Change is good, right?
So why do so many people blindly hate it?
I’ve found myself wondering this a lot lately. As a strategic copywriter who works at a design firm in the marketing industry, in many ways, what I do, what the studio does, is all about change: creating, developing, evolving, transitioning, reworking and re-branding.
Of course, we don’t advocate change for change’s sake. Before any institution re-brands or re-positions itself, it absolutely must strategize. Assess who it is and who it aspires to be. Determine how it can move forward while remaining true to its core character. That’s what we’re in the business of doing: we help colleges, schools and non-profit organizations put into words who they are, where they are and where they want to go. Then we help them get there. Change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process—and usually a well thought-out, strategically timed one.
Yet not many people seem to understand the thought that goes into change. And instead of trying to understand it, they react with, well, blind hatred.
Take, for example, the recent Gap logo controversy. After 20 years of three letters in a blue box, Gap dared to change its logo. It moved its wordmark out of the box (literally), changed the serif font to a sans serif, and tacked a small blue box onto the upper-right-hand corner of its name—staying true to its roots yet moving the brand forward.
People responded to the new look with a firestorm of criticism: the new logo was ugly, horrible, offensive, old-fashioned, too trendy, etc.
This response confounded me for many reasons:
- As someone who buys most of her clothes at the Gap and has since 1992, there isn’t much the Gap could do, save for harming puppies, to inspire that level of hatred in me.
- There are plenty of logos out there that are uglier than the Gap’s new one.
To my mind, this extreme backlash wasn’t really about the Gap or the use of Helvetica or the “heinous” nature of the new look. It was about change.
Even well-executed new brands—brands that have been researched and tested, brands that reflect the character of the organization, brands that are just plain cool—are met with resistance.
In October, Purdue University unveiled its new brand campaign and slogan, “Makers, All.” The new slogan refers to the athletic nickname for the university’s football team, the Boilermakers, and invokes the university’s well-known engineering program. According to Teri Lucie Thompson, Purdue’s vice president for marketing and media, the new strategy is “truly unique to Purdue,” embracing “the university’s strengths—energy, optimism, enthusiasm, curiosity and reliability—while staying grounded in the historic Boilermaker reputation.”
Purdue based this change on extensive research, including interviews, focus groups and surveys of more than 5,000 students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, prospective students, corporate partners and state legislators.
Like the Gap, however, Purdue endured criticism, particularly on Facebook, where for every one person who gave the new campaign a thumbs-up, two or three people vocalized their distaste (“Can’t believe you spent money on this crap!” “Stupid!” “Big dislike!”).
Yet while the Gap surrendered to negative feedback and reinstated its old logo, Purdue has moved forward with its brand as a means to attract the right kind of students to the university.
While I know that backlash is part of the re-branding process—no brand will please all people all of the time—I can’t help but marvel at the power of the knee-jerk reaction, the strength of our collective resistance to change. Then again, as in the case of Purdue vs. Gap, a negative response is only as influential as you allow it to be.
If your college, university or independent school has market research, strategy and confidence on its side, it will be able to make the case for its new brand—no matter the resistance—and achieve its desired effect.
Have you been through a re-branding process at your institution? Please share your branding trauma stories (or happy stories—we like those, too) below.