When you hire graphic designers to create your company’s logo, what do you expect? Professional designs, culturally sensitive icons, creativity, and originality don’t sound like too big an ask. Unfortunately, these brands got more than they bargained for.
From graphic designer oversights and unprompted rebrands to conspiracy theories and racial overtones, we’ve seen a lot of weird, wacky, and downright disastrous logos in recent times. In this ranking, we’re going to condense down eight of the most controversial. Let’s get into the list.
20) Junior Jazz Dance Classes – Once you see it…
This infamous ad is one of the few on this list that came from a relatively unknown brand, but it’s simply too hilarious not to include.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who see a pair of high-spirited jazz enthusiasts performing a lively dance, we envy you. Inspect this logo closely, however, and you may just see something else entirely. Don’t believe me? Focus on the white space between the dancers. Once you see it, you’ll struggle to look away.
If there were a dictionary definition for design tunnel vision, this would be the accompanying illustration. The only reason this isn’t ranked higher is that Junior Jazz Dance Classes are small-scale compared to many of the other disastrous rebrands on this list.
Ah, well, at least this logo likely secured them some publicity. For better or for worse, it’ll be burned into our memories forever.
19) Arlington Pediatric Center – No elaboration needed
Okay, I’m taking it all back. Earlier, I said that Junior Jazz Dance Classes’ rebrand was the ultimate example of design tunnel vision. Now, I’m recanting that statement.
When Arlington Pediatric Center displayed their new logo on public signage back in 2009, it didn’t take long for commuters to point out that their ‘family-friendly’ icon could be taken the wrong way.
There’s no information about whether the company still uses the logo today, but considering every Google search of ‘Arlington Pediatric Center’ immediately leads you to images of the logo, I’m not sure a rebrand could save them.
18) The Institute of Oriental Studies – Seriously?
Here we go again.
This one is meant to be a pagoda in front of the sun, but most users see something entirely different. Need I say more?
The Brazilian University of Santa Catarina quickly realized its mistake and axed the logo before suffering any further ridicule.
17) Office of Government Commerce – Please make it stop
The UK’s Office of Government Commerce spent over £14,000 on its grand logo redesign back in 2008. Consumers were quick to point out its shortcomings.
The rebrand looks fine when viewed at the normal angle, but rotate the logo 90 degrees, and it’s an entirely different story. Add this one to the ‘unintendedly sexual’ category of terrible logos.
The government body stood by its new look, arguing that, while the logo could be misinterpreted, it is not inappropriate for an organization “looking to have a firm grip on Government spend”. Interpret that as you wish.
The OGC was closed in 2011. Sadly, their newfound hands-on approach to leadership did little to save them from budget cuts.
16) Hillary Clinton – Hospital: First exit on your right
Hillary makes a move in the right direction (Credit: Hillary for America)
Hillary Clinton’s 2015 campaign logo was supposed to symbolize progress. Sadly, internet users didn’t see it that way.
Some suggested the ‘red arrow’ logo was a veiled announcement that Clinton was making an unprecedented shift to the political right wing. Others simply thought it looked like directions to a nearby hospital.
Either way, the logo didn’t do Hillary any favors, with most agreeing the design was anything but inspiring.
15) University of California – Logo design pending
The University of California unveiled its new look logo in 2012. Sadly, this one didn’t receive top marks.
Whether you think it looks like a toilet seat or a loading icon (perhaps the real logo simply hasn’t loaded in yet), there’s no denying this redesign is abysmal.
Admittedly, this logo was only meant for communications materials, meaning it was never actually set to replace the trademark seal. Regardless, it was much too late. The university was embarrassed, and the logo was promptly axed.
14) BP – An oil titan goes ‘green’
When British Petroleum spent $200 million on its rebrand back in 2000, consumers could barely conceal their laughter.
The redesign was part of the oil company’s efforts to appear as an eco-conscious brand. But it would take more than a trendy new sun-shaped logo to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.
BP’s history of horrendous climate disasters is well-storied. From disastrous oil spills to fossil fuel fiascos, the oil giant has been doing its bit to make climate reversal as challenging as possible for over a century. Way to go!
With this in mind, it seemed almost fate that their new ‘green’ logo would come back to bite them. And it did, with thousands creating parodies to mock the brand’s efforts. Lousy luck, BP.
13) Corsair – Gaming logo or regrettable tattoo?
Gaming brand Corsair released its new logo to the public in 2014, removing the well-liked six flags icon in the process.
