I understand and value brand identity and logos.
I have spent the better part of the last two decades working with Tony Pearman, Kris Bailey, and others whom I consider some of the best in the business refining identity packages. It’s hard work.
At times, it’s necessary to defend your identity.
But I just have to give a big “Shame on you!” to the University of Arizona for forcing Appomattox County High School to change their logo under threat of litigation.
According to various media reports, attorneys for the Collegiate Licensing Corporation, on behalf of University of Arizona, saw the logo over the summer and sent Appomattox County High School a letter. These high-paid, high-powered defenders of the brand said both that the logo was too similar and that the use of a logo by a small high school MORE THAT 2000 MILES AWAY constituted a threat to the sanctity of University of Arizona’s public persona and diluted the distinctiveness of the university’s brand.
The “A” in question is ubiquitous at Appomattox High School as it has been a part of the community tradition for many years. It adorns floorboards, scoreboards, booster club apparel, uniforms, and helmets. It will take a lot of effort and time…and money to get the logo changed over…attention that could be given to such matters as …oh, say, educating students.
In the end, Appomattox officials decided that to phase the logo out over the next five years would be less expensive than litigation. That’s probably a good idea, because University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart’s academic platform is “Never Settle.” No word on whether that philosophy extends to matters involving the legal issues affecting the school’s logo.
With a cursory look, I can find at least a dozen logos that bear some similarity to the Arizona/Appomattox A and Appomattox High has a defendable position…the fonts and colors are different and the proximity and absence of brand equity in Virginia for the University of Arizona could conceivably become, at best, a PR nightmare for the University. At worst, they could call into question much larger questions about the similarity of their mark to other existing marks and whether the profoundly different missions of a high school and a college are protected. Of course, the lawyers get paid either way.
Many high schools have logos that are similar, if not direct copies of universities, normally those much closer than those involved in this flap. College coaches and administrators never minded because the possibility that it might in someway influence an athlete or student to consider the university has always been seen as a greater benefit than the threat of brand confusion.
Anyhow, the permeation of the Internet will make such legal threats more and more common over the coming years as lawyers from distant locales extract fees or justify their salaries by threatening legal action from schools. They will note on their timesheets the value they brought to their deep-pocketed clients by defending the brand. Maybe they feel good about the contribution they make to society, but as far as I’m concerned, these particular lawyers are acting like…A-holes.