Thursday, February 13, 2014

Painful

Response to the new logo is just painful. I am not on the UU staff, and minimally aware of things like evangelism, marketing, branding and communication and I am amazed at the level of willful yahooism that my colleagues have displayed.

1. Why do we need a new logo? Because the old one is 8 years old, and no one liked it. Until now. If you have an iconic logo (think Apple's apple, or Chevy's short cross or the Mercedes Benz almost peace sign) you don't change your logo. Otherwise, you change your logo periodically to keep up and look fresh. I know that lots of our churches have the same website they put up in 2004, but the UUA shouldn't. Their order of service is printed in the same font and format as it was years ago. Would you wear the same tie for 8 years every week to church?

2. Who decided that we needed one and picked this one? The staff of the UUA. That is what we pay them to do. The by-laws and purposes say the production of materials for spreading UUism some of their job. They also order pencils and design the stationery and pick the banners at GA. Right, your congregation doesn't need no new stinking logo. It's growing like crazy among the young people of your town, who are flocking to your website and then poking each other in the butt with bbq forks to get in the doors on Sunday. After all, you got a really striking picture of your steeple and your board of trustees picnic on the frontpage of your website, right above the link to the minutes of the pigeon control committee. Don't give me that crap that people come because of the deep genuine relationships that they share in your congregation.  We're not growing because we are not communicating and we are not communicating because we treat communication as an afterthought, a luxury.

3. How much did this cost?  We don't spend enough on this sort of thing, not too much. We are in the communication business, especially at the UUA level, but also at the congregational level. And in this environment, in which everyone is media saturated, if you are not sophisticated and polished in your presentation in the general media environment, you are a joke. Literally, there are websites dedicated to examples of bad and awkward marketing. There are some good things going out there -- I think of the 'God is Still Speaking' campaign - but believe me, wherever that idea came from, it was professionally developed.

4. Logos are for communicating with other people, not ourselves. When people talk about resurrecting some old logo from the 40's (two circles and an off-center cross), who do they think we are talking to? That's design for self-satisfaction. If you have to decode for others, then you've lost. If you want a logo to be a summarizing symbol which expresses everything about you, you are asking too much. The Cross has been taken.

5. I am just bewildered by people who last week said that UU's were insular and unhip and uninteresting, and this week are going 'who needs a logo? who needs a communication strategy'? Or people who laugh at our dorkiness and then decry efforts to change it.

6. There are people, and I am looking right them, who think that we can't order lunch until we get our theology straight. I know its frustrating that you wrote a whole a brilliant paper on Christology for seminary and no one in UUland cares. And there are others who think that we can't pick a hymn until we get our mission clear. Yes, if we knew what we were doing, we'd being doing it right now. And there are others who view everything as a sign of the UU's inevitable decline and failure. Haters gonna hate. Why should I care?

7. Don't even get me started on the sexual symbolism of the logo. That's about you, not the logo. We are a denomination culturally defined by older white women and we are slowly sliding back into Victorianism, (and I don't mean Peacebangism).

OK, I am pissed, depressed and even the gym, choir practice and a stiff drink has not helped. I'm going to go read a Nordic detective story where alcoholic and depressed policemen sit around in gray rainy weather in old Volvo's waiting to arrest the only guy in the city who is packing a gun. Or one of those Icelandic mysteries in which the whodunit is compromised by the fact that everybody in Iceland knows each other already. It should cheer me up.

I am not often discouraged, but the resistance to the new, to change, among my colleagues, especially among colleagues who think of themselves on the cutting edge, is just too depressing tonight.




23 comments:

PeaceBang said...

There's so much bitterness against congregations in your latest posts, Tom. So much vitriol about the failures, the irrelevancy. Pigeon control committees? You dish out that kind of disdain and yet condemn acting parish ministers for being negative?

Painful, indeed.

Don Erickson said...

I am sort of neutral about the logo. But I do not see it making a difference.

