This Brand is Your Brand

By Ramzy Nasrallah on February 12, 2013 at 1:30p

Last week when Ohio State announced that it had dutifully revamped its logos the reaction was, well, hostile

Brand-refreshing comes with just a handful of possible outcomes, and the university was likely hoping for either no or little reaction. Instead it got scorn and ridicule – still better than a full-blown coup d'etat – but certainly not what the leadership had to be anticipating.

New Coke! You'll love it much more tha-[AMERICA EXPLODES]Ohio State changed its athletic logo. Fan response was consistent.

Ohio State began working on this update back in 2011. It conducted hundreds of interviews to determine exactly how to maintain some cohesiveness between different moving parts of a giant, fluid organization.

It was agreed that the Block O, a pillar of collegiate iconery, would continue to do the heaviest lifting. That O consistently appears throughout the various emblems.

Cosmetically the rest of the athletics logo is decidedly 20th century, having been used by the athletic department since John Cooper arrived on campus.

Still, following all of that consultation, the logo was ultimately tweaked with an MS Paint bucket fill and, quite literally, several seconds worth of graphic design: "OhioState" is now black instead of black outline.

Channeling Coco Chanel: Fashion changes, but style endures.

Irritated Buckeye stakeholders are not exhibiting Rwanda genocide-level outrage, but the problem lies within the context of organizational change.

It's the context of knowing what it costs to change so much as a font on business cards and letterhead for a leviathan organization. It's also speculating what the university likely paid for this "creative" work (as it turned out – only 45 large!) coupled with the pricey end result chaffing a fan base that has already heard way too much recently about President Gordon Gee's expensive taste.

Creating Ohio State's new logo: When parody meets reality.

Changing any aspect of Ohio State's tradition, even with the level of subtlety seen in the logo tweak (no one over the age of 60 can tell the difference without squinting) will inevitably cause angst.

Brands don't just belong to their respective organizations. Consumers stake their ownership in the brand as well. They're your Buckeyes too.

Take, for instance, the piping on Ohio State's football jersey sleeves. In 2006 the gray and red stripes that had been in place since the late 1980s were changed to a red and black B-side version of what runs down the middle of the Buckeyes' helmets. 

A minor cosmetic change, but many fans were incensed. Compounding the anger, Nike also changed the uniform material seemingly to allow for full visualization of how each individual's sweat glands were functioning during games.

It was change nobody asked for but got anyway. That's cause for more chaffing. Change is hard, especially when it isn't understood.


But Ohio State wasn't dramatically altering its brand or core value proposition. It changed a few shoulder stripes on a jersey. Regardless of the intent, it abruptly rendered thousands of fans' replica Saturday costumes out-of-date.

Hippies, manLeft: Old Cal logo. Right: New (recently withdrawn) Cal logo. 

Late last year California dramatically altered all of that – branding, value proposition, tradition – with some crazy, insidious refresh of a classic brand in no need of being changed.

Cal's internal committee even punted its school colors in favor of the San Diego Chargers powder blues (everyone loves those!) and incorporated a gradient that would be nearly impossible to adequately transfer in most print applications.

Worst of all: All of that effort was expended to create something that the average person with no experience in graphic design could easily identify in under five seconds as being an unconscionably bad idea. 

Left unchallenged, otherwise intelligent people in closed-door meetings can take bad ideas to new heights by simply agreeing with each other too much.


It's clear why Ohio State – nor any other institution – is unwilling to be too daring with wholesale brand refresh: High potential for blowback.

Deciding to maintain the classic Block O without deviating for something new (like a perfect circle, an oval, an italicized O, an avant garde representation of roundness, etc) was both calculated and cautious.

But once the opportunity to update the brand is taken, the window is briefly open. You don't want to have to open that window again anytime soon.

Antoine Randle-El was born ten years too lateSee if you can spot Indiana's logo fail. Don't think too hard.

You definitely don't want to make frequent changes, as Jim Delany is now discovering in cleaning up the B1G's classic overbranding disaster with Legends and Leaders. 

It's an admission of failure. No one likes to admit that, least of all the Big Ten's Emperor Palpatine.

Radical changes can be made more easily where no tradition exists. Wisconsin's W Rising logo was able to take hold because Wisconsin athletics were an afterthought two decades ago when the change was made.

