Sherwin Williams: time for a new logo

by Caroline Brown

Today it’s time for my semi-regular Way Off Topic post, where I get to rant about a topic that has nothing to do with gardening or farming. My husband spotted the Sherwin Williams logo on a paint truck the other day and brought it to my attention. Oh my. This is a public relations nightmare. Who was the marketing genius that had this terrible idea? What are they trying to imply exactly?

A little research turned up some of the answers. According to the SW website, the “Cover the Earth” logo was originally created by SW’s one-man advertising department in the 1890s. It was patented and first used by the company in 1906. It’s stunning to me that the logo is that old, because I’ve never noticed it before.

In 1906, there was little, if any, government regulation of U.S. industry and corporations. There was no 40-hour work week, paid vacations, or minimum wage. (Those came in the the 30s, thanks to labor unions & Democrats.) Companies routinely polluted the air, water, and people by putting things like lead in paint products.

To me, that mentality is exactly what the 100-year-old SW logo symbolizes.

I don’t mean to imply that corporations today are perfect, but they have cleaned up their act since 1906. Not because of some sense of fair play, mind you…they’ve had to, due to government regulations. And too, consumers have developed a sense of environmentalism and a love of nature. We still don’t fully know (or care) about all of the environmental damage done by corporations with their synthetic chemicals, manufacturing processes, and unfair global trade, pricing, and employment practices. In many ways, we’re still just gorillas with wallets, but at least we understand that polluting the earth and poisoning humans just to make a buck is wrong.

SW is very proud of its history–their company was founded in 1866. Although on their cute little animated timeline, I didn’t see any mention about lead paint and all the people that have been poisoned by it and are still being poisoned by it today in areas with primarily older housing stock, like New England.

I should explain that in Rhode Island, a jury recently decided that four paint companies, including Sherwin Williams, were liable for the state’s tremendous lead paint problem. Even though lead paint was banned in 1978, most houses here are much older than that. My own house is nearly 200 years old. Never having lived in an area where lead paint was a problem before, my husband and foolishly stripped a lot of old paint without realizing the hazards. (Hey, what’s this shiny silver powder that won’t dissolve?) So it kind of blows my mind that SW would allow trucks with the Cover the Earth logo to drive around in Rhode Island.

I guess they have some kind of sentimental & historical attachment to it. But it seems kind of perverse, sinister, and frankly, ridiculous in this day and age. It’s time for them to stop covering the earth and get a new logo.

UPDATE JULY 2006: For more information on the Sherwin Williams logo, see here and here at the blog Yellow Subterfuge.

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21 Responses to “Sherwin Williams: time for a new logo”

  1. What amazes me most about the logo is that it implies the earth isn’t good enough, and that our planet is something to be paved over, in this case with a thick coat of paint. “Paint is better than the earth itself” this logo is telling us. Now that’s marketing. Talk about industrial revolution hubris. Left to their own devices, SW is telling us they’d steamroll this place if they could – the whole ugly blue and green earth with a nice coat of “lead red.”

    Really, I could see this logo existing behind closed doors as a vision from the sales team inside SW trying to increase profits – but to face this outward to the public as the company logo is amazing. I simply cannot believe the logo has existed as long as it has, given how bad it is. Worse, SW still profits from their anti-earth vision.

  2. “Color Your World” would be much better, but that thick paint dripping down to the South Pole has got to go. SW should take a lesson from Quaker Oats, who finally helped Aunt Jemima lose her bandana kerchief as well as about 75 pounds. Now she’s sporting a mod hairdo and pearl earrings. The logo began to be criticized in the 50s and 60s, during the civil rights movement. Odd that SW hasn’t received environmental criticism in today’s world. Or maybe they have but just haven’t done anything about it?

  3. Curt — you are a commie pinko environmentalist…. 🙂
    Kim — I can’t understand it either! Maybe they haven’t heard any protests–nobody writing them letters or complaining. But if you google “Sherwin Williams logo”, you can see lots of blog posts like mine. And from the perspective of a former PR person, I can’t believe that it hasn’t occurred to their PR people that this is a PR disaster waiting to happen.

  4. Does focusing on such a trivial and superficial aspect of a company’s corporate policies seem a wise investment of time? The symbol and the company are over one hundred years old. They have a right to acknowledge that history. Perhaps your time would better be spent focusing on real issues like the actual environmental policies of the company or the government than it it is railing about such a cosmetic issue.

  5. Robert, thanks for visiting my site. Two things, first of all–I disagree that it's trival and superficial. A company's logo is how they represent themselves to the world and their customers. It's what they want people to remember about them. When a company is responsible for poisoning thousands…THOUSANDS of people, most of them children…because they put lead in their products for a hundred years, and they have such an egregious logo, then yes…it's fair game to complain about it and frankly, to wonder about their motives.

    It sounds like you're not bothered much by symbols (either that or you work for SW). But I am. I don't like the Confederate flag for example, or anything that it stands for. (Now don't go and jump on me for comparing the SW logo to the Confederate flag. The Stars & Bars is much worse, obviously…I'm just giving an example.) I'm originally from the South and I have relatives that fought and died on the wrong side. But I want nothing to do with that flag, and furthermore, I look askance at people that do embrace it because I wonder about their motives, their beliefs, and their lack of sensitivity towards others. That's how I feel about the SW logo as well. You said I should write about the company's environmental policies…I actually believe that their logo speaks volumes about their environmental policies.

