Photo: University of California
The University of California has created outrage over the introduction of its new logo – a “U” filled in so that the top of it looks like the top of a woman’s strapless dress with a lower case spray-painted-style “c” resting at the bottom curve of the “U.”Since 1868 (144 years), the logo has been a dignified seal showing an open book with a star at the top back-lighting the book with the slogan “Let There Be Light” in a ribbon-like bookmark at the bottom of the book – all surrounded by the “University of California” and its founding date of 1868. I have two of these in gold foil on my two diplomas with Ronald Reagan’s signature on them (he was Governor of California at the time).
Stated reasons for the logo change.
The new logo was designed in-house to remake the image of the 10-campus University. Those responsible gave the following as reasons for the logo change:
- “Reinstate the system-wide seal’s authority and gravitas after years of casual, indiscriminate use.”
- “Create a coherent identity that would help us tell the UC story in an authentic, distinctive, memorable and thoughtful way.”
- “Project a forward looking spirit.”
Reactions to the logo change were swift and intense.
Students, alumni, professors, and staff almost universally condemned the logo change. They claim that the new logo does not look authentic, distinctive or dignified. And, they believe it does not properly represent the honour and dignity associated with the University, which has topped the list of Nobel Prize winners. In fact, there is a Facebook page devoted to stopping the logo change. There is also a petition that is being circulated that, as of this writing, contained over 45,000 signatures in support of reversing the change.
Why such a strong reaction to changing the logo?
A logo is a symbol of the relationship between a brand and its followers. It represents a shortcut to understanding and buying what the brand is selling. Changing the symbol changes this relationship and understanding. It takes people out of their comfort zone.
Neuroscience helps explain why.
Read Montague, a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine, scanned the brains of volunteers as they drank samples of cola. When the colas were not identified, there was no preference. When shown the Coca Cola logo, their brains showed a decided preference for Coke irrespective of the cola they were drinking.
Scientists have discovered that the brain takes short cuts when it processes information. The more it recognises a symbol with which it is comfortable, such as the logo of a preferred brand, the quicker it makes a decision with less anxiety. Making changes to this symbol disrupts the comfort zone. This is why the most loyal followers – the ones with the closest relationship with the brand – are often the ones that are most upset when organisations make changes to their logos.
Does this mean that logos should never be changed?
Of course, there are times when logos can, and should, be changed. However, there should be compelling reasons to make the change, and a significant segment of the target audience should feel that the new version is clearly better than the one it replaces. The following are 3 good reasons for changing a well-established logo.
- The image is damaged. It makes sense to change the logo (and name) if the company has had its reputation so deeply damaged that the customers’ perceptions are fundamentally altered. After the Florida Everglades plane crash, ValueJet became AirTran.
- The company’s business has fundamentally changed. If the business has shifted direction, the logo may no longer represent the right image. Nokia started out as a paper mill in 1865 along the Nokia river. They added rubber and other products along the way, with their first portable phone being introduced in 1984. As their business evolved, their logos changed to reflect this evolution.
- The logo has reproducibility problems. Apple’s early multi-coloured apple logos looked awful when copied. Their target audience also changed from the late ’70s and early ’80s when they only sold computers mainly to the education market. So their logo evolved into a single colour, high-tech-looking apple.
The wrong reasons for changing a logo.
Too often logos are changed because new executives want to make their mark on the company, they want to give the brand an updated look, or the company has a problem unrelated to its branding that they want to fix. I don’t know if this is the case with UC logo change, but it certainly was part of the reason the Gap attempted to change their logo but was forced by public reaction to retreat to the original design.
Logo change advocates should solicit feedback via social media.
If a logo change is something executives of an organisation feel compelled to do, they should first solicit feedback from their most loyal constituents. Social media affords organisations a quick and inexpensive way to receive input from the marketplace. Apparently, the UC logo changers did not do this to a sufficient degree. Ironically, they are paying the price by incurring the wrath of the UC faithful via social media. Twitter and Facebook lit up quickly with people demanding that the logo be changed back to the original. In our era of social media, organisations can – and should – obtain quick feedback from their most fervent fans about branding changes. Those that don’t consult fans risk eroding their bond with them. Even worse, they are likely to create an out-of-control negative “word-of-mouth” pyramid and publicity headache. The Gap listened. Too many others have not. Those that are outraged by the proposed UC logo change hope that the decision makers at the University of California feel their pain. All they want is for the classic and traditional logo to return to its rightful place and for the new impostor to die a quick and painful death.
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