Arguably, the most important piece of an automobile’s styling is the name badge. It’s half of the model’s calling card and pays homage to the brand of origin. Car enthusiasts might refer to it simply as the model name (the Corvette, the Mustang, and the Beetle, to name a few), but lineage is just as crucial to a vehicle’s pedigree. No other automotive manufacturer can lay claim to these specific monikers, except for the one who birthed the version itself.

Do you know what kind of car you drive? Who is the major manufacturer — that is, whose badge adorns the hood or grille of your car?

Most drivers only know the type of car they drive because when, “Will the driver of the purple Honda minivan please move it immediately?” comes over the intercom, they want to make sure their investment isn’t in trouble. Because that’s really what the vehicle itself stands for — a large sum of money that serves a purpose.

So, while automotive manufacturers might be selling you rather high-priced forms of transportation, do you really pay attention to all the branding and marketing they do? Or can their logo do the job for them? Fast food restaurants, coffee companies, and even electronic enterprises have all achieved this level of branding — so why not automotive giants as well?

What is the Value of a Name Badge?

Really, we only need to take a look at the stickers adorning various cars on the road to realize cars, like our houses, are a status symbol. Whether we admit it or not is a different tale. Boasts of “My child is an honor student” and “I attended [fill in the blank] University” are just a few of the many associations drivers link to their vehicle. Driver aside, however, what do the cars themselves portray in the minds of society?

To explore this further, let’s consider the value of a name badge. While there is, of course, a true dollar value associated with badges, for those who need to replace said accessories, what does driving a [insert car company here] mean?

Name badges are a way for automotive manufacturers to claim ownership. It’s a bit like going to McDonald’s or Burger King and ordering something off the menu. Most people know that McDonald’s is known for the Big Mac and Burger King for the Whopper. But did you know that you can order tacos from Burger King?

Take any big name in the automotive industry and you can repeat the same process. Honda’s most notable industrious car is arguably the Civic. But the foreign manufacturer also makes the CR-V and Pilot. If you own either of these SUVs, you may not be driving the (Big) Mac daddy of the Honda lineup, but you’re still ordering from the same place.

To break it down simply, a name badge defines a set of values. These correspond with the various automotive brands out there. Whether you know the parent company or not, most drivers can list certain aspects most generally associated with a manufacturer. For example, Honda produces affordable and reliable cars that aren’t necessarily the most luxurious model on the market. However, Mercedes-Benz excels when it comes to luxury — for those willing to pay a hefty sum for it.

Let’s bring it back to the fast food chains we discussed. Customers who choose McDonald’s or Burger King most likely prefer the experience of one over the other. Ask any driver out there about a specific auto badge name and they’re most likely going to give you a few characteristics they associate with the brand. That’s just a sampling of the value of that particular badge.

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Badges vs. Brands

Okay, so we’ve established that automotive badges link a model to the parent company, and therefore by extension to a set of characteristics most widely associated with that particular brand. But do brands and logos mean the exact same thing?

Allow us to introduce Buick. Sole surviving sibling to Oldsmobile, Buick is a brand that knows its customer base. In fact, watch any recent Buick commercial and you’ll see their marketers playing on the very fact that most consumers associate the brand with, shall we say, the older and wiser generation. Ask any driver of a Buick and they’ll probably tell you many people have asked them if the car was a hand-me-down from their grandparents.

However, more recently than these commercials, Buick has also made another risky move in redefining their image. Rather than boasting the manufacturer’s name on the model itself, they’re opting to do away with the five-letter signature all together. Well, at least on the cars themselves. Rather than branding the car’s hindquarters, Buick is choosing to take a leaf from Starbucks’ book and roll forward with only the tri-shield logo.

Now, think about it for a minute. If someone says they drive a Buick, your mind automatically pulls up a few associations. But if they point to a stylish vehicle out in the parking lot and you only happen to see the three shields upon further inspection, well, Buick marketers are hoping you’ll be less likely to dismiss the brand and more prone to reconsidering the pre-judgments you’ve already got established.

Whether that’s a successful marketing strategy has yet to be seen. Because in the automotive industry, only the dead stand still.

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Turn of the Generation or Simply Transportation?

What spurs this drive towards rebranding, at least in the automotive sphere? Is it the desire to change the face of a company before it gets trampled beneath progress’ firm forward step? Are up-and-coming generations less concerned with badges and more focused upon being green? Or is it all just a last-ditch effort before drivers are removed from the front seat for good, to be replaced by technological advancements? Amidst the changes, it’s hard to pinpoint a source.

At the same time, it doesn’t take too keen an eye to realize that the times of Henry Ford and the Dodge brothers are long gone. Not convinced? Try changing your own oil on a car newer than 2010. Wrenching on a car nowadays requires special training and we’re not talking about the kind mechanics certify in. Technology is quickly swallowing whatever MacGyver techniques Average Joes relied on in the past.

What do you think? Will automotive badges disappear, like they have in most of Europe? Or will the desire to make one’s status known to all prevail?

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Rebecca Henderson has a Master's in German and a Bachelor's in Creative Writing. She alternates her time between writing and working on a variety of motorized projects. Most recently, she and her boyfriend have been building a custom drift trike. Rebecca believes that language, love, and a life worth living are only the first ingredients to happiness.