The “Big 4” Logo Audit

As I was stopped at a traffic signal on 16th Street, in Philadelphia, a few weeks ago, I noticed an illuminated KPMG logo on the side of a building. Four solid rectangles with an italic letter overlapping each in an uncomfortable way. It got me thinking about this category, and the brands within it.

KPMG along with Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (a.k.a the Big Four) represent serious global business. In 2011, they realized a combined annual revenue of $103.6 billion. Yes billion. Yet their brands are not conveying the same story.

According to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, “brand” refers to a group of complementary assets such as a trademark, visual representation, advertising, unique color, shape, package design, etc. Companies can, and do, recognize this as single asset on the balance sheet, and for many it accounts for 50%, or more, of total value.

So, I decided to explore how well the Big Four were doing with this valuable asset by critiquing a principal brand visual, the logo. I already shared my thoughts about KPMG’s logo…an uncomfortable design. I suppose each rectangle is meant to represent the founding fathers: Klynveld, Peat, Marwick, and Goerdeler because the shapes are solid and equal in weight. That was probably a good rationale for the agency selling the logo, but to me it misses the mark for a company of this stature.

Ernst & Young’s mark is reflective of a geometric puzzle of interlocking pieces. It offers a positive connotation because it feels organized and provides the sense of a good fit. This supports current CEO, James Turley’s, views in the 2011 annual report:

“We are focused on providing assurance and aligned services that truly fit together — in our eyes, in the eyes of our clients and in the eyes of our regulators.” He goes on to say: “But more importantly, our focus reinforces our confidence in the leading role we play in the world’s capital markets…” And that is what I dislike about the logo, the typeface feels dated. I do not get the sense they are a global leader. E&Y, you’re due for an upgrade.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, now branded as PwC. Okay, I am a little late to the party on this rebranding, but I disagree with the large majority of it, especially the logo. The font choice, lower case letters, and mark that can apparently morph into endless varieties seems like creative gone awry. The intention of the mark to adapt to its environment may indicate the three years spent on this re-branding project was simply too much time. And the color rationale? I ran across this in an article “The red color scheme was chosen in particular to stand for warmth, in a field of accounting logos which are almost always cold and blue.” Red with anything financial has never been good and never will be. Orange, okay. Red, no. This investment could have been much better.

Deloitte is the gold-star-winner of my critique. The logo is simple and clean. The green period is perfectly definitive. (I love that.) The letterforms are confident. It is understated compared to its competitors, but it delivers in a big way.