When JCPenney announced that they were changing their logo, my first question was what it looked like. My second question was who designed it. I was disappointed to learn that the company had a contest for the logo redesign. Yep, they got it for free:
To choose a new logo design, jcpenney sought submissions that reflect a wide range of perspectives. Participants included the Company’s associates, several design agencies and two art schools – University of Cincinnati and Rhode Island School of Design – that collectively submitted over 200 designs for consideration. The winning design was provided by Luke Langhus, a third-year graphic design student at the University of Cincinnati, who chose to reintroduce jcpenney’s iconic red box – a symbol he has long associated with the national retailer. Langhus developed a versatile logo that preserves the Company’s namesake but can be modified to showcase the “jcp” independently, given his intent to ensure it would resonate with constantly-connected digital consumers who often use abbreviations.
Wow. Abbreviations!! I’ll totally shop there now! And when did the University of Cincinnatti with 304 programs of study become known as an art school, let alone one that is on par with the Rhode Island School of Design?
While I’m happy for Langhus, I disagree with a company using a contest to solicit free work. It makes great press, but it sets a bad precedent. A brand is three-dimensional, full of substance, personality and authenticity. Any changes should be made thoughtfully, carefully and for good reason. It shouldn’t become a corporate MBA’s idea of a “social” experience. At least they announced it rather than just spring it on us–we all learned from the Gap’s mistakes. (BTW, my favorite analysis of the Gap debacle is this FastCompany blog post by brand identity expert David Brier. The comments are spot on, as well.)
I’m a writer, not a graphic designer, although I have partnered with designers for 20+ years on brand initiatives. But if you’re interested in a straight design perspective, check out this insightful post, A Penney for Your Thoughts, by graphic designer Armin Vit. So while I do like the use of the red box and the fresher approach to “jcp,” I don’t care for the way “enney” floats by itself in a sea of white space. Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I don’t think people should have to think too hard about a word when they see it in text or graphics. It’s a distraction–and it detracts. Here’s the explanation provided by the press release:
The jcpenney logo puts greater visual emphasis on a new, lowercase “jcp” by positioning it slightly off-centered in a red box while still featuring the Company’s signature red color and Helvetica font. The logo was designed to evoke a sense of movement and discovery as the letters appear to break out of the box, symbolizing an emergence into an exciting, new future.
I know brand-speak hype when I hear it. I also know movement when I see it–and no offense, but I don’t see movement in this new logo. I see “enney.” And Helvetica. Wow! Original. (Here’s a good quick post on that topic that sums up the Helvetica dilemma: Writing for Designers: Helvetica, overused?)
And as far as “symbolizing an emergence into an exciting, new future,” I think–at JCPenney?? The last item I purchased there was a pair of slippers for my husband’s 98-year-old grandfather, a former farmer. I bought them online from JCPenney–oops, sorry, jcpenney (wow, see the big difference!?)–because I knew it was the only store nearby his rural town where his caregiver could physically go to return or exchange them. (He doesn’t have a computer and has no idea what Zappos is.)
See, this is where the whole “brand redesign contest” approach falls apart. Because any brand strategist worth their salt knows that words like “exciting new future” and “break out of the box” are not associated with the JCPenney or jcpenney brand. It’s a place to buy clothes and household goods at a value. It’s been around for a long time. My older relatives shop there. Enough said.
Unless jcpenney is radically changing their strategy, their stores or their products, a refresh of their logo–that’s what this really is–is not going to change much about the perceptions of people who do or don’t shop there. It’s not going to differentiate jcpenney from JCPenney or Target or Kohl’s or any of their competitors. And while I am a big fan of all lowercase letters and names, displaying JCPenney as jcpenney doesn’t up the cool factor. It doesn’t make it more “social.” It doesn’t compel me to shop there. And it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still the same old JCPenney: more expensive than Wal-Mart. Less cool than Target. Old and irrelevant.
So if you or anyone you know has ever uttered the words “Hey, I know! Let’s have a logo contest!”, ask these five essential brand strategy questions first:
1. Why are you changing your brand identity?
2. Why are you changing it now–and why should we care?
3. What do you hope to accomplish?
4. Who are you trying to reach (if you say everyone, you’re in trouble)?
5. How are you going to support your new brand “promise”–not just in your logo and your press release–but everywhere: inside and out, top to bottom?
Maybe I’m not in jcpenney’s target audience. And I definitely haven’t seen their rationale. But I don’t see anything to get excited about here. I guess it proves one thing: you get what you pay for.
What do you think? Comment or cast your vote.