The company’s grand new idea featured two curved scimitars joined at the hilt. Unfortunately, most users thought the redesign looked more like a tattoo than a pair of interlocked swords.
Understandably, Corsair didn’t publicly acknowledge that the logo closely resembled a female lower back tattoo. They did, however, quietly discontinue the design in 2016.
12) The Premier League – Users roar about axed lion
Okay, I admit. This is the only redesign on this list that didn’t actually happen. But the controversy was genuine.
The Premier League’s iconic lion has been the brand’s much-loved mascot since 1992. Naturally, when passionate fans learned that the league planned to kill the nation’s favorite feline, they responded with furious anger.
Of course, everyone was wrong. The league unveiled its rebrand, and the lion remained front and center. It turns out the ‘news’ was fake all along. Oops. Terribly sorry about the bad publicity. Can I still get a season ticket for next year?
11) BT – Logo oversimplification at its worst
After years of development and countless delays, BT finally unveiled its monumental new logo back in 2019.
The result? A circle with the letters’ BT’ written inside—all one color. Generic, much?
Fans understandably mocked the rebrand, which replaced BT’s colorful globe icon.
But let’s take a different stance. Perhaps BT was actually an innovator, paving the way for inspiring brands like Elon Musk’s ‘X’ to hop on the one-color logo bandwagon.
Okay, probably not. But we’re trying to find some sort of silver lining here.
10) P&G – Bring out the tinfoil hats
What would a list of controversial logos be without a healthy dose of conspiracy?
Proctor and Gamble were ruthlessly attacked for years over their logo design, with some arguing that the image contained references to the Devil.
Conspirators pointed out what appeared to be an inverted ‘666’ in the beard of the company’s mascot. They also argued that the devil’s horns were visible at the upper and lower edges of the design.
I’m not one to point fingers, especially when it comes to the Antichrist, but this one seems a little tenuous.
Even so, P&G eventually removed the logo in 1991 amidst the Satanic Panic, replacing it with a much harder to misinterpret typographic logo. Phew. Better luck next time, Satan.
9) eBay – From 90s playfulness to corporate bore
When eBay gained popularity in the late 90s, part of the website’s appeal was its rough-around-the-edges aesthetic. This was a consumer-driven marketplace, after all. Using the auction felt fun, if a little wild west, and the logo at the time was the ideal advocate for this.
eBay’s rebrand in 2012 introduced a new, slimmer version of the logo, turning what was once a playful reflection of 90s culture into a corporate trademark. The redesign was a painful reminder to early internet users that the fun days of the web were well and truly behind them.
Hey, at least they didn’t take notes from BT. An all-black eBay logo would be a terrible idea, right? That said, it has been eleven years since the site’s last rebrand. Never say never.
8) Dirty Bird – They knew what they were doing
Dirty Bird’s catering company delivers food and beverages to music festivals in Wales. Unfortunately, the quality of the company’s refreshments is entirely overshadowed by their hilariously phallic logo.
The food van claims the logo is just a clever way to link together the ‘d’ and ‘b’ initials of the business name, with the two conveniently placed loops forming the feathery wings.
Naturally, consumers aren’t convinced, with many saying the logo is pornographic and absolutely not what you want to think about before you tuck into some delicious fried chicken. Controversy aside, props to Dirty Bird for keeping up the gag. Even today, the ‘rooster’ icon still stands tall as the company’s cocksure mascot.
7) Starbucks – Because you don’t need a name to be recognizable
When Starbucks realized how recognizable its brand had become by 2011, it unveiled a massive logo redesign, removing many of the elements consumers had grown to know and love.
The ‘Starbucks’ name was dropped, and the iconic siren was brought to the forefront. The logo shed its black highlights in favor of a simplified green and white duotone. Starbucks loyalists were incredibly frustrated, with many taking to Facebook to express how much they hated the new look.
Starbucks refused to cave under consumer pressure. The coffee giant still proudly stands behind its simplified siren today.
6) IHOP – Smiling face or mascot on the brink of insanity?
In 2015, IHOP changed its logo for the first time in over 20 years, introducing a strange red curve underneath the ‘o’ and ‘p’.
The new look logo was intended to resemble a smile, perhaps representing a consumer’s unshakeable happiness when biting into a stack of Original Buttermilk Pancakes.
Sadly, however, fans didn’t see it that way. Aside from being another example of unnecessary logo simplification, many remarked that the new icon more closely resembled a clown smiling through the pain than a happy consumer tucking into an IHOP lunch.
