Rebranding TCD

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about this rebranding. Part of me says great, look at things with a fresh eye. A greater part of me says that its a monstrous waste of time and money (about €100k we are told).

TCD, Trinity College Dublin, is a brand. Its one that has stood the test of time for literal centuries. It is, along with a very few others, one of the few global brands we have for Ireland. We are told that we have to change the name to Trinity College, The University of Dublin, as people in Chindia get confused. Hmmm. Do they get confused as to what MIT is ? Or Caltech? I doubt it. They may be momentarily confused as to whether it is an independent university or not but is that reason enough to meddle with something that is time proven? I have not seen any evidence adduced, mere assertion, that this is a problem in recruiting Chindian students.  Call me old fashioned but I would like evidence.

Its worse. Leavign rankings aside its useful for people who wish to find research to know where you are working. Bibliographic databases, such as Web of Science and Scopus and so on work on institutional affiliations. Now about 75% of all TCD work is labelled Trinity College Dublin. So that will remain as it is for all outward facing activity. But out in Chindia we will be Trinity College the University of Dublin. Presumably the confusion as to what exactly TCD is and was will now be replaced by confusion as to why nobody from TCDTUD is publishing (but gosh them lads in TCD seem very active).

And then theres the crest. We are to go from a longstanding (but with no certainty as to when it actually formalised) crest to a new one. John Scattergood presented to the Fellows a long, detailed, arcane and fascinating presentation on the various arms, crests and armorials of the college and the university.  We are now to move from this longstanding, widely used and ancient looking crest to one that frankly looks like it was created in MS Paint. Theres a bizarre argument from the brand consultants that we need to move from yellow and blue as it represents “value” (as if that was bad) brands such as Ryanair and Ikea. If TCD were as successful in its field as they are in theirs then I would be a happy camper…
This is the present shield…. doesn’t it just scream CHEAP !! CHEAP!!!! So easily confused with Maxol…. (yes, that was also an argument).

Screenshot 2014-03-30 09.42.52








This is the proposed new shield. Much classier eh…

Screenshot 2014-03-30 09.42.37







There is a good argument to look again at brands. And theres  a good argument that we should have one consistent logotype (we have at present dozens, and thats confusing). What’s concerning to me is that we seem in this exercise to have taken absolutely no cognizance of the heraldic elements – TCD is an essentially medieval conception, and thats part of its strength.  We can for instance recognize the essential religious nature of the original foundation with a bible without having to accept the literal truth therein or to say that TCD is now a religious institution. We have spend the equivalent of 20 PhD fees or the cost of two postdocs  on a casual rebranding. The evidence from internal surveys is that the academic staff (those much vaunted frontline workers) were in the majority (50-80% depending on the question) happy with the visual identity of the college. One wonders why that was ignored?   One also wonders when we have marketing and design professors why they were not consulted.

College is broke. We have spend c 100k on this