I realize I may be creating a faux pas here or in the least dreaming. But if marketing and branding is the issue, and putting my marketing consultant hat on, I'd dare say that the change needs to go deeper than just the logo. Unitarian-Universalism is a mouthful and discombobulating and leaves a big question mark in the minds of the uninitiated. What the hell does it mean? Then the uninitiated delve deeper and find that "Unitarian" derives from the Christian tradition. "Universalism" the same. Yet they read that UU is in someways a Christian tradition (in history and liturgical and political practice) but not a Christian tradition (in theology and functionality), counting five other sources to the new religion with 2 old names. Now, in the age where simplicity in marketing and branding reigns (see Apple, Google, etc.), UU has a problem. I say, and I am not being facetious here, go big and rename and not just re-logo or rebrand.

However, when I think about options for a new name, I have a hard time. What would we call it? The Liberal Religion Society? The 7-Principles Church? The 6-Source Congregationalist Association?

revdawn said...

I have stayed out of the logo debate thus far, watching with curiosity and a sense of detachment. What I see, at a macro-level, is that clergy do not trust "the UUA" and that our distrust of "the UUA" is not so different than congregational distrust of ministerial authority.

That does not dismiss either clergy or "the UUA" from responsibility - trust is a two-way street. But I think both clergy and "the UUA" need to take this fundamental breakdown in mind when communicating things.

For instance, the UUMA could have been brought in as an ally. "The UUA" could have said to the UUMA: "We are doing this, here is why, here is the whole process and we want you on board." This does not guarantee that all ministers would have been on-board, but I suspect our behavior would have been better if we had not been blindsided (which is what I see in a lot of the responses.)

Meanwhile, clergy could perhaps be not so quick to judge, waiting to see what the steps are, since the new logo is apparently step 1. If may be that step 2 or 3 is just what we are clamoring for right now.

That is my tact anyway - I am curious, and holding judgment until I see what else is coming out of this process. It may be a mess, it may be awesome. I don't yet know enough to make that determination.

Don Skinner said...

Did Apple's logo become iconic because of the logo itself or because it became associated with a product people had to have? When the UUA's logo becomes well-known because it is repeatedly seen on the front lines of social justice movements and because we've gotten better at sharing our faith on social media and across the back fence then it too will become iconic.

I like to quote a UU minister from a decade ago, in this regard. The Rev. Thomas Yondorf once told me the following: "We need to be missionaries, to explain our religion to others and tell why it holds up a possible answer to the human dilemma. Our churches are full of people who are putting pesticides on their lawns and driving sport utility vehicles, like everyone else. I’d like to see us become more identifiable by our peculiarity. Let’s identify four or five outcomes we want to see, such as learning to live gently on the earth, and address that. We’re nibbling at the edges, but we don’t really lead lives different from other folks.”

Lilylou said...

Tell it, Jeremiah! I appreciate your thoughts. It's interesting what a stint away from the pulpit can reveal. You have a perspective that most others can't have because they are not in your shoes. Thanks for telling us how you see it. You express thoughts I haven't had the energy to put into words as I've watched the furor build.
Kit Ketcham

Clyde Grubbs said...

The ecclesial turn that began at Vatican II from Church being concieved as Institution and its functionaries (especially episcopal functionarie) to Church being concieved as a community of witness (laos means whole people of God.)

Congregations and beyond is our tentative rethinking of "Church" as part of that turn that is one of the most critical theological and policy questions facing the "Church Universal." My contention is that Unitarian Universalism will not prevail is splendid isolation, we must look at the best examples of missional church in the Church Universal.

Part of the turn is a transformed vision of the role of the ordained clergy. I wonder if collegial anxiety to "logo" change may "displacement" to the "what does this new idea of Church" mean to me. The discussion you all had about changing the perceptions of the UUA among that imagined demographic "millenials" was a good one, but then the video concludes with the unvailing of the "logo." Logos come, and logos go, and have little or nothing to do with the topic you all were talking about. It doesn't surprise me that colleagues reacted, the video set up the reaction by mixing discussion about a profound crisis of our institutions and our emerging response with a piece of stencil art.

Clyde Grubbs said...

Peacebang,

I do not detect bitterness against congregations in Tom's critique of congregations. Tom has always been a little rhetorical when he is doing polemic. I remember Marjorie and I had great laugh at his critique of the Journey Toward Wholeness as a conspiracy of the tiny number of People of Color to get program money. We gathered in our telephone booth for a good giggle on that one.