Sadly, the line made by the ‘p’ makes the mascot look like shedding a solitary tear. Perhaps this is exactly how IHOP’s graphic design team reacted when reading the horrendous reviews of their rebrand. Ouch.
5) Airbnb – It’s a sexual organ… It’s Peter Griffin’s chin… It’s Airbnb’s new logo!
This Airbnb logo took some serious heat from the public when it was released back in 2014, so much so that a Tumblr webpage was set up with the specific goal of mocking the disastrous redesign.
The insults were wide-ranging and diverse. Some users claimed the logo was a ripoff of Automation Anywhere’s logo. One Twitter user claimed the logo was an amazing feat of “how to resemble as many sexual organs at once as possible”. Some uniquely creative members of the design community even Photoshopped the new logo onto Peter Griffin’s iconic butt-chin.
Despite the backlash, Airbnb stuck by its logo, announcing that the company was prepared for the social media response and that controversy wasn’t new to them. They still use the logo to this day.
4) London 2012 – This one isn’t taking home the gold
When Wolff Olins unveiled its $400,000 Olympic logo in 2007, it didn’t take long for the negative reviews to roll in.
Many conspired that the logo was laden with hidden messages. Some claimed it resembled a swastika. Others labeled it as sexually suggestive (let’s hope they weren’t regulars at Arlington Pediatric Center).
Iran even threatened to boycott the Olympics, claiming the logo was a thinly-veiled pro-Israeli conspiracy because it spelled the word ‘Zion’, which, incidentally, looks somewhat similar to ‘2012’ when you rotate certain letters and stretch your imagination to its limits.
Naturally, the Olympic Committee stuck to their guns (you’d hope this were the case after the $400k price tag). And, as the Olympics finally rolled around in 2012, it seems most had forgotten about the cataclysmic logo unveiling just five years prior. I’m certain Wolff Olins’ design team breathed a collective sigh of relief.
3) Aunt Jemima – When small changes aren’t good enough
Missouri newspaper editor Chris L. Rutt unveiled his self-rising flour brand back in the late 1800s, naming his product after “Aunt Jemima”, a ballad performed by minstrel songwriters.
Over the years, the brand’s identity became synonymous with the racist “mammy” stereotype, a caricature that depicts black female slaves as cheerful housekeepers for white families.
Quaker Oats, the owner of the brand, made dozens of changes to the logo over the years in an attempt to lessen the controversy surrounding the logo. But nothing could detract from the fact that the company was founded on racial stereotypes.
Following decades of controversy, the Aunt Jemima brand was renamed to Pearl Milling Company back in 2021. Rejoice!
2) Gap – A lesson in unnecessary changes
When US clothing retailer Gap introduced its new million-dollar logo design back in 2010, the world was quick to remind them why unprompted, soulless company changes are poor business etiquette.
The new look Gap logo did away with the company’s iconic blue box in favor of an all-black font and strange bright blue gradient square next to the ‘p’. It all looked very vanilla, made infinitely worse by the questionable ‘Helvetica’ typeface, which doesn’t exactly scream ‘young target demographic’.
Thousands of users flocked to social media to tear the disastrous logo apart. Unsurprisingly, Gap quickly reversed the change. The new look logo lasted a grand total of six days before resigning. Gap CEO Marka Hansen promptly followed suit, leaving the company just four months later.
1) Cleveland Indians – Chief Wa-how could this one not take the top spot?
Beating out the competition by a narrow margin, the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo logo takes first prize.
Advocates have spoken out against the mascot for decades, arguing that the logo depicts an offensive caricature of a Native American character and, therefore, contributes to the mockery of American Indians.
Supporters of the Mascot, however, retorted that the character is simply a cartoon and not intended to offend anyone.
The Cleveland Indians eventually removed the logo design from all of their branding, changing their name to the Cleveland Guardians in the process.
Whether you’re for or against it, it’s undeniable the old Cleveland Indians logo was divisive. The fact that over 50 US senators and President Barack Obama voiced their support for the brand change tells the whole story. This logo has rightfully earned its place at the top of our list. It may just be the most controversial logo of all time.
Robert is an experienced marketing professional with extensive experience working with brands to refine go-to-market plans, SEO campaigns, and content marketing strategies. A committed writer with a keen eye on the latest developments, Robert specialises in producing content across all things tech and marketing.