Western Michigan University faces criticism for $ 672,000 rebranding


KALAMAZOO, MI – Western Michigan University is changing the look of its branding, and some people are not happy with it.

The university has released two new logos, which the head of WMU’s marketing department says simplify its visual identity. But some alumni are struggling with change as professors question the use of resources and why more stakeholders were not involved in the decision.

Tony Proudfoot, vice president of marketing and strategic communications, said the new logos are part of a “sophisticated, simple and cohesive visual identity.

“It’s an investment in the university, an investment in who we are and how we are known,” said Proudfoot. “He will have the return of that competitive advantage.”

In all creative endeavors, he said, there will be those who like the end product and others who don’t.

The reviews began online when photos of the new logo surfaced – a yellow W in a brown circle next to the university’s full name – painted in the center of the Lawson Ice Arena.

Former student Jon Blackmore is a vocal critic of the new logos on his Twitter page and blog called “Ghost Bronco”. He created a petition and urges others to “fight this rebranding at WMU”.

“It was not the moment to evolve and what has been done is a decentralization of more than 40 years” Blackmore wrote on his Twitter account. “I hope the leadership stops listening to people who clearly aren’t in touch with what @WesternMichU is.”

The rebranding process, which began in late 2019, will cost the university a total of $ 672,000 compared to last year and next school year, Proudfoot said.

Members of the union that represents WMU full-time faculty have expressed concern over the new logos and the cost of rebranding, WMU-AAUP President Cathryn Bailey said in an emailed statement. at MLive.

“Our members, the faculty of WMU, are always keen to ensure that investment in the core academic mission of WMU comes first – rather than ‘bells and whistles,’ Bailey said.

Despite criticism, university officials say the new branding will continue to be implemented.

The process has begun, said Proudfoot, when he first tasked a group of former graphic design students, who work for the university, to tackle the problem of multiple color schemes in existing WMU logos.

The university previously had three logos made up of seven different colors, he said.

“I don’t know of any strong brand that has seven different colors,” Proudfoot said. “In fact, almost every strong brand has two.”

The vice president said his staff chose brown and gold as the two colors that would remain. The colors are in the university’s alma mater and combat songs, and were chosen in 1905 to represent the university.

The following PDF shows the old and new logos and color schemes for each:

On the two new logos, Proudfoot said the university’s official brand will be the W circle and the new Bronco logo will be used for athletics, retail and merchandising.

The coach of each sports team will be allowed to decide whether to use the W circle with the new Bronco or just the W, he said.

“Destroy our identity”

Blackmore said on his blog that, based on comments collected on his petition, student athletes were not included in the conversation and felt their comments were not being listened to. His petition does not include the full names of those who signed.

His petition received growing support as news spread about the new logos, and has now garnered more than 1,000 signatures, Blackmore said in an interview with MLive.

Blackmore, who graduated from WMU in 2005 and now lives in North Carolina, said he was a huge fan of Bronco football and hockey. He initially set up the blog and Twitter account in October to advocate for more “Bronco ghost” gear available to the general public.

His cause changed a few months ago, he said, when the university rolled out the new logos “behind the scenes.”

“The entire social media and petition site has shifted from just focusing on trying to get more ‘Bronco ghost’ gear out of the hands of Western devotees to fighting this rebranding, as they essentially undermine our identity, ”Blackmore said.

Blackmore said the new Bronco appears to have “frosty highlights” in the horse’s mane and looks like a “grade school logo.” The original “Bronco Ghost” was a fan favorite, had brand awareness, and was modern and stylish, he said.

Blackmore argues that the logo change itself, and ignoring public protests about it, is a “bad look” for the university.

The original “Bronco Ghost,” which was used exclusively for football, was made as a graphic and was not originally intended for use as a logo, Proudfoot said. Without an outline, the graphic is difficult to place on a variety of surfaces as a logo, he said.

“Even within our athletics department, we had several logos and several colors,” said Proudfoot.