Indiana replaced Bill Mallory with Cam Cameron and gave its football program a new logo. The basketball program, still run by Bob Knight, understandably wanted absolutely nothing to do with it.

The black oval logo/uniforms era left Bloomington with Cameron. It failed because of poor design and poorer execution by Cameron's Hoosiers, which made the oval toxic. If anything, IUFB should exploit IUBB's brand recognition, not run from it.

And they've done that since Cameron's departure, unifying IU's athletics brand once again. Note that IU – as well as Cal Berkeley – have two of the nation's better business schools. Brand mismanagement can happen to anyone.

Separately, but still in Indiana, Purdue's italicized P debuted and replaced its traditional P emblem without any scorn largely because nobody noticed. Not even Purdue.


Ultimately the angst toward Ohio State's new logo is around the idea that Ohio State actually paid money for it.

Free alternatives – serious ones, even – are already being offered up by OSU stakeholders frustrated with the university's choice. Controlling one's own brand is of dire importance. It's always been vital to Ohio State. Unfortunately, as most giant organizations do, they often overspend for a solution.

Good news about bad logos: There's a worse one somewhere.

Back when it failed to realize the gravity of its football coach overtly lying to the NCAA, and then unsuccessfully lost any control of the story direction or the media narrative, Ohio State hired the Kekst disaster management team to do some emergency PR work.

You probably remember how Kekst helped rehabilitate Ohio State's image to the public. Oh, you don't?

The bill for that largely invisible work was $270,000, or $225,000 more than it paid for the logo work. Kekst did nothing to help smooth over the university's image with the public. If anything, it continued to spiral – until that Urban guy was hired. Not sure Kekst had anything to do with that.

To put that in perspective: Eleven Warriors could have done an exponentially better job with repairing the university's image than Kekst did – and Ohio State could have paid us in food to do it. 

And that's where the hostility toward Ohio State's brand management intersects with Ohio State's consumers: We want it to be better. You want it to be the best.

You are mad because you care too much. It's okay; we all do.


Comments Show All Comments

cplunk's picture

Nicely done.
My twenty years in business have taught me the word "consultant" or the word "committee", either alone or in combination, signifies large amounts of unnecessary costs on the horizon.
It is amazing the decisions human beings make when put into groups.

Oben_Where's picture

Reminds me of two of my favorite demotivational posters:
1) MEETINGS - Because none of us are as dumb as all of us
2) CONSULTING - Because if you can't be part of the solution, there's good money to be made in prolonging the problem.

jfunk's picture

As a former consultant I would agree with the above statement with the following caveat: A lot of that unnecessary cost comes from clients who change their minds 50 different times during the job. I don't know how many times a client would start out by saying "I want this project to go in direction X" and then you show them the finished product only for them to say "I like it, but we want to go in direction Y now" which means you're basically starting from square one.

Scotch: It may be too early to drink it, yes; but people it is never to early to think about it.

Alhan's picture

That Arlington Pediatric Center logo is makes me cringe every time I see it.  I'm not sure if it says bad things about them because they didn't see a problem with the logo or about me because I did see a problem with it.

"Nom nom nom" - Brady Hoke

sirclovis's picture

Kind of like this(NSFW) famous optical illusion.

buckeyedude's picture

I LMAO at that one, Sirclovis. One commentor said, "I'm like four, and I see naked people." ROFL! 



jthiel09's picture

My company recently went through a "Re-Branding" and it probably consisted of highly paid consultants / committees and what did they come up with? A color change ... either way it doesn't matter much to me as long as OSU doesn't adopt a logo quite like the APC did and what a logo it is.


Red Shirt Ensign's picture

It was designed by Sandusky's non-profit...   who would have thunk it :-)

"Captain, over here, I've found someth... AHHHH!!!!!!"


Buckeyebrowny919's picture

haha..that video is perfect

To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift - Steve Prefontaine

ccollins0325's picture

A committee is a life form with six or more legs and no brain.
  - Robert Heinlein

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

That is a PERFECT logo for the Joe Paterno library!!!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

BuckJI's picture

I find it very difficult to get up in arms about this.  The old logo never looked that good.  They just crammed OHIOSTATE on top of the Block O and the letters had that abomidable interior script that made it look busy and straight from the 80s.  

