Ahhh… the power of a simple logo. As we all know, a logo is a symbol, sign or emblem used to convey a succinct message or identity about an organization. But never underestimate the power of a logo to create memorable associations and impressions about the company and the culture of the company it represents.
Yum Brands (the parent company of KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut) recently found out how powerful a logo symbol could be when they launched a test restaurant concept called the Banh Shop featuring a Vietnamese menu of banh mi, noodle salads, and wok bowls and a logo featuring a bright red communist star.
The test restaurant was launched in Dallas in an apparent strategy to capitalize on the city’s Asian community. Using the Vietnamese ‘banh mi’, which roughly translates as ‘bread’ or ‘sandwich’, it specializes in Asian street sandwiches. The Dallas area has the fourth-largest largest concentration of Vietnamese-Americans in the country behind Los Angeles, San Jose, California and Houston, Texas. The 2010 census put their numbers at nearly 72,000, or 5% of the country’s total.
But soon after its unveiling, the president of the Vietnamese-American Community of Greater Dallas started an online petition about the Banh Shop’s logo featuring the communist symbol, the red star. “We are hurt and offended by your chosen logo, a red star, which is a symbol of communism and will offend thousands of South Vietnamese refugees in my community,” Thanh Cung wrote. “The heavy majority of Vietnamese living in the Dallas area are political and religious refugees who fled Vietnam when North Vietnamese communist rule started in 1975.”
Apparently the executives and graphic design team didn’t realize how offensive the communist star still is to many of the Vietnamese refugees who were forced to flee their homeland during the Vietnam war.
Jonathan Blum, who heads public affairs and nutrition for Yum! Brands (YUM), reached out and apologized to Cung. “Effective immediately, we are changing the logo.” “The old logo will come off the store and website by the end of the day and a new logo will be up soon, he said.” “In hindsight, we should have known this could have been seen as offensive,” Blum continued.
“The red star in the logo is offensive to the thousands of Vietnamese Americans who have suffered from the Vietnamese Communist regime,” says Nikki Duong Koenig. One commenter on Facebook protested that the war happened decades ago and should be forgotten. But another offered a reminder of why the star was painful: “You’d be hurt, too, if a communist government waged war on your country, forced your family to flee for their lives with nothing in hand, and then renamed your capitol,” he posted.
“In branding, symbols express much about your company’s stance and I have to say this was a poorly developed logo by your company,” said Nam Bam, commenting on the restaurant’s Facebook page. Another Facebook user comments, “For Vietnamese Americans, the star represents something they don’t want to rekindle,” he says. “Changing the logo would respect people who don’t want to relive that past.” Another user simply adds, “That simple Red Star stands for the Communist Regime that seized power when the South Vietnamese government was defeated. That would be like opening a soul food restaurant where the logo was a guy in a white hood and flaming cross.”
The moral of the story? Try not to design a logo that offends the very people you hope will become your customers!