Penn State alumni have it tough. Displaying your pride with a car sticker, a license plate frame or a sweatshirt with the Penn State logo on it may now attract some sneers and jeers. The name and the brand identity for Penn State has become synonymous with the alleged child-sex scandal and subsequent alleged cover up by the administration. I woke up this morning inspired to write a blog about creative briefs and questions that my agency asks clients in the early exploratory stages of logo development. While getting my morning elliptical exercise in, I turned on the news and once again... bright and early, the face of what has become known as the “Penn State” scandal reared its ugly head… I thought to myself: now THERE'S an institution, a brand that needs to completely change its identity.
As is my tradition, I did a Google search to make sure no one had already blogged on the topic, and coincidentally, I’m not alone in my inspiration, less than 24 hours ago, marketing expert, John Tantillo penned a column for Fox News, calling for Penn State to change its name… NOW.
"...people’s reactions to a brand name are tied to complex responses related to the brand and themselves. As a result, at certain point “Penn State” will have -- if it hasn’t already—become toxic, meaning that people will automatically, and involuntarily, experience a negative reaction whenever they encounter it."
I would have to argue that it IS toxic. This type of crime goes right to the very core of our being and the brand is forever tarnished, sent to the place of no return, and fast. By comparision, I think of what unfortunate events have taken place at FAMU with the recently dubbed ‘homicide by hazing’ of a university band member and although that is a very unfortunate case, it does not call for a name change, nor a brand change. People walk around and see someone wearing a FAMU or Florida A&M sweatshirt aren’t going to necessarily have a negative reaction. Not the case for Penn State. That brand name is now mud.
Penn State Logos
To alleviate the negative association with the school name, in addition to changing it as Tantillo suggests, I would recommend a complete Brand Identity overhaul. New name, new logo. New visual identity ASAP. An old version of the Penn State logo looks like this:
This logo doesn’t bother me so much. It doesn’t “say” PENN STATE. This newer one however does:
Here is yet another variation:
These logos were introduced in 2001. Prior to that, this was their logo:
This logo had a very long shelf life: it was the official school logo from 1962-2000.
The Quick Fix: Call it PSU
- 1. STOP CALLING IT “PENN STATE” – let that name die with the scandal. There’s no polishing this one anymore. It’s done. Let it go.
- 2. Call it anything but “PENN STATE” – Some suggestions:
• PENNSYLVANIA U
• PENN U
• PSU (they already own PSU.edu and is the home of their website)
I disagree with Tantillo’s position that “PSU” is not a viable option. Although it has already been used in some headlines, I think it still hasn’t been used enough that it can’t be saved. In my opinion , it’s the best option for them right now. It's in their best interest to 'evolve' their brand into something else, but not something that is completely brand new.
Brand expert Dr. Elliot S. Schrieber, suggests:
“In short, the Penn State culture needs to be "blown up." It allowed Joe Paterno and his "cult of personality" to foster and grow. I know that Paterno did not molest the kids, but he allowed Sandusky to exist and, according to Sandusky, Paterno never once talked to him about the issues that were supposedly brought to Paterno's attention in 2002. That is simply unacceptable behavior for anyone.
Penn State must go beyond its comfort zone if it is to rebuild its reputation. If it simply takes measured steps, which it is accustomed to do, it will not rebuild trust and confidence. The consequences of inappropriate actions could be disastrous long-term.”
In the interest of moving forward from a brand perspective, I suggest that PENN STATE change its name by dropping the “PENN STATE” completely out of their collateral and materials. Here, I’ve taken some liberty with their logo to show what a potential brand overhaul may look like. If they ever to regain their status as the reputable institution they once were, and have any hope of attracting future students and parents to their programs, they are going to need a makeover. We present a mock-up of what Peralta Design would do, were we tapped for this project.
Here’s how it might look:
Since there are quite a few other colleges that use the PSU acronym, as an alternate, we present to you a variation where we insert the word “Pennsylvania” into the logo, but it’s clearly not my favorite. It’s our recommendation to drop the “Pennsylvania” out of the logo entirely.
Here’s how the alternate might look:
We suggest that Penn State overhaul their identity packages with the quickness. Keep enough of the existing brand (the colors, the mascot and the font) but change what the school is referred to as in the media. Only then can it truly put this shameful chapter behind. Alumni can go out and purchase the new merchandise and life will go on for the university, and hopefully it will go on for its victims as well.
What brands or companies have had to change their names entirely or overhauled their brand identities in the midst of scandal?
Blackwater became Xe
Philip Morris became Altria
ValuJet became AirTran
WorldCom became MCI
Andersen Consulting became Accenture
Resources & Related Articles:
Why Penn State Needs to Change Its Name… Now!
How Penn State Can Rebuild Its Brand and Reputation
Why Some Companies Change Their Logos
Need help with your brand identity or want to overhaul your existing brand? Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Penn State logos and identity are property of The Pennsylvania State University © 2008. Mockup of the proposed new identity is property of Peralta Illustration & Design LLC and shown for illustration purposes only.