GM's Renaissance Center headquarters shortly before the new sign was unveiled

The familiar blue-block General Motors logo that has adorned the automaker's headquarters, ads and websites for many years is down from the building, but not all the way out of existence.

GM dropped the old familiar logo from its Renaissance Center headquarters on November 18, ushering in a new era with its initial public offering of stock. The sign was replaced with a 625-foot LED electronic board that will show logos from the company's past. The sign was switched on as GM's stock began trading again on the New York Stock Exchange.

New GM logo on headquartersThe two-story blue-block GM log has also been stricken from the website. It does still live, however, on GM's media website, and on an internal GM site. GM spokesperson Pat Morrissey says that the ol' familiar blue-block GM logo that brought the automaker through the Jack Smith and Rick Wagoner eras, and through Pontiac Azteks and Saab 9-7Xs, will not disappear from GM's typographic life. "[Chief marketing officer] Joel Ewanick thought the building and website needed fresh looks, but we will not be getting rid of the familiar logo all together," says Morrissey.

GM has long been ambivalent about its corporate logo and brand. In 2009, the year GM went into bankruptcy, it dropped the GM logo from its vehicles. And it has steadily moved away from advertising GM as a brand on TV, radio and print. The irony, though, is that it did not change the trading ticker symbol from the old company. The company trades as GM on the NYSE. On the Toronto Stock Exchange, however, GM gave up the ticker symbol when it de-listed from the TSE in 2007. Now, it wants it back from Geo Minerals Ltd., which took the symbol, and is offering to buy it back from the mining company.

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There is a lot of recent history with regard to automaker logos and their buildings in Detroit. When Jacques Nasser took over at Ford in 1999, he took the Ford blue oval logo off the Dearborn headquarters building, and replaced it with the Ford Motor Co. script "trust-mark." That was to symbolize the fact that Ford was a diversified company, including European luxury brands, as well as the other businesses Nasser set about buying. Later, when William Clay Ford Jr. took over as CEO and wanted to refocus employees and the world on the idea that the Ford brand was the core of the company, he dropped the trust-mark and re-installed the Ford blue oval.

"This is historically one of those measures to try and change mood, like giving the front-porch a new coat of paint and hanging a wreath," says independent marketing consultant Dennis Keene, who advises companies on corporate image. "It is a good idea to do when you are making sweeping changes to a company and culture, which GM certainly has been doing." It is, however, a bit unusual for a company to employ several different graphic renditions of a corporate logo. "It's a signature for a company and a brand," says Keene. "I don't think it's a good idea to have so many different ones floating around... it looks like you can't make up your mind."

[Images: Paul Sancya/AP, Fabrizio Constantini/New York Times]

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