- On June 21, 2015
My neighborhood Equinox is being renovated, and the gym has posted a sign in the entry letting us know what one of the chain’s “most iconic sites” has in store for us.
Iconic is one of those words—unique is another—that gets applied way too liberally, particularly by overzealous brand marketers and real estate promoters. Not far from this Equinox location, an ad in my paper tells me, I could rent an apartment in which sunlight streams through iconic casement windows. Classic or vintage would be better words to describe those windows—and surely would be enough to get that apartment rented.
In business writing, iconic often can be replaced by recognizable, famous, popular, or established. I’m not sure what Equinox meant—popular, maybe. But I am pretty sure that if you are iconic, you are alone in that distinction (just like unique).
Burt’s Bees, a company that makes skin creams, lip glosses, and other cosmetic products, used the word in a reference to its packaging. “That little iconic yellow tube just kind of elicits a warm feeling from people,” is what a member of its marketing team said on the occasion of a new advertising campaign. I don’t think so.
If your brand does have the characteristics of an icon—that is, if it is an important and enduring symbol (that may well crop up in a history book)—let your audience think or say it of its own accord. I read a media pitch about the Girl Scouts’ “iconic” cookie program. My immediate thought was, “There it is again, that puffed up, chest-beating word.” Beloved would have been a more genuine way to describe the program.
Here, on the other hand, are what I think are some justified uses of icon and iconic:
- In a tribute to the late writer Maya Angelou: The celebrated poet and activist who rose from a childhood of poverty and abuse in Arkansas to become an American literary icon, died Wednesday in Winston-Salem, N.C, at age 86.
- In a news report about anti-Western sentiment in China: Multinational companies have also been placed in the cross hairs, especially iconic American brands that have been accused of charging too much (Starbucks), serving tainted meat (McDonald’s) or behaving like a monopoly (Microsoft).
- In an article about the sale of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City for $1.95 billion: The property will continue to be an iconic hotel even if it’s owned by a foreign entity.