    Second of all–One of the primary cornerstones of blogging is that it's my blog & it's my time, so I pretty much get to write about whatever I want. I certainly don't mind if you (or others) don't read or respond to it, so if you don't think a topic is important, then by all means don't waste your time on it.

  6. A struggle for identity…?
    I use Sherwin-Williams brand paints exclusively in my business – because of their commitment to developing environmentally sustainable products, manufacturing processes and their socially responsible business practices all while producing superior product performance and customer service. The Sherwin-Williams Company provides a wide range of Low-VOC water based products. As for the uninformed – lead paint martyrs – as I recall lead based products were the norm when I was growing up – leaded gas, toys, paint, etc… I can’t be certain but I’m pretty sure that there were a few more gallons of leaded gas sold than paint. However, who would dare stand up to the oil industries? THEY should be the focus of your scrutiny.
    As for the logo – I like it!

  7. I hate the oil companies too, make no mistake about it. I'm sure you'll see future rants about them. SW is not so environmentally golden as their marketing materials to their business customers and home consumers would lead you to believe. I'm glad they have low-VOC paints, they are to be commended. But they also have created major brownfield (contaminated) sites at their plants all over the country. They've settled lawsuits for millions with the EPA. And you're right…lead paint products were the norm "back then." But that doesn't mean the paint companies shouldn't be held responsible…just like the tobacco companies are.

  8. While I really don’t feel that this logo deserves to be protested, I do have to wonder why SW would continue it’s use in this day and age.

    I just recently saw a couple of their commercials, and the first thought that came to mind was “Eco-disaster, ewwww”! It’s kind of like if Exxon were to replace their logo of a smiling, almost “cereal box” like tiger, with one of same tiger laying in a spilled pool of oil while weeping and gasping it’s last breaths of life.

    In the end, I think this logo only serves to hurt the company itself.

  9. Caroline,
    The SW logo has bothered me for quite some time now and I was wondering if it bothered anyone else. So I Googled the question, and your site came up.

    In this environmentally conscious society, and with the ever increasing push to be politically correct, the logo is simply out of date. Many other companies have seen fit to make their logos PC, such as Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima. It seems that the marketing executives at SW would pick up on the fact that almost the whole nation is getting very excited about going Green, not Red, especially Red that prevents the earth from ‘breathing’. Oh well, some day we may see a redesigned log0. Thanks for writing about it.

  10. Caroline,

    I’m not sure who you are or what this website is all about, I simply stumbled upon while looking for a SW logo to print off. I think you should know that Sherwin-Williams was the first major paint company to stop making lead paint. They did decades before the federal government passed legislation that made it illegal . Sherwin-Williams is also the leading innovator in making low voc and “green” paints. The logo is actually the fourth most recognizable logo in the world and that is why is not dropped. People like the logo and have for years, nd I do not see that changing in the near future. And to lump them into the same category as a tobacco is ignorant. The tobacco companies continue to make a product that is hazardous to your health, while Sherwin-Williams stopped making lead paint 60 years ago.

  11. John, So what if they stopped making the lead paint first–what difference does that make when it’s still all over people’s houses and they’re still being poisoned by it? What’s ignorant is that people like you don’t expect them to make reparations to those that have been harmed by lead paint and to clean up their mess.

  12. Many corporations have changed their logos in order to reflect changing times. Let us hope that Sherwin Williams does the same. Although the logo is part of their history, it seems to represent a rather environmentally negligent policy. Evolve or become extinct.

  13. Interesting post (not least because it’s garnered comments for almost a whole year now).

    Although I have no way of knowing where the lead contamination in my yard came from (it’s on a former industrial tannery site), the house is 75 years old, and paint has to be some of it.

    Lead contamination in soils is quite serious; when I had the soil tested the report came back as ‘heavy contamination’, I was advised to wear breathing protection when working the soil, and I was told when I called the soil scientist that the ppm level was so high that we’d have to get a hazardous waste permit if we ever got the bright idea to truck off the topsoil and have it replaced.

    Naturally, we haven’t done that, but at the same time, that prevents me having a vegetable garden unless I container garden on the deck.

    There are lots of houses in the area and many of them have children who play in their yards. I’m not sure the parents even know, because who gets a soil test unless they’re going to garden?

  14. Caroline,

    It seems you are part of the problem with lead-based paint. Parents need to either start watching their kids so they aren’t eating the paint (because it is mint flavored) or taking care of the problem (repainting their home).

    If there is paint falling off the wall, there obviously a problem! It is only harmful if it is consumed or inhaled continuously following abrasion.

    Contrary to what you read or believe, Sherwin-Williams isn’t paying anybody anything. Stop looking to someone else solve (pay for) your problems.

  15. Jack–I don’t have kids! You might find it hard to believe (or understand) but I actually care about other people besides myself. See? I didn’t expect you to understand.

  16. I think that you will find that Sherwin Williams is one of the industry leaders in “Green” solutions when it comes to paint coatings. Limiting the amount of pollution and harmful side effects commonly associated with paints.

  17. so what about thier green efforts, the logo is lame and it drives my wife and I crazy – and anyone else that I point it out to.

  18. Green efforts? What about cleanup of polluted paint factory sites (several Superfund sites), and continuing to produce & sell lead paint long after they knew it was poisonous. What about owning up to all the damage created by lead paint and compensating its victims. Yeah, real green.
    http://www.greens.org/s-r/41/41-05.html

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