Pigeon control committee is a classical satirical characterization of the "committee" culture of UU congregaions. It was argued that we seem to invent make work committees to "empower" lay folks rather enlist them in meaningful ministries. Roy Phillips popularized the term in his books and workshops about shared ministry c. 1995-6.

ogre said...

What is sad is the failure to roll this out in a way that didn't invite reactivity and lack of support.

Near universal surprise (and this is about good communication?).

Logos are a bit like church decor; there will be dissent and complaint, and snark. Expect it. BUT you can avoid the worst by letting people know that it's being done, and why. And why they need to recognize, in advance of seeing it, that it's not about their taste and vision.

But no. Just dumped on us -- complete with (as Clyde observed) a video that fed anxiety and then presented a logo. You couldn't design for a more certain bad reaction.

Couple this with a free-floating anxiety due to the move to Farnsworth (inescapable -- so timing, now, why?) and the conversation going on about what the UUA[oC?] is, is about, is for, is doing... and it's an easy nucleate for unhappy responses.

The logo may or may not be fine (I'm unimpressed, but so what?). But the presentation of it was and is bizarre. Starting with here's our new logo, rather than here's the larger program and so... here's the new logo (which we started talking about, to many of you, a while ago...). Mystified.

And no, Tom, I don't feel that we ought to be playing the role of lining up to approve of it and like it, just because it's there, and new. And because we'd like the UUA to be more effective and to have a good relationship with us.

Joshua Pawelek said...

Tom: You and I have different ideas of what is painful in this conversation. Some of the quotes you included don't seem so problematic to me. I have been more challenged by what I perceive as a kind of lazy, unthoughtful, knee-jerk ridiclue of the logo and the UUA.

Lara said...

The discussion on Facebook captured knee jerk reactions, which are not necessarily spiritually mature. But it is human nature to have an immediate reaction to an image, as well as an opinion. Perhaps we weren't immediately as charitable as we should have been because (for me at least) it seemed to come out of nowhere. I didn't realize the UUA was working on a new logo (though I might not have been paying close enough attention). Maybe I felt a little hurt at being clueless or out of the loop, I don't know. But it's just 24 hours later, and the new logo is already growing on me. The other thing about human nature is that our minds can change and our hearts can soften.

Edmund Robinson said...

I've already posted about the reaction as an expression of the disconnect some of us feel with the pace of change being initiated by the UUA. But I think I can agree with most of Tom's post here. We do need to try some new communication, we will never come to complete coherence on who we are theologically, and we must live in the tension between roots and wings.

JM said...

Amen Tom!

You hit it out of the park. We need to have a refresh every few years until, to paraphrase your comment: (our congregations are) ". . . growing like crazy among the young people of your town, who are flocking to (our) website(s) and then poking each other in the butt with bbq forks to get in the doors on Sunday."

We can't change the world if we're only talking to ourselves, and right now the denominational soliloquy is getting us nowhere.

Jeff May

Anonymous said...

Got to love Kurt Wallander...

Julie-Ann Silberman-Bunn said...

I am not opposed to a new logo and I am not opposed to updating our media presence. My problem comes when I show it to my mildly media savvy 25 year old and he says it looks like a vagina and a penis...that is when I think we miss our mark and I wonder about who the people were who saw all these uplifting and positive things that the staff are sharing. When we come up with something that is not obscene and still memorable I will gladly jump on the bandwagon.

Cynthia Landrum said...

What Lara said.

I can see all the different symbolism people are seeing in it, and saw some of it myself, but overall I like it, I like that the UUA is thinking about branding. I think it's appropriate for our Association to be doing this sort of thing. The prior one was starting to look dated and hadn't become iconic, so why not? Yes, I can see a penis and a vagina and a rocket and all that. But when I first heard "iPad" I did think it sounded like a sanitary napkin brand, so so what? We'll get used to it. Overall, I think it's a good thing, and I think the logo is less important than what it sound like the UUA is trying to do with the logo just being the start of. I'm interested to see what comes next.

Don't let the tittering get to you. Some folks, yes, are a bit bent out of shape about this, but they'll come around. And some of us are just having a bit of fun seeing people's reactions.

Betsy said...

I'm with Don. One logo is pretty well like another. We should go big and change the name.

And wouldn't that just get the comments coming in.

I, for one, would life to avoid Unitarian, Universalist, Religion, Church, and Congregation in the name....

And propose the Humanist Naturalism Society (re: discussions out of Meadeville et al).

:)

Anonymous said...

I'm with Tom. Time to move on and experiment. I get depressed at times when I see and hear the constant UUA bashing - it feels a lot like Republicans demonizing Obama - non-stop and on everything little and big! But then I think about Theodore Parker and what he experienced. So you put this in perspective and confront the real and honest issues and find a way to work together.

David said...

I agree we need to communicate. I agree we need the branding. I agree with the big picture goals....

But the LOGO is just BAD. Really BAD. So bad I don't believe the things I'm told about how the focus groups were just lovin' it. And THAT is what leads to distrust of the "establishment" in Boston, when you suspect you're being fed a bunch of one-sided propaganda and bullshit by marketers that specialize in it.

I am a UU, you'd think I would see the U, but no, I see a Uterus. You'd think I'd see the chalice, but no, I see a flaming condom. If I see those things, knowing what UU is and having a clue what the logo should communicate, then you can bet that non UU's are going to see those things too.

And I don't appreciate being shamed for seeing them.

Unknown said...

wow, you're funny and make some really good points.

i work for a nonprofit that recently redesigned their logo and we've heard a LOT of the same complaints. but logos are not for those of us who are already here, they're for people who are just coming in the door (or just looking at the door from across the street).

and yeah, the whole sexual imagery stuff is just dumb. i have an incredibly dirty mind and i don't see it.

Shirley Steele said...

"We are a denomination culturally defined by older white women and we are slowly sliding back into Victorianism,..." Well, however one feels about the logo, this is pretty clearly vitriolic sexism. You need a reality check here.

John A Arkansawyer said...

That's interesting, Shirley. I read that as primarily calling out the privilege of old, relatively well-to-do white people. Old white guys (such as myself) are a bigger problem overall, but we don't dominate church power structures the way old white ladies do.* It's one of the areas where the privilege of whiteness and the economics of an aging--that is to say, dying--generation seem to me to trump the oppression of gender.**

I stay silent on my own congregation's domination by old white ladies*** because my principles tell me to shut up on the subject when my own privilege may be doing the talking and because it is blessedly one of the few areas where the gender power balance is reversed (and because they also do the lion's share of the work, though so much of it is pigeon control), but I'd like to find a way to address it productively.

*for values of church that are specific to white churches

**some of the 2008 conversations about Hilary Clinton versus Barack Obama to which I've been a witness have been incredibly painful

***I suppose this is as good way a way as any to find out if my pushing Tom's blog to our congregation is working ;-)

Tim Barger said...

I looked into the history of the UCC comma campaign. It was developed by Ron Buford, a UCC national staff member who had a previous career in corporate marketing, and the comma logo was designed by UCC staff designer Randy Varcho. Professionally done, but in-house.
As for logos being for those outside the organization, true to an extent, but there has to be ownership within the organization--look at the logo jewelry and tattoos, for example, of the circles-and-chalice logo that came before the Sinkford logo. Does this logo inspire people to be walking ads?

Elz Curtiss said...

My initial response, on Facebook and blog, might have been kneejerk, but the role of a logo IS to ignite a kneejerk reaction. That reaction is supposed to be positive and specific. Over the decades, I've gone through a number of Coke commercials, and despite the fact that I don't drink Coke, they still give me a warm glow. I see the old ones and new ones as being different iterations of the same thing, and I know what that thing is. The tulip doesn't meet that test. It is a design failure, and somebody still needs to be fired for spending even one minute on looking for it and even one penny for commissioning it. If we were rich and the world were perfect, this would be a fun little exercise about engaging our future. We are not and the world is not. Stick to your knitting, people, and let the artists in our pews come up with new visuals.