Why the ampersand is having a moment…
The ampersand is back on the branding scene in a big way, used in logos, rebrands and creative communications. Its form is inviting and reassuring, shaped like a person sitting by a window with their arms wrapped around their knees for comfort. The symbol itself has been around since the first century AD, when scribes wrote in Latin cursive. It comes from the Latin word “et,” which means “and.” Linking the letters “e” and “t” created the ampersand. So, why is there now a modern obsession with this ancient symbol? Let’s have a look & see how the ampersand can help your branding efforts.
1. The ampersand was built for the digital world.
Our digital age demands succinctness and simplicity, and the ampersand provides just that. Simply put, space is a premium in all forms of marketing, especially digital, and an “&” takes up less room than the word “and.” In addition, using a single character in place of a word helps create a message that’s more direct and reads faster. The bottom line is clear communication is always the goal in marketing, so the brevity and recognizability of the ampersand makes it a strong brand builder.
The ampersand also stands out in digital. When you combine its familiarity with its warm and fuzzy form factor, it brings a sense of humanity and softness to a cold, hard digital world. Johnson & Johnson stated that the updated ampersand “now presents itself as a more globally recognizable symbol and represents the openness of the brand, as well as the connections that bring the company’s purpose to life.”
Despite its popularity, the ampersand grapples with the digital dilemma of URL integration, notes Scott Tannen, CEO of Boll & Branch. So, there’s still some challenges brands face when employing the ampersand into the digital marketplace.
2. The ampersand offers a respite in a sea of brand names and logos.
With its historic roots and ubiquitous presence over the decades, the ampersand offers a touch of timeless elegance. In fact, the ampersand was once considered the 27th letter of the alphabet. And many of the world’s most recognizable brands are tethered to the ampersand, including AT&T, H&M, H&R Block and M&M’s.
In the business world, the ampersand has an uncommon status. It’s the typographical equivalent of a wedding ring, used to mark permanent partnerships, like Marks & Spencer, Johnson & Johnson, Barnes & Noble and Ben & Jerry’s. In a world of fragmentation, disruption and obsoletion, an ampersand helps signify quality, authenticity and reliability.
Another benefit of the ampersand’s distinctive form is how it aids recall, allowing brands new and old to stand out from the pack. It also offers a sense of balance that is comforting. It balances tradition with modernity. It balances aesthetic with utility. And it balances creativity with clarity.
3. Designers love this alphabetic icon.
Designers thrive on versatility, an there are no rules on what an ampersand has to look like. “The ampersand is the one glyph where type designers are able to let loose and be a little more creative,” says Jeremiah Shoaf, a freelance designer and the editor of Typewolf, a popular blog about typefaces. Some of this versatility has to do with size – ampersands are usually only used for display type, which is the large, eye-catching type used in headlines, logos, billboards, signage, etc. So, the ampersand can be more ornate and unusual, even in fonts that are primarily designed for text.
German designer Erik Spiekermann creates popular typefaces that feature ampersands. He suggests the reason he loves ampersands is because their shape appeals to his love of mathematics and order. “I like designing them because I like designing figures, and the ampersand is like an 8 with bits added,” he says. Spiekermann has an unusual way of drawing ampersands when he writes, creating a character that looks like a stylized “@” symbol. He feels the shape and fluidity of the ampersand gives designers a lot of opportunity to play around and experiment.
The ampersand’s versatility and adaptability make it a designer’s muse and a strategist’s secret weapon. More than a bridge between words, the ampersand can be a canvas of expression, reflecting a brand’s ethos, values and character. Designers for companies like Good & Gather, Bowl & Basket and Vine & Cellar have all leveraged the ampersand to build strong brands.
The ampersand isn’t just having a moment. After nearly 2000 years of use, it’s safe to say it’s here to stay. It was invented in an age of ink and paper, but its simplicity and brevity make it perfectly suited for the digital age. It stands out as a symbol of continuity and timelessness in our fragmented, fast-changing world. And it offers designers and companies numerous ways to bring to life a big brand idea in a small (often digital) space, as well as in display advertising. So, when you’re looking for ways to build your brand, consider the mighty ampersand & see how much it can do for your marketing efforts.
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