Brand savvy

Brand savvy McGill University

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McGill Reporter
October 19, 2000 - Volume 33 Number 04
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Brand savvy

"A name is an uncertain thing," Bertolt Brecht once wrote. "You can't count on it."

That has held true here at McGill, where the University's logo has been modified by various members of the university community more times than the formula for Coke. McGill's wordmark, for example, has been reproduced in unofficial colours and fonts on thousands of documents, mugs and garments for years.

But McGill's Secretariat is trying to change that. This spring, the Board of Governors approved a new policy on the use of the wordmark and insignia of the University. It is a redrafted version of a 1975 resolution that outlined the proper design and use of the coat of arms -- a policy so vague that people were often uncertain of what was permissible and what was not.

"The regulations were not as clear or as complete as we needed and we can see the result all around us," says Secretary General Victoria Lees, citing, among many oft-seen departures from the rules, the fact that no two McGill automobiles look alike.

In short, the new policy is a move to maintain the integrity of the McGill "brand" and trademark so that the University would not lose exclusive control over it. It gives specific definitions and directions on the use of things like the coat of arms, shield, wordmark and signature.

The policy delineates several things, including the amount of white space one must leave around the insignia, the appropriate way to combine the name of a unit with the university signature, the proper design of McGill letterhead if one wishes to indicate affiliation with another body, and approved design for vehicles.

It outlines McGill's official red (Pantone 032 Red). And don't even think about placing the McGill shield above the wordmark; Lees says this is the most common aberration of the signature and is most certainly not permitted under the new guidelines.

Lees compares the use of the McGill brand to that of companies in the private sector. "Hydro Quebec would never allow the kinds of modifications to their logo that McGill has over the years," she says, but building stronger brand recognition is no longer the domain of corporations. "All universities are becoming more brand-savvy."

One of the areas most affected by the policy is the McGill Bookstore, where the McGill brand adorns everything from key chains to workout gear.

Although it has meant significantly less variety in terms of McGill-logoed merchandise, Ian Grabina, clothing and insignia buyer at the bookstore, is pleased with the changes. "For us, it's resulted in a higher quality of clothing across the board and helped to create McGill's own brand of clothing," he says. "And it's still far less strict than most schools in the U.S., which have rules about how colours and graphics may be used only in very specific ways."

But Grabina says the policy does limit the variety of designs used for McGill paraphernalia. "People do want choice. For example, last year we had 20 different T-shirt styles. This year, we have 10, and that has resulted in a drop in T-shirt sales. On the other hand, our women's clothing line sales have gone up for this season." Grabina points to the fact that that line offers a higher quality, more traditional apparel than last year.

The one exception to the policy is for items associated with McGill Athletics. In these instances, Athletics is permitted to use their own logos --one features an "M" with the shield superimposed over the centre and they can make the call to use whatever font and colours they choose, both for uniforms and retail sports gear.

The philosophy behind that, says Athletics marketing and promotions manager Denis Kotsoros, is to have people associate the look not just with McGill University, but also McGill Athletics. "We want to maintain the integrity of McGill's look but at the same time develop a logo that would reflect McGill Athletics and achievement in athletics."

But the new policy begs the question, is it really necessary to have everything standardized? And why not leave a little room for artistic freedom among McGill's would-be graphic designers? Lees views that as an unmitigated threat.

"People often call to say they are preparing a special document and want to 'change the logo.' They say they want to do something different, to put a border around it, or slant it, or stick flowers on it. But the whole point of having a logo is that it must always, always be the same. Otherwise, there is no point in having one. Every time we permit a designer to jazz up the insignia, we vitiate the recognition value of our signature."

For the time being, the Secretariat is circulating copies of the new policy broadly. Over the next few months, it will be collecting aberrations of the policy and sending reminders about the uses of the logo. Perpetrators who fail to use the trademarks correctly could lose the right to use the mark at all.

But Lees doesn't think a crackdown will be neccessary. "In truth, most people don't notice that they aren't using the mark in the correct way," she says. "We think people will be open to keeping to the policy."

It's not likely that many people will be drastically affected by the policy. The community seems generally content with having a standard look for the McGill insignia. But some are a little nostalgic about the good old days when you could pick up a sweatshirt emblazoned with McGill in non-Pantone 032 red block letters. As science student Ian Spiegel muses, "it'll just make the people who have the relics a bit cooler."

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