Thursday, May 30, 2013

Alcoa (1963)

The American aluminum giant Alcoa is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. In addition, it is the 50th anniversary of its corporate mark, introduced in 1963 when the company celebrated its 75th anniversary (are you with me?). The Alcoa mark is also notable as being one of Bass' early big clients after seriously moving into corporate identity design. Not only was "the Aluminum Company of America" a big company that sold just about anything that could be made from aluminum, it was also a very public brand that advertised nationally.

New trademarks introduced at this time were often simple and abstract, replacing cluttered old shields and seals. Not so this time, as Alcoa had already gone through this process in the mid-50s. At the time a firm known as Harley Earl Associates had designed a striking new mark consisting of two triangles. Unfortunately, the application wasn't as pure. The two triangles were typically enclosed by a rectangle with rounded corners with the brand mark, some additional text and, oh, a miniature version of the old shield symbol. In addition, it was potentially not unique enough to be trademarked.

One of many iterations of the previous Alcoa trademark.

Bass had worked with Alcoa before, designing a brochure a few years earlier. Alcoa was an avid sponsor on television programs in the 50s, and Saul Bass had designed the title sequence for one of those, drama series "Alcoa Premiere".

His mark was made up of triangles that formed a stylized letter A. The old mark was embedded inside it. He also created an entire typeface base on the logo-type. This program would also see a more stringent branding policy where the mark would only be used on Alcoa products and the full name was dropped.

The new symbol was unveiled in January 1963, although internal communication started in late 1962. This link will lead you to one of the earliest ads to feature the new mark.

The logo was given a slight retouch in 1999 as part of a new corporate identity program, created by Arnold Saks in New York.

Assorted Alcoa symbols used in the first half of the 20th century.

More images and more information on this project can be found in the great book Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design.

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