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What about a simple logo re-design has people all up in arms?

From the quality logo products blog:

When Michigan State Spartans confirmed that they were moving forward with a re-branding effort which included a new logo (featured on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Web site) the outcry from students, alumni, and fans was deafening.

Before long, online message boards began filling with negative opinions on the new design. In fact, by the time of writing this post, more than 18,100 fans had joined a Facebook page entitled: “JUST DON’T — No new Nike-influenced Spartan helmet.” One alum even admitted he’s part of a grassroots Web effort to flood the e-mail inboxes of MSU officials and coaches to stop the logo change.

Tom Izzo, the Spartans men’s basketball coach, supported the new logo stating:

“For all of you out there that are complaining, shame on you, because … we are trying to do what’s best for Michigan State University, our athletic department and the great people that we associate with and Nike’s done a heck of a job …We are going to be moving into that new century here in the proper way and I’m excited about it.”


New logo is on Right

As a fan of many teams (none of which are the Spartans) I’d have to agree with Tom. Shame on students, alumni, and fans that would turn their backs on the organization they support so easily. Just take another glance at the two logos and see if these minor changes are worth so much fuss. It’s just a logo after all.

Is the new logo really that bad?

Before you call the new logo ugly, take a long look at the side-by-side again. They’re so close in shape and styles, that if one is ugly; the other one can’t be that attractive (by simple association) can it? Let’s break down the changes, shall we?

  • The connectors to the feathers (on top) are now solid (the most noticeable change)
  • The face mask has harder, more dramatic edges
  • The eyes are sharper and angled
  • The jaw plate is larger and more dramatic
  • The back of the helmet is beveled
  • The tail of the feathers no longer comes to a point

The overall look isn’t too dramatically different, but it is more modern. The final effect results in a fiercer “expression” (if you will) and a helmet that more accurately represents the shape of a traditional Spartan helmet. The largest difference, and point of contention for most, is the (now) solid connector to the “feathers” on the helmet. While this change completes the more modern look, the old logo did present the feathers in a more visually articulated way.

Why the redesign is a smart move (regardless of what you think)

People can argue about whether or not they like the new logo or whether it needed to be changed until the cows come home (and they will); but they’re completely missing the point. It’s not that the new logo is any better than the old one; that’s simply a matter of opinion. It’s not that the Spartans needed a new logo; they didn’t, the old one worked just fine. People need to remember that college sports is big business. The point of a re-brand like this is plain and simple: profit.

Things like the merchandising of t-shirts, jerseys, hats, jackets, and the hundreds of other products that are being sold will almost certainly increase. Despite the large dissent, there is likely a larger percentage of people who are indifferent or perhaps prefer the new logo and will be first in line to sport the new look of their favorite college team.

Even those who hate the logo now will eventually get over it; but (ironically) not before they go out and pick up as much of the “old” gear that they can get their hands on. If you really like the old logo that much, you might want to do the same because it’ll be tough to find soon.

Nike is a powerful name to be associated with your team. I know nothing about a deal (if any) Michigan State has with Nike, but I’d be surprised to find out the school didn’t make out (big time) already just so Nike could be a part of the rebrand. Just one more reason this is a win-win situation for the school.

The Bigger Picture of (Re-) Branding

With all the new merchandise, sponsorships, and attention, the ultimate goal of a re-branding campaign like this is to jump start an established identity and splash a little (proverbial) water in the face of their fan base and of the general public with a new fresh look; just like Pepsi did last year. They’ve done enough with the logo that it’s noticeably different, but not so much that it can’t be recognized. But even then, modernizing a logo is only one small part of the branding pie. As the MSU Athletics Director Mark Hollis recently said in a statement:

“The Spartan logo, posted on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Web site, is a single element of a comprehensive brand and identity project that will be unveiled in April by Michigan State athletics…As in all branding, the power of a single symbol cannot be appreciated or measured outside the context of the total presentation.”


Passion Rules the Spartans!


1 Alan Porch { 06.01.10 at 4:36 pm }

I don’t get why people can get so upset over a simple identifier. I don’t think a logo is gonna save the world…it’s color on a background in a shape…it furthers no one’s mission, it’s just a mark…to make money..

2 Susan Stewart { 06.01.10 at 5:37 pm }

I get the point, but the mask looks more like a drunk alligator without a tail instead of a helmet. Is it a good logo if it’s not recognizable? The disgruntled people may genuinely be upset over the design rather than just unable to accept change — and personally, I think that’s a valid concern. I would argue that change for the sake of change (or rebranding dollars) isn’t always good. In two words: New Coke!

