EDITOR’S NOTE: Guest columnist Graeme Menzies is a director of marketing communications at the University of British Columbia and was the director of communications at the Vancouver (British Columbia) 2010 Winter Olympics. Born in Alberta, he now lives in Vancouver.
The Canadian Professional Rodeo Association has announced that it is replacing its old logo with something new, but a lot of cowboys are saying, “Whoa!”
Some of that reaction was probably anticipated. For those in the design business, resistance to new logos is almost a proverb, and examples are logos disasters are plentiful. Ad Age magazine cites the 2010 re-launch of The Gap’s iconic logo as one of the most colossal brand missteps in recent history. But there are plenty of other examples: the London 2012 Olympic Games logo (cost: $800,000) was widely lambasted; more recently, the University of California’s updated monogram was ridiculed as “an aerial view of a flushing toilet.”
What about the CPRA? Is its new rodeo logo a no-go?
The announcement boasted that the new logo’s stylized hat represented both genders and honored Western heritage. Fans of the old logo have been left wondering what that means. Was there a problem with the cowboy image – was the cowboy too masculine? Surely there was no serious concern that the cowboy image failed to represent western heritage. What about the bold red Canadian maple leaf? Did someone think it was un-Canadian to be so blatantly patriotic?
Members of the CPRA, which has 1,400 members and sanctions more than 50 rodeos in Canada each year, were confused. Some were downright angry. Ted Stovin, a former bull rider and the main force behind the website EverythingCowboy.com, felt so strongly about the logo change he posted a lengthy blog about it, even including dozens of examples of how other sports organizations represent themselves through graphic design. Response to his article came fast and furious.
CPRA member Mac McKie wrote that the new logo communicates nothing about Canada and “as far as rodeo, only resembles an abused hat after the rodeo dance.”
Jake Vold, whose family has a proud multi-generational rodeo reputation, was a just as flustered by the move.
“I can’t believe they took away the maple leaf,” said Vold, a bareback rider that has qualified for the Canadian Finals Rodeo and the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Others complained that the new logo looks too much like the city of Calgary’s “Heart of the New West” logo, doesn’t represent rodeo sports, is too bland, fails to leverage the history and brand equity of the old design, and “will look like hell on a belt buckle.” Ouch!
Are these criticisms legitimate, or is this proverbial resistance that one comes to expect?
Yes and no, said Marty Yaskowich, vice president of strategy at DDB, a renowned communications and design agency in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“Brand design is definitely one of the most challenging areas of marketing because there will always be differing opinions on what looks good,” he said. “You really have to separate the subjective from the strategic. The real question, when evaluating the logos, is what’s the strategy behind it?”
Yaskowich, whose cousin is two-time PBR Canadian champion bull rider bull rider Aaron Roy and who has experience working with major international and iconic Canadian brands, said much of the criticism could be ameliorated if the strategy for the change was more transparent.
“There could have been a strategic decision to create a new public-facing logo that is more about promotion of dynamic, exciting, rodeo events while also creating a more accessible and friendly brand to attract a broader audience,” he said. “There may be a strategic rationale for the change … there may be business reasons behind this, but they are not immediately clear.”
I like the old logo. It has the unsophisticated charm that only a legitimately established organization can pull off; that kind of old-school authenticity is hard to come by these days. But you’d get no argument from me if, like the Toronto Maple Leaf’s logo, it was given a periodic design refresh.
Feedback from CPRA members may have had an effect.
“The old CPRA logo has not changed,” said Dan Eddy, the CPRA’s general manager. He noted that the Pro Rodeo Canada logo is a brand of the CPRA.
While not categorically contradicting the original intent to replace the old one entirely, Eddy’s comment holds out some hope that the beloved old logo may not be on its way to the slaughterhouse after all.
Graeme Menzies is an international marketing and communications professional, who also is the author of The Rodeo Guide for City Slickers.