, ,

The humble plus sign, usually the first mathematical operator children learn in math class, has taken on new and expanded meaning when applied in rebranding and marketing initiatives. Virtually every new content platform being streamed or broadcast, by famous names such as CNN, Disney, Apple, and BET, features a “+” at the end of the platform’s logo. Beyond these digital examples, existing brands are embracing the trend too; for example, Bausch & Lomb swapped out its long-standing ampersand for a plus sign, rebranding as Bausch + Lomb (still spoken the same way). Even some law firms have adopted this standard.

The rationale seems to reflect a desire to promise more, without being too specific about what that “more” entails. Rather than claiming to be a “premium” or “deluxe” version—which might raise consumer expectations of actual added benefits—these brands and the associated logos can offer a vague sense that there is more to be gained. The digital providers seem to want to signal a sort of unending, limitless amount of content. Sports fans might appreciate what ESPN offers, but the promise of ESPN+ seems to be that there is some infinite amount of games and sports reporting available for them.

Still, there are limits. The widespread use of the short, descriptive symbol can quickly become overuse, such that the plus adds nothing and becomes meaningless. A parallel, relatively recent example is likely familiar: For a few years, it seemed like every technology product stuck a lowercase i in front of its brand name. Ultimately, the affectation lost much meaning though.

Yet the symbolic form also might have more resonance today, reflecting the communication norms that predominate in a short messaging world. People typing out conversations on their mobile devices often seek easy shortcuts (“LOL,” “OMG,” emojis) that are clear and easy to understand. The plus sign effectively reflects such preferences, such that consumers know generally what it implies from the first glance. It communicates a clear message that requires little cognitive effort to understand and signals benefits, even if in a general sense. So maybe the plus is a plus, of benefit for more and more brands.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How would you interpret the plus sign added to a brand with which you’re familiar?
  2. Should brands consider their existing images before adding a plus sign? For example, is this addition more or less appropriate for a law firm versus an entertainment channel? Why?

Source: Neil Vigdor, “Many Pluses, Zero Minuses, Some Division,” The New York Times, December 23, 2021