That said, as an alum of Ohio State, I just wish Michigan would get an even uglier logo than MSU’s new drunken alligator. That would make me really happy. LOL!

3 Jennifer Gilmore { 06.01.10 at 6:23 pm }

I don’t know….we’ve gone through some unpopular athletic marks over the past decade at State…from the diamond logo from Sheridan’s era to the angry wolves. We always come back to the strutting wolf because we have failed over and over again to modernize our mark to the overall delight of our fans.

Our Block S, however, has gotten nothing but better over the years, most recenly with the N and C widened to fill the black space in the S. HOME RUN!!

As for the Spartan logo, well, my kidswere looking on as I read the blog, and with neither knowing what it was about, they both pointed to the old Spartan logo and said, “I like that one the best,” before they ran off to bed.

4 Tracey Peake { 06.02.10 at 6:59 am }

People are passionate about logos because they are the physical embodiment of their ideas and experiences of a particular place and time–in the case of college, they can be a potent visual metaphor for some of the most important years in their lives.

So I do understand the attachment that students, fans and alumni have to a particular logo–looking at it triggers nostalgia and memory, and it’s not surprising that people may react negatively to the perceived “destruction” of that symbol, particularly when they think it’s being done as a sop to big business.

The challenge, then, is to present the case for moving forward in such a way as to reassure folks that you’re doing it for the right reasons, not just because you want more money from constituents or a corporate sponsor.

I’m not sure Michigan approached this the correct way–beginning a statement to students and alums with “shame on you” isn’t really the best way to win friends and influence people.

5 Joe Hice { 06.02.10 at 7:19 am }

So you’d say “shame on them.”

6 Tracey Peake { 06.02.10 at 7:34 am }

Maybe… 🙂

7 Natalie Hampton { 06.02.10 at 7:43 am }

Yet, I remember well all the hand wringing over the implementation of the NC State “brick.” You’d have thought the university had burned the bell tower!

8 Joe Hice { 06.02.10 at 7:56 am }

No. Change is usually a good thing. Usually.

9 Tracey Peake { 06.02.10 at 8:16 am }

I agree. I also think it’s possible to achieve change without unnecessarily alienating the folks you want to buy into it. You do that by making your case clear from the beginning that change is necessary for reasons a, b, and c, and by being sensitive to the constituents’ emotional attachment to the past.

It’s a careful path to tread, but I think it’s worth treading.

10 Gray Rinehart { 06.02.10 at 9:18 am }

We had a lot of turmoil in the USAF a few years back over the modernized star-and-wings logo. I was in the field then, and my attitude was “Why fix something that isn’t broken?” Later, at HQ AF, I worked with many others who felt the same way … but we found out that a lot of the younger troops liked the new, more stylized version. Can’t please everybody.

11 Travis Brock { 06.02.10 at 11:04 am }

It is a tough tight rope act to walk. I would agree your quote from Mark Hollis – it is tough to take a logo that is out of context with the rest of the brand. I recently blogged on a similar issue at University of Waterloo, where they had a huge outcry from stakeholders after a student employee leaked their new logo – with out the related brand context. After a year of so of discussion, UW came back with two new logos. (here is the blog, if interested http://bit.ly/bxGLmw). Without the context, stakeholders may have a hard time wrapping their head around the idea.

12 Dave Green { 06.02.10 at 1:10 pm }

Go Blue!

(for ex-pats of the other Big 10 school in Michigan)

13 Brad Eccles { 06.04.10 at 6:57 am }

“No. Change is usually a good thing. Usually”

Wow, I really disagree.

Logos are meant to unite the university community around a common image. They are meant to build continuity accross generations and groups. Consequently they should be small in number and relatively stable.

They are like country flags, or national anthems, or alma maters or iconic buildings or family names. No one would think of pepping up the star spangled banner every few years, re-writing the tune to the NC State Alma Mater to modernize it (even if it were an improvment), or changing the spelling of your family name every generation. The goal of these things is to connect diverse people to a common cause or institution change and multiplicity destroys this goal.

Now I can see why Nike might like change, and I can see how it can bring in money to them and the school. But it comes at a cost to the institution. I am sure the university could make money by hanging bill boards off the bell tower, but it would come at the cost of destroying an icon of the university.

So to me change for the sake of change is particularly damaging. That does not mean that you should never change or evolve, just that the case needs to be pretty compelling when you are toying with images who’s goal is to tie people together.

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