Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What’s up with the Y?

Ever since Brian Williams of NBC-TV announced on his July 12 broadcast that the YMCA has changed its logo to just a “Y,” I have been stewing about the marketing ramifications. As a marketing professional who specializes in brand strategies and corporate identity, I keep asking myself about the reasons for such a dramatic change.

When a company changes its logo, and as a direct result, its brand identity, it is usually due to a new mission, new tagline, or a different corporate direction. Consider Kentucky Fried Chicken back in 1991, when, due to health concerns, it changed its name to KFC to move away from its emphasis on fried food. The company listened to the times, made a change that made sense, didn’t alter its core positioning, and as a result, KFC has continued to grow nationally and internationally.

But, back to the YMCA…who hasn’t or doesn’t refer to the YMCA as the Y? The abbreviated nickname has always been present, and if the management team at the YMCA wished to make a change, then perhaps, the logo should have been redesigned to emphasis a more universal membership. In Brian Williams’ announcement, he said “The YMCA is streamlining and dropping the last three letters of its name.” But, the underlying message or translation is that the YMCA would like to be more welcoming. That is certainly admirable, but a new logo should demonstrate that desire. There are countless designs that could have done a much better job. You can watch Brian’s broadcast here:

Heck, even the Village People from the 1970’s joined the discussion: “We are deeply dismayed by [the] announcement from the YMCA that they feel a name change and a rebranding are in order after 166 years. Some things remain iconic and while we admire the organization for the work they do, we still can't help but wonder Y,” stated the Village People's publicist in an official statement following the announcement.

Remember, while Google alters its logo, which it does often and convincingly, to celebrate a holiday or famous person or invention, the logo retains the core essence of the Google brand. Some clever interpretations of the Google logo can be found online at So, my question to the Y is: how did your new logo retain the core essence of your brand while simultaneously adding more dimension to your brand? While you consider your answer, I think I’m going to continue to stew.

The YMCA logo is a registered trademark of the YMCA. Use of the logo here does not imply endorsement of the organization by this site.

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