Mimicry amongst fast-food restaurant logos

Over at Randomconnections.com they’ve come up with a fascinating theory that excites the relics of zoology still festering somewhere at the back of what The Ranger once liked to call his professional training. It goes like this. Look at this image:

American fast food logos

Spotted it yet? Randomconnections says:

Notice how all of these companies use shades of red and yellow in their logos? One might argue that Waffle House doesn’t really have red, but their buildings have red trim just below the roofline… One other one not visible above, but with the same color scheme is Pizza Hut. I have to wonder why all of these fast food and convenience centers use the same colors. Is there something about yellow and red that imply speed or quick service? Perhaps there is something even more basic going on here.

It’s an intriguing idea. They are suggesting that, just as animals and plants evolve to resemble each other for various reasons, so fast-food outlets might do the same – and for similar reasons. So, to take perhaps the best-known example, vespid wasps are yellow-and-black; thus predators learn that if you bite a yellow-and-black insect, you might well get stung. This means that if another, harmless, insect looks yellow-and-black too, they too might get eaten less often. This is known as Batesian mimicry. Similarly, a species that does sting might evolve to look like a wasp – that way, both species benefit as a predator that eats one will avoid the other too. So bees look pretty much like wasps in many ways, with similar warning colours, and this type of mimicry is called Müllerian mimicry. It’s a really great theory. Looking at the photo in the original article does show a remarkable similarity. But if this theory is to be tested, it needs to make a prediction. We’ll assume it’s the case that evolutionary pressures do act in such environments – that’s an assumption we won’t address here, in case some tedious sort starts on about intelligent design. As the original observer looked at US franchises The Ranger had an initial look at UK ones… only to find that the main players are more or less the same ones. Oh dear. Too late to study that one – perhaps the anthropologists will be able to do it retrospectively or something. So he turned his attention to an even more prominent sector of the retail market – supermarkets. Like fast-food shops, they are very competitive, and have very strong, all-pervading branding that is used on a huge variety of buildings, products and other stuff. Unlike fast-food shops, they are mainly of indigenous provenance rather than introduced from the US. Let’s consider some logos:

UK supermarket logos

Hmm… Curious. It almost seems as though the opposite ‘effect’ is in operation here. These logos could not be more different. Each one has a dominant pair of colours, except M&S (a retailer with a somewhat different market) with one, and of those eleven colours not one is repeated. What’s more, the typography is very different, and even the styles seem to vary from the gentle and comforting Somerfield to the brutalist no-nonsense Morrisons. So The Ranger judges that the hypothesis has not been confirmed – there is no convergent evolution of mimicry amongst retail brands. Do you agree? Interestingly, there is also the possibility that in this second sample, there was a divergent force at work. If so, it seems possible that it is the product of a force or process which also caused the convergence observed by Randomconnections.com. Like all good research, this suggests that more work is needed. Apply below with your best theories and observations, please! The Ranger found this via Boing Boing – let’s see more zoology in Boing Boing, eh?