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New UC logo: Marketing blunder? Or is storm of criticism overblown?

The venerable University of California traded in its traditional logo for something modern, eliciting a New Media blast of derision. Some experts say the storm over the new UC logo will pass.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / December 11, 2012

This image shows the old logo of the University of California, left, with the new logo.

Oakland Tribune/AP

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Los Angeles

The University of California – one of the most prestigious public universities in the world – redesigned its logo to stay abreast of the times and attract new students.

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But the move last week appears to have accomplished just the opposite, and university officials are trying to figure out what to do next.

The venerable university system has been hit with a New Media revolt that includes insults on Twitter, e-mail memes that mock the new look, Facebook spoofs, and calls for the new representation to be tattooed on its creator’s foreheads.

Experts say the episode is a cautionary tale on the dangers of image and marketing changes.

Here’s the background: for 144 years, the 10 campuses have been collectively represented by a traditional-looking, round logo with a “Let There Be Light” motto, a drawing of an open book and a radiating star.

The new logo is essentially rectangular, with a form that approximates the old seal’s open book but which also could pass for a stylized “U.” On top of that is the top half of the letter “C” which could be, depending on whom you ask, a napkin doodle, a bidet, or a banana label.

“This is an attempt to be revolutionary, but it comes off as insensitive,” Reaz Rahman, a UC Irvine senior who started an online petition to get the university to reconsider, told the Los Angeles Times. “To me, it didn’t symbolize an institution of higher learning. It seemed like a marketing scheme to pull in money rather than represent the university.

“New UC logo is an abomination,” wrote one Twitter-user, according to the Times. “Back to the drawing board.” Another tweeted, “Whoever signed off on this UC logo should be forced to have it tattooed on their forehead for life.”

“It is everything our school is against,” wrote Berkeley’s Sheila Lam on the petition, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “Might as well have slapped a McDonald’s ‘M’ on top of it. It looks so corporate and it looks cheap.

It is the lack of a clear meaning for the redesigned logo that bothers some communications experts.

“This is kind of a classic branding screw-up where people who are designing it don’t understand the web environment that they are moving into,” says Mark Tatge, a communications professor at DePauw University in Indiana. “What are they trying to say? It doesn’t do any good if people don’t know what it means.”

He says it is legendary in the ad business to list off the number of cars that have failed to succeed in foreign countries because the model name meant something else in the language.

“This is just like ignoring what the symbol might mean in another context,” says Tatge.

UC officials counter that they trying to be cutting edge instead of stodgy to be attractive to students.

“We want to convey that this is an iconic place that makes a difference to California and that there is a UC system,” the UC system’s director of marketing communication, Jason Simon, told the L.A. Times.

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