictogram which immediately resembles the significance of the name. The symbol of pacifism (“make love not war”) and the symbol of the fight against Aids are brands ideograms because they hint to concepts.
The ladder is not an ordinary sign, at a first glance it could only describe the stud farm, but at a deeper analysis it is able to connect the viewer to certain values that are commonly related to that brand.
In the history of writing, the long passage from ideograms to alphabet met a time in which different meanings were given to the same sign. The sun, for instance, could mean light, day, clearness.

That wasn’t an easily understandable technique, so much that the Egyptians had to dig into their wide equipment of more than 3000 signs. A real puzzle, such as those featured on “La Settimana Enigmistica” that rebus lovers know very well.
Between the end of 19th century and the beginning of the past century, some of the most renowned brands which utilize letters in the graphic design were born: Coca Cola by Frank Robinson (1895), AEG by Franz Schwechten (1896) then revisited in the actual form by Peter Behrens (1914), and Ford (1903). The first one “tells about” the main ingredient of the soft drink (Cola), the second one contracts the name “Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft” and the third one is the surname of the founder.
The trend lasts for a long time, so that in the post-World War II era some graphic designers became worldly known, launching brands made only by letters, such as Max Huber: Rinascente, Esselunga.

Later on, a funny and sadly disappeared technique of reproduction of characters entertained generations of graphic designers: the “Letraset”. Letraset were sheets of typefaces and other artwork elements that could be transferred to artwork being prepared. Once the character and the format were chosen, the graphic designer transferred from the sheet Letraset to the paper the pre-printed sign, creating brands made out of letters. The use of letters is a fascinating subject for brand inventors. The market teaches us that letters are still today fundamental elements to identify a product or a company. In fact, among the 100 most famous brands in the world, only 4 do not need letters to be recognized. They are Nike, Apple, Audi, and Shell.

Read the published version in Italian here