Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sex and Lovemarks

Among other official communications this week, we were notified about new forms of institutional branding that are being adopted at our university.

The University of California, Irvine offers a diverse array of outstanding programs. When this diversity is reflected in an equally wide array of logos and wordmarks, however, the public becomes confused and our campus identity is diluted.

A single, unified identity plays to the strength of our university. We are the Irvine campus of the University of California, regarded among the world's premier institutions of higher learning.

University Communications has developed the next iteration of our campus wordmark system, which better reflects and emphasizes our University of California brand. I am requesting that all campus units immediately begin using this identity system as they create new publications, Web sites, advertising, presentations, signage and any other collateral material representing our campus to internal and external audiences. For units using our current identity system, these changes will be modest.

Public institutions of knowledge that claim the signifiers of intellectual property are often reluctant to use the term "trademark" to describe their attempts to consolidate brand identity, because it is so contaminated with the language of commerce and contract. In this case, the university is using the term "wordmark" to describe the proscribed fonts, logos, and color schemes. As a rhetorician, I understand their desire for coherent messages, even if my own promulgation of the UCI brand has been limited to wearing glitter Zot the Anteater t-shirts with my colleagues to conferences.

Specialists in viral advertising, lifestyle branding, and other new marketing strategies for the "long tail" economy have talked about the importance of "lovemarks." One of their prime examples has actually been my undergraduate alma mater with its distinctive crimson colors and Veritas logo.

Of course, other parties on the World Wide Web have associated the Harvard "brand" with seemingly unsavory forms of sexual expression. For example, I might argue that the blog Sex and the Ivy plays upon the same fantasies as the Playboy "Girls of the Ivy League" issues. The "multimedia" and "omnisexual" spectacle that was the H-Bomb, subsequently parodied by the Harvard Lampoon, similarly played upon public's prurient interest in an august institution. And Bored at Lamont is dedicated to gay hookups and public masturbation set at the primary library for studying on campus, where the smoking room is no longer available for face-to-face decadent sociality. (Ironically, the spin-off at Bored at Berkeley uses its message board for grassroots political organizing.) It's no wonder, that these gray market Internet ventures receive such a high profile, given the fact that Facebook achieved some of its initial cachet as a Harvard brand. Then again, I wouldn't want to see my 1984 print freshman facebook picture again, complete with my groovy grown-up perm and New Wave plaid blouse, which I certainly won't post here.

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