UH's Branding Project?

The Story

Branding? I'm glad you asked. Here is a fine example of how to spend money on a non-essential item, probably alienate a fair portion of the UH community, and most likely have it all come to naught in the end.

The new UH administration team decided that one problem with the UH was that the more than two hundred different logos employed by the (many) more than two hundred units in the system created a "brand recognition problem". The plain solution is to mandate one logo to be used by and for all. Departments were warned that they would have to change their stationery, even throwing-out obsoleted stocks. (Never mind that no one has a clear view of what the "UH Brand" is. Never mind that it may be good to recognize and differentiate functional units within the large and diverse system. Never mind that stocks on hand were already bought and paid-for with taxpayer money. Never mind that the need for the change is not clear. Set all of that aside and consider the execution.)

The branding project seems to be a major part of what VP for External Affairs and University Relations, Paul Costello (salary?), and his sub-altern, Phil Kinnicutt, Director of Marketing and Brand Management (salary?), over-seeing the project, have been doing for the past year. Costello described the project to the Manoa Faculty Senate in the Fall of 2002. At that time, he showed a video clip of the TV advertisement recently running on local television for the system. Apparently, there is enough value in showing this clip in the local market that it had to be gotten on the air before the logo was picked. Presumably it will be re-worked to gain synergy with the new logo. Costs on the order of $500,000 for the year's advertising were mentioned, if memory serves.

The 5 March 2003 edition of the Honolulu Weekly ran a story on the about-to-be-chosen new logo. The candidates were designed by Robert Rytter and Associates of Baltimore, MD for $81,000. Brand Strategy Group in Honolulu is being paid another $54,000 for its role in managing the project. Honolulu advertising firm Starr Seigle is also under contract on the project.

The HW story indicates mixed reviews of the as yet un-revealed candidates. The descriptions from those seeing several pre-views did not sound attractive, but the community was kept in suspense until late April. When the propsective logos were revealed, public response was swift and strongly negative.

In the face of public displeasure at the choice between two logos, "Wave" and "Spectrum", UH President Evan Dobelle pulled the choice back from the BOR, indicating that the university would work further with Robert Rytter and Associates to create a logo that meets with more public acceptance (Hon Adertiser 1 May 2003). The article quotes Dobelle as indicating that the choice of Rytter was akin to doing a national search for a high profile dean or coach, the implication being that insufficient design talent was available locally.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin publicized an online petition against the new logos and ran a contest in which readers could submit their alternative designs (HSB 29Apr2003). A selection of twenty-five logos were offered for public selection in the Sunday 4 May 2003 edition of the paper. Any of the top three designs selected by this process (HSB 11 May 2003) would be a more acceptable choice than those offered by Robert Rytter and Associates. [Incidentally, the HSB contest offered a $50 dining certificate by random drawing among contestants as its "fee", and 225 ballots were cast (which may not be a broad base but at least we know the number of folks who had input in that process)].

As of 19 June 2003, the issue seems to be languishing. Certainly this round of student recruiting won't benefit from any new logo choice.

Haven't we been here before?

Back in 2000 the UH Manoa Athletics Department went through a re-branding and re-logo-ing effort by which at least the men's football team became "Warriors" rather than "Rainbows". The logo went from a rainbow to a stylized "H". The uniforms went from cheerful green to menacing business-like black. The changes were to reflect a new attitude that accompanied new head football coach June Jones. Maybe they did. Many fans hated the change but Jones and the Athletic Department stuck it out, in spite of some confusion about the names of other teams, such as the Rainbow Wahine Volleyball team.

The assertion in the current process, that the athletic department's new "H" logo was met with disapproval when it first came out several years ago but is now loved by all, is questionable. The rainbow logo still has lots of fans, perhaps at least in part due to the back-stories that accompanied changing the 'Bows to the Warriors.

The Back-Stories

One story had the athletic re-branding attributed to bending to the homophobic fear that the rainbow logo might result in confusing the UH football team with a gay activist group (but not with the inclusive coalition in the Democratic party). UH Atheletics Director at that time Hugh Yoshida took some heat for comments in that direction.

Another story had the change due to UH not having a copyright on the rainbows logo. Consequently, anyone could make and sell T-shirts, hats, cups, giant foam hands, etc to capitalize on UH's popularity without paying a dime for the privilege. Clearly, UH athletics, as business entity --- rather than community asset, could not continue like that.

Missed Opportunities, Wasted Capital

Why were $135,000 spent out of state and out of the university? Why wasn't the new logo designed in-house by students in the art department? Why wasn't the role-out managed by a team of students from the business school as a practical study? No buy-in was gained. Both of these groups were given the message that the UH administration doesn't think they could do it and would rather spend money elsewhere than on supporting efforts at UH. More than monetary capital was lost.

It looks to me like the new UH management team is used to having money to spend, not so used to figuring out how to do the best you can with what you have.

Will one brand fit all?

It seems that the athletics department will be able to keep its logo through the new branding process. The HW story indicates that the old seals will be maintained on diplomas and other official documents. Other exceptions are bound to arise. Some organizations making grants to the university expect a say in things like logos, letterhead and "branding". And, while the notion and creation of a unified system is important, it remains that different units of the system do have different roles and probably do benefit from distinctive logos. It seems that, in the end, not everyone will have to use the new logo, so we won't all be under the same brand after all.

Just my opinions.

Matthew McGranaghan, 6 March 2003, 19 June 2003


Web References:

UH Branding Project Webpage

News@UH 2Dec2002

Creamer, Beverly "UH president rejects proposals for new logo" Hon Adv 1May2003.

UH logo quest brings out readers' creativity (HSB 4May2003)

Your choice for the UH logo is... (HSB 11May2003)