The only thing to complain about is that they didn't just drop the logo wholesale and adopt the Block O.

jedkat's picture

Anyone familiar with the AIM for the handicapped sign in Dayton, OH? Ill try and find a pic and upload. It's terrible....

"Can we please stop the message board fighting? I really can't stand the message board fighting..."

"No. You're an idiot, and your posts are terrible."

causeicouldntgo43's picture

As the comedian Tommy Sledge used to say when he visited Dayton for a gig at Wiley's Comedy Club, "man this is a tough town, I just saw a sign down the street that said AIM for the handicapped, whew man, tough town..."


Worst of all: All of that effort was expended to create something that the average person with no experience in graphic design could easily identify in under five seconds as being an unconscionably bad idea.

That's the core of any bad logo, the people in charge who designed and mandated it don't see whats wrong but the other 50 million people who view it spot it like a giant forest fire. Say what you will about someone's mind being in the gutter (which is my default setting) or even one's own personal taste, sometimes just plain common sense is needed.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Nkohl13's picture

I couldn't for the life of me figure out what was wrong with the second picture. And then tit hit me.

Maestro's picture

you motorboatin' sonovabitch

vacuuming sucks

Knarcisi's picture

You old sailor, you.  Where is she, is she still in the house?

BucksfanXC's picture

I don't think it's that bad. It does update it a little and it could be worse. But I tend to be on the "fear change" side of things at first. Do I think it was worth the 45 large? No. Could have been worse? Yes. Could have been better? Also yes.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

Maestro's picture

So perplexed by the computer doctors.  What were they attempting to draw there?

vacuuming sucks

Earle's picture


Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.

Maestro's picture

Oh, ok.  Never looked at my mouse and thought of a phallus, but I will from now on.  Thanks a lot Earle. ;)

vacuuming sucks

Earle's picture

I've always found it helpful to approach such things from an alternate perspective.  If you change your orientation, it can often provide unexpected clarity (wait, does that sound weird?).

Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.

Keith's picture

I don't see this as a designer talent issue.  Designers are many times hamstrung by the process, requirements and subsquent revisions from the business.   
For whatever reason, it seems Ohio State feels the iconic, unadorned Block O doesn't carry name recognition nationwide.  I think this is misguided but why else are they so desirous to keep/incorporate "Ohio State" permanently the design?  To me, the solution is to use the unadorned Block O and, when only absolutely necessary, include Ohio State below it in similar styling found on the front men's basketball jerseys.
Critiquing my own thoughts, there would probably be issues when needing an extremely small logo with the Ohio State badging.  However, I go back to my thought the university is wrong in thinking "Ohio State" is needed.  The ADs perfect logo is already created.  What's missing is the decision to use it exclusively.

Blake's picture

I tend to agree with almost all of this. I'd go over a litany of other issues but I think I'm too fatigued at the idea of doing so.

In general though, the university had the Block O originally before the revamped one and for some reason that Block O isn't impactful enough for them. Either it's too simple or it's too generic, believing a symmetrical O could be Oregon State's mark, or Ohio's, or Oklahoma's hypothetically. They want something that says Ohio State on the first read, but that generally takes years and years of equity to do so. That seems to be a pretty clear reason why they just emboldened "OHIO STATE" in the newer version.

The problem with the "brand new" one though is that simply filling in the counters of "OHIO STATE" ruins the integrity and form of the original design. You are jacking with the letterspacing and letter weights by just filling in the gaps in an effort to shoehorn in more clarity.


albinomosquito's picture

I've always been a fan of the simple block O with the little buckeye leaf in the lower corner..  I remember having an OSU flag like this on my bedroom wall when I was younger.. 
This one looks a little outdated, but some spin on that without taking too much away from the original design would be pretty legit in my mind..

buckeyebart's picture

Please send to Gene and Gordon !
So simple , yet classy and very recognizable ! No brainer.

German Buckeye's picture

Is this a done deal?  Public out cry change anything? 

dsbgobux's picture

Did Nike have anything to do with this? They went to Purdue and asked them to change their train locomotive logo so it would be easier to use.

