"Swoosh" is the name of Nike's logo, perhaps the most successful logo in advertising history. The sign became so closely associated with the company, its products, and the ideals it wanted to associate with its products that in some Nike advertising campaigns there was no need to include the company's name.
The swoosh said it all.
Nike Culture: The Sign of the Swoosh is a book by Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson that discusses the evolution of Nike's global marketing strategies. According to that book, the swoosh's creator was a Portland State University art student who was paid $35 for her design, which the company's founder was not enthusiastic about. He wanted something more closely resembling the stripes on the sides of shoes from Puma and Adidas.
Goldman and Papson state the swoosh was initially "an empty vessel -- a visual marker that lacked any intrinsic meaning" (17). The swoosh's meanings came only through its repeated use in Nike messages, where it became associated with the ideals of "athletic excellence, a spirit of determination, hip authenticity, and playful self-awareness (1).
I do not know that they are right about the swoosh not having an intrinsic meaning. First, can any sign have intrinsic meaning? The meanings for all signs seem created by consensus, convention, and relationship to other signs. Second, I think the swoosh conveyed some meaning before it was deployed in Nike ad campaigns -- otherwise, why would Carolyn Davidson have created it? Nike founder Phil Knight told her that he wanted something to suggest "movement" and "speed," so she had some meanings in her mind when she created the swoosh.
Also, the swoosh looks like a check mark, which is a sign of approval, fulfillment, accomplishment, or success. And Nike is the Greek goddess of victory.
I think we can see echoes (conscious or not) of the swoosh in the recent designs of many cars -- cars from different classes and from different manufacturers. Somehow the inverted swoosh found its way into the automotive world's zeitgeist.
|Mercedes Benz CLC|
Look at new cars and you can see an inverted swoosh in the panels, starting at the front wheel and extending toward the rear wheel. When I drive on the freeways of Los Angeles, I see them everywhere on all kinds of cars -- Toyota Pruis, Mercedes Benz CLC, Ford Escape, Hyundai Elantra. The list is long, and I don't have room to show all of the design variations here.
But when you are driving the car you cannot see the auto swoosh. So how does it work to please the driver? First, the driver was a buyer. So the auto swoosh was seen on the road or in ads, and it gave the potential buyer positive associations about the car. Second, the auto swoosh suggests the smooth movement of air even when the car is parked. The driver can be reassured of the quality of the car when it rests outside of his/her home or work.
I think the auto swoosh can be decoded in this manner, and I have no larger point to make. I do not think there are hidden contradictions within this sign -- in semiotics we frequently look for such contradictions. But I do think it is interesting that so many different auto designers came up with this same decorative element.
I call it decorative because I do not see much aerodynamic benefit from this element on the panels (but then I am not an engineer). In theory, all cars should look exactly alike, in that there should be one ideal aerodynamic design. And there was a time when cars were all starting to look alike. Compare images of a Ford Taurus, a Toyota Camry, and a Honda Civic from 1995, for example. They all resembled each other, I believe, because their designers were all in pursuit of the same thing: aerodynamic design to improve gas mileage.
Since then, advances in engine and transmission technologies have given much larger fuel efficiencies than were being achieved with body shapes. So the designers became free to give autos more stylish flare. Interesting that so many have chosen the same flourish.