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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.

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The university is reminding everyone that the old logo will still appear on diplomas and the official letterhead, although the UC websites do now carry the new logo.

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Marketing specialists say that such uprisings are typical when businesses or institutions try to change their image. Officials at the Gap clothing chain and Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice backtracked to using original logos after they made changes that triggered consumer protests.

But several say UC should just stand its ground, and allow some time for the initial shock to wear off.

“Change is hard. In a year, this will die down and the benefit will outweigh the legacy logo,” says Tom Drucker, a Marina Del Rey-based image specialist who focuses on new business models and idea management.

"All tweets are not the same – tweets about the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street obviously are of much greater import than Tweets mocking a new university logo,” says Paul Levinson, a professor of communications at Fordham University in New York and author of “New New Media.”

Objections from students to just about everything a university does is a time-honored part of university life, he notes.

“So, first, University of California officials should take a deep breath,” he says. “Twitter has magnified such objections, true, but that's also a good thing. Students are entitled to express their opinions.”

Still other analysts feel that the UC episode is not so much a screw-up as just a sign of the times, which once again spotlights the democratization of ideas and expression.

“It’s increasingly par for the course. It’s a great example of the democratization of individual voice bestowed upon people with Internet access,” says Bernard McCoy, associate professor of mass communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Internet access means more people, regardless of title, economic standing, or experience, have a voice whose reach and audience is potentially global.”

But others say the whole episode is a tempest in a teacup, for the very same reason.

"This tells us nothing about UC or the wisdom of decision making. The only story here is a tired one these days – namely that social media have changed everything,” says Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today magazine.

“Ten years ago, the worst that would have happened with a logo change is that a couple of disgruntled alumni would have written complaint letters. Now, through crowding and viral processes, any trivial event can produce an uproar. In this case – as is often the case with social media – the uproar is as trivial as the event."

But Professor Levinson thinks the new media environment has created a situation that is different from previous decades, in that the protests are harder to brush off.

“What Twitter has done is make it impossible for the university to ignore those opinions,” says Levinson. “In the case of the logo, if the university agrees with the objections, the logo should be changed."

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