Buckeye in PA purgatory

Knarcisi's picture

Now I know what Gene Smith has been doing for the last 10 years.  Way to stay between the lines, Gene. 

headina's picture

I hate the logo, but think it would be so awesome if they had an alternate black and scarlet number/letter home football jersey


dumpus's picture

here's your 2012 london olympics logo...with a little color added.  kinda f'd up, if you ask me...

Brutus Forever's picture

looks like she has on a pearl necklace amirite

"I learned to dislike Michigan at a very young age.” – Urban F. Meyer

Nkohl13's picture

Bart and Lisa Simpson? 

741's picture

Picasso's musings on Optimus Prime, or an earthquake.

osubuckeye4life's picture

Bart and Lisa WHY?!?!??!

Baroclinicity's picture

Back in the 90s, the University of Kentucky Wildcat had a phallus for a tongue.  Was done on purpose, I heard...

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

BucksfanXC's picture

I'm gonna need proof, for science.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

Baroclinicity's picture

I'm at work, so I didn't want to add a picture or search for it for that matter.  Do a google search for "Kentucky Wildcat logo controversy"... apparently, no one noticed until the artist admitted it.
I had a friend at UK at the time, and when I visited her, I bought a shirt that had the controversial image.  Never noticed until she told me. 

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Unky Buck's picture

Much like the huge penis on the original cover of the Little Mermaid VHS tape that an employee who was being fired added on at the very last second before he left. After they found out about it, they redid it - supposedly, but it got out and I know there was one in my parents house that had it on it so who knows how long it was (yeah, pun intended) until they actually figured it out.

Rock over London; Rock on Chicago. Timex: It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'

Maestro's picture

See "tongue"

vacuuming sucks

Buckeye in Illini country's picture

"Purdue's italicized P debuted and replaced its traditional P emblem without any scorn largely because nobody noticed. Not even Purdue."
I laughed probably a little too hard at this. 

Columbus to Pasadena: 35 hours.  "We're on a road trip through the desert looking for strippers and cocaine... and Rose Bowl wins!"

Baroclinicity's picture

And why did Cal adopt UCLA colors?

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Menexenus's picture

"collegiate iconery" = collegiate iconography?

Real fans stay for Carmen.

Hockey Buck's picture

The Alumni logo is our best, but what gest me about these is that the Universities pay consulting and branding firms tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to basically do nothing. It is a very slight change from the prior one.
A third, fourth or fifth logo is fine, but use your students, faculty and alumni. I mean UC paid a firm $60,000 some years back to have a firm hit the Italic button on the claw C. Money well spent in these tough economic fans.

MediBuck's picture

This wonderful article outlines exactly the reason why I plan to go into consulting when my medical career finally enrages me to the point that I burn my practice to the ground and decide to collect paychecks to do work for other hospitals that their own quality control departments could do for far cheaper and better.
At the end of the day, there's a systematic pressure on all organizations to change something, especially in hopes that it will improve some aspect of its performance. At the same time, there is the danger that whatever alterations occur will fail miserably and set the group back a good several decades. The ideal solution is to hire some semi-anonymous nobody and pay them the requisite amount to hopefully take the fall should angry consumer backlash hit too hard. To have a much more qualified internal applicant take on the job (i.e. a fine arts or design professor at tOSU for the logo) would be tantamount to accepting responsibility for the failure. That's why the consultants can take top dollar and put out shoddy work--they were the public whipping boys to begin with. That is, unless the consultant actually cares about the work he/she does.

"There is a force that makes us all brothers, no one goes his way alone." --Woody Hayes

Unky Buck's picture

I know most people don't like change, especially when it comes to iconic type images. I can take it or leave it. For me, this whole rebranding of OSU just seemed lazy. I'm not calling for a total revamp because, as many have said, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But things need updated and modernized every now and again. The fact that they put absolutely no thought or originality into this is what gets me. Try a handful of variations, add something, delete something, and go in a completely different direction for a fresh perspective and then figure it out from there. Who knows if they did that or not, but it just comes off as they filled in the blank spot and said, "Boom! I think we got it!"

Rock over London; Rock on Chicago. Timex: It takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin'

Mike413's picture

That must be ......
The Best Damn Brand In The Land