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Since Lancaster University replaced the traditional chaplaincy themed “swoosh” logo with the new shield one, there has been mixed opinion across campus. A document entitled ‘Final Brand Narrative research’ is a report which details the findings of discussions held with a small group of Year 13 students regarding their views on universities in general and more specifically, Lancaster. The research presented in the report was undertaken by the Vanilla research company and its results formed a part of the overall evidence used by the University as the reason behind the University’s rebranding.
The main issue that arose in the report was that Lancaster was not seen by these students as a top university or in line with Russell Group Universities, as well as the problem that very few of the students sampled knew anything about Lancaster as a university or its location. Furthermore, the report points out the faults of the previous logo in reaffirming these students’ assumptions about the University.
A total of 26 students took part in the series of four group discussions that were held in May 2014 and they had all “applied to Top 10 and Russell Group universities for entry in September 2014 (or deferred to 2015).” The choice of location for the sample supposedly covered a range of proximities to Lancaster and the groups of students involved came from: An independent school in Yorkshire, a Sixth Form College in Hampshire, a group of independent school students in Cheshire and a mixed group of state and independent school students in South West London. However, the report fails to mention how many of the 26 students came from each school and therefore the representation within the sample is unclear, despite the fact that the type of school could affect the students’ responses.
For many of the 26 students in the discussions the report showed that Lancaster did not feature on their radar. It said “The research covered a relatively small number of students, from a limited number of locations, but it was still noticeable that Lancaster University was simply not on their radars in terms of UCAS applications.” It went on to note that “Only a handful of the 26 could place it on a map, with ‘somewhere in the north’ as close as many students could get (even in the Cheshire group only 2 of the 6 could confidently locate Lancaster on a map).” This report appears to suggest that the problem of students not knowing the location of Lancaster lies with University itself and that it is simply a branding issue, yet it does not consider the lack of geographical knowledge of the 26 students who took part in the discussions.
The report also showed that many of students formed their opinions and first impressions of a University on its logo. For example one student said: “They’ve got a shield so they’re going to be an old university, which is more prestigious.” Another said: “A crest lets you know it’s been around for a while, and the older universities are generally part of the Russell Group, so it kind of let’s you know that it’s one of the better ones.” Lancaster’s former logo, the “swoosh” was criticised as being unspecific, and on the face of it unrelated to academia. The report said “It may seem superficial, but to these students a modern logo is associated to some extent with ‘modern’ universities, which in their minds are inherently less ‘prestigious’. But on a similarly ‘superficial’ level, they can see a logical historical connection between logos that feature a book and traditional academia. That link is not apparent in Lancaster’s symbol (and potential students cannot be expected to recognise the actual link with the spire of the Chaplaincy centre).”
When presented with one of the potential new logo designs, the students in the group discussions found that it was ‘appropriate’ to a prestigious Top 10 university.’ The report said “Although the research was not designed to measure the exact strength of opinion, we would go so far as to say that in these groups support for a possible redesign of the logo was all but unanimous.”
While Stuart Franklin, the Director of Communications and Marketing, made it clear to SCAN that the decision to change the logo was not taken solely on this report, the comments appear to have had some influence on the new logo, despite the small sample size. While there was apparently other evidence which backed up the decision to change the logo, in April 2014, the University set up focus groups which heard the views of at least one hundred current students, who had a strong favour towards the “swoosh” logo. Furthermore in a SCAN poll taken at the end of August, 71% of voters favoured the old “swoosh” logo.
In response to the new logo, LUSU VP (Education) Joe O’Neill said “The shield looks crap and whoever designed it is laughing all the way to the bank. It’s all very Emperor’s New Clothes and, to be quite honest, if you’re choosing where you study based on a bloody shield you should try Hogwarts, not university.” However, Franklin said “I think the fact that applications are substantially up this year justifies the logo change and the other changes we have made to strengthen Lancaster’s marketing. Lancaster is starting to look and sound much more like the top 10 university that it is, which is having an impact.”
The report also shows a worry from the independent school students who took part in the discussions about the high number of state school students that there are at Lancaster. One student said ““On face value, it’s not that big a deal, but it raises questions as to why it is that sort of proportion, compared to other universities that high up. Do they actively select state school students?” and another said “The fact that they’re pointing it out makes me suspicious and makes me feel like it’s a factor in their decision process.” The report itself even said “More dangerously, it made some independent school students question whether it would impact their chances of being made an offer if they applied to Lancaster.”
When asked whether he was worried about the responses from these students and if they also had any influence on the rebranding so that the University would appeal to these independent school students, Franklin said “We need to appeal to students from both state and public schools. It isn’t a question of trying to appeal to just one part of the market. You can do both: students with good A-Level grades are looking for the same things whether they come from the independent or state sector.”
Overall, the University set aside £50k to cover the costs of the rebranding, of which Franklin said they have spent about £35k. He went on to say “most of that money has been spent on things we needed to do anyway, such as providing new exhibition stands. We decided to implement the changes over the course of 12 months so that things like prospectuses were replaced as part of the normal cycle of renewal and extra cost wasn’t involved. There was some money spent removing the old logo from the sides of buildings etc, but in the main I haven’t replaced the old with the new. I don’t see why the shield needs to be on everything.”