Building the WMU brand

The university studied over 20 university logos related to horses and found that the majority had the horse facing to the right. Proudfoot said the orientation of the new logo shows forward movement and power.

“If you were to turn the ‘Bronco Ghost’ right and put a curb on it, you’d be about 95% of the way we did,” said Proudfoot.

Proudfoot said much of the money to implement the new logos will be spent on the university’s presence along Stadium Drive and US 131, where around 2 million cars pass each month.

The vice president said the new logos were part of a larger rebranding effort to help the university compete against other institutions.

“A visual identity is a very powerful mnemonic device to remind people of all the goodwill and the positive feeling towards the university,” said Proudfoot.

Multiple logos and color schemes create fractured pools of that feeling and don’t create a strong brand identity, he said.

“They’re absolutely long,” Proudfoot said of the new logos. “Because what you’re trying to do is turn that affinity into something new. What people are going through are ideas on paper right now. “

This affinity with the new brand will grow as people discover the sports games and campus life associated with the new logos, he said.

Blackmore also voiced his concerns to the board at its last meeting.

“The West Michigan brand is under attack” Blackmore said during the meeting on Thursday, June 24. “Our Bronco identity is stolen from us and replaced with brown circles and yellow W’s.”

Blackmore said the previous college seal seen on campus when he first arrived as a student 20 years ago was “professional and distinguished.”

As part of the new rebranding, Blackmore said there are options of “embarrassing clothing” available at the bookstore and “ugly and uninspiring” uniforms for student football and tennis athletes.

“This new visual identity makes it harder to respect, it makes everyone laugh at us, and they laugh at us,” Blackmore said.

Limited stakeholder contribution

The Western Faculty Union is among those who have expressed concerns about the lack of input from stakeholders involved in the decision-making process on the new logos.

“If students, staff and faculty, including faculty experts, had been included in this decision making, WMU would almost certainly have chosen a different and more successful path,” said WMU-AAUP President, Cathryn Bailey.

“The fact that it was passed on to us, announced, without our involvement in the decision-making process, says a lot,” Bailey said. “Again, this is just not the kind of behavior students, staff, and faculty should expect from university leaders.

In the summer of 2020, Proudfoot said, his office began talking to senior management, all head coaches and a representative group of around 16 student-athletes about the proposed new logos. Early renditions were rejected after comments from these groups, he said.

Creative work is “incredibly subjective,” Proudfoot said, acknowledging the university’s decision to keep comment groups small.

“Overall, the most common feedback you get is, ‘Don’t change a thing’, and that doesn’t help much if you’re trying to go ahead and solve a creative challenge,” did he declare. “We find that we get better, more useful, and more directional feedback when we have small conversations. You don’t necessarily look for a representative sample when doing creative work because it’s so subjective.

Proudfoot said, responding to criticism, that he “never intended” to appear to be doing the rebranding in silence. The university has spoken openly about the new logos with student groups and others in the sports department. His office also shared the new visual identity in a newsletter for faculty and staff in December 2020, he said.

“We feel like we’ve engaged people,” Proudfoot said.

Athletic Director Kathy Beauregard said in an emailed statement that you should expect to have both fans and enemies during a process like this.

“Updating our visual identity goes beyond colors and logos. It’s a strategic decision, ”said Beauregard. “Once the decision was made to return to Western colors, athletic staff and student-athletes had the opportunity to get involved and participate. Some comments have been incorporated and some have not. This is not uncommon in a process like this. What is important today is that it is a forward-looking university and department and that we move forward with a common identity.

As for the onslaught of negative comments on Twitter, Proudfoot said that was to be expected when working creatively and visually.

“I haven’t had any experience yet and I don’t know of any experience creating visual works that don’t have promoters and detractors,” he said. “As people get more familiar with it it will grow larger, but every time you do a visual exercise of any sort there are people who like it and people who don’t. not, and that’s OK. “

Proudfoot said his office did not plan to make any changes to the logos and instead focused on “the future and the future.”

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