Rebrand: The Logo, the Process and the Reputational Risks

The response to students’ concerns about the rebrand has been patronizing and undemocratic

IMG-20160514-WA0009May 14th, 2016: It started out as any other Saturday – save for the exams that loomed on the horizon – yet quickly turned into anything but. What should have been a day for revision, became fraught with revulsion once the Soton Tab reported on SUSU’s rebrand. The familiar ‘SUSU’ logo had been ditched for a new ‘Us.’ logo described as corporate, and students were livid.

Now if I’m perfectly honest, the old logo was horrendous; as a result, the new one may well be somewhat better – at least in my opinion. But that is one of the major cruxes of this whole issue. A logo is very much up to personal taste, and that should have been enough reason for leaving its fate to a referendum open to every single student at Southampton University, as opposed to a handful of elected(ish) members who sit on Union Council.

The real issue with this whole rebrand is not just the new logo, it’s the process by which it was arrived at. It’s the lack of democracy and transparency from an organization that claims to be a paragon of democratic virtue – one which delights in criticising others for lacking those very qualities.

The Survey: Insincere or Incompetent?

Now that there is a petition with over 1814 signatures calling for the reversal of the rebrand, the President and other sabbs have come out to strongly defend it by pointing to the massive survey conducted prior to making a final decision. How many of those sabbs actually looked at the results of that survey before using it as their primary defence (seeing as it was made public a week later)? Why were the results of the survey not presented to members of the union council when they voted on the new brand? Why was a survey never taken before hiring a branding agency for some god-forsaken sum? How was any part of this process remotely transparent?

Anyone who took the trouble to actually fill out this survey will remember it as being one of the most leading surveys ever put together. SUSU President Ben Franklin, in an interview with Wessex Scene, admitted this; “I am very aware that the survey is imperfect.” Apparently not imperfect enough to warrant replacing it with a survey that was fair, clear and straight-forward. A survery with questions like: ‘Do you think we should rebrand?’ or ‘Rebranding would cost ~£30,000; do you still think we should rebrand?’

At one point, the survey asked students how they felt about the name SUSU. 40.5% of respondents said it was great, 49.9% said it was okay – only 7% and 2.6% said it was either bad or awful. In other words, less than 10% of respondents to this survey were actually in favour of changing SUSU’s name. Yet Sabbs point to it as proof of engagement and consultation…

Students are furious about being under represented

Patented Patronization

In response to an article written by Bruno Russell criticizing the manner in which the SUSU AGM recently passed a policy to ban all plastic by the end of the next academic year, our current VP Democracy, Kerry Sclater, wrote the following: “to condemn this policy isn’t necessarily to condemn SUSU, but the hundreds of students who voted for the policy …, and more importantly, the students who didn’t vote.” The comment speaks for itself…

On the 8th of June 2015, a referendum on the rebrand was officially proposed at a Union Council meeting. However, the proposal was to be referred by the Union President to the Trustee Board – where it was reportedly never raised. Ignoring ex-president David Mendoza-Wolfson’s involvement in the rebrand, current President Ben Franklin was present at the meeting and privy to the fact there was interest in a referendum. Yet the chance to vote on having that referendum was never given to council and a chance to vote in a rebrand referendum was never given to the student body.

The Establishment: “Its Your Fault”

The Deputy Editor of the Wessex Scene, Michael Oliver, was quick to call out all those against the rebrand – asking them why they “didn’t speak out about it.” He asked students why they had chosen to “bitch about it on social media” when they hadn’t made “an effort to alter or even prevent the brand changes coming through?”

Oliver went on to provide a quote from the SUSU President responsible for the rebrand, “As is the case with all major change, I anticipate some teething time.”

Franklin recognized this rebrand as a major change. He was aware that there was demand for a referendum. Franklin noted in policy 1415P22 that “referenda are the most effective forms of direct student involvement in decision making that we have.” Franklin even supported a referendum over the library issue earlier this year, despite that fact its outcome would have no material effect on the opening hours of the library – a referendum I spoke against in Union Council to no prevail. However, that very same Franklin, despite all of the above, did not think it worthwhile to have a referendum on this issue. Is it because he knew that a referendum would not have yielded the results he wanted? Was this, as he was asked in February, a matter where his own ego trumped all else?

Defensive to the End

Whilst Mayan Al-Shakarchy’s petition drew almost 2000 supporters, it was not deemed legitimate enough to merit real action from the union. Union Council now have no choice but take actions after Emma Morris’s petition submitted on the SUSU website passed the required threshold of 250 signatures to be taken to Union Council.

The establishment is not going down without a fight. In a blog post on the SUSU website, VP Democracy Kerry Sclater advised students to beware as “there are also significant reputational and financial risks to think about if the outcome were to reverse the rebrand.”

Has Scatler forgotten students didn’t ask for this rebrand? Less than 10% of students surveyed said they didn’t like the name SUSU – the vast majority were perfectly content with it. Notwithstanding this, SUSU went ahead and spent over £30,000 on a project that was literally uncalled for.

If students vote against the rebrand in this referendum, it is not the union and its members who will take a hit – but as for the reputations of those who undemocratically pushed this through and now haughtily defend it, only time will tell.

Democracy be damned

Despite the uproar that followed their controversial rebrand, and the two petitions that followed, SUSU today decided to be undemocratic to the end. At today’s democracy zone meeting, which was filled with concerned students but only saw four voting members in attendance, the members voted against having the referendum next week. Instead they have chosen to postpone it till next year, at which point the question will again go to “democracy” zone. Frazer Delves was the only person who voted to have it next week – Trini Philip (Student Groups Officer) & Ben Franklin (President) voted to have it postponed till next year, while Jamie Wilson (VP Sports) abstained.  How democratic!