Monday, July 12, 2010

The YMCA has a fresh new look.

The widely known nonprofit organization announced a major brand transformation Monday, adopting a more “forward-looking” logo called “The Y.”

“We are changing how we talk about ourselves so that people better understand the benefits of engaging with the Y,” said Kate Coleman, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the YMCA of the USA, in a press release for the brand change.

“We are simplifying how we describe the programs we offer so that it is immediately apparent that everything we do is designed to nurture that potential of children and teens, improve health and well-being and support our neighbors and the large community,” she said.

The YMCA was founded in 1844 in London. It was named the “Young Men’s Christian Association” and sought to create healthy social conditions for young men during the Industrial Revolution. The parallel YWCA for women also dates back to the 19th century, and the YMCA began admitting women in its programs at the end of World War II.

The organization evolved during the 1990s, establishing programs and services specifically designed for “youth development, for healthy living and for social responsibility.” Today, there are 2,687 facilities in more than 10,000 communities, and it serves 21 million men, women and children.

According to Ms. Coleman, the decision to change the name took two years. What initially began as an awareness campaign eventually turned into a desire for a fresh look.

“As we got into the process, we realized it was much bigger than what we thought,” she told The Washington Times. “We did a ton of research and what we found was that people don’t realize or understand why we do what we do.”

The Y’s former logo had not been changed since 1967. The new logo now features “multiple color options and a new, contemporary look.”

Ms. Coleman believes that the former logo did not create enough attention. So, the new brand was created in order for people to better understand the organization’s mission and its history.

Burkey Belser, president of Greenfield/Belser Ltd., a well-known brand design firm in Washington, agrees with the updated branding of The Y, with which he was not involved, calling these types of moves a “natural progression.”

For his company, “our goal is to try not to redesign but to realign with contemporary goals,” he said. “I would say that a name generally suggests some effort on the part of the barrier to refresh the brand in the mind of its audience.”

Mr. Belser also noted that because the group’s activities are so wide-ranging and ecumenical and lacking in a specifically Christian focus, The Y more accurately describes it than a religiously specific term does.

Research studies also prove that the average person only remembers two- or three-word symbols, he said, and the new one-letter name puts a larger emphasis on youth.

“I think its the idea that they wanted to be more associated with youth, and it’s possible that their demographic was growing older and they wanted to recapture their youth market,” he said.

According to Ms. Coleman, YMCA locations across the country have been “overwhelmingly supportive.” She predicts that the change will reach many more people.

The brand will be implemented through advertisement by local Y’s as well as public service announcement campaigns by the YMCA-USA.

Ms. Coleman said The Y should be used when referring to the organization as a whole, but YMCA is correct usage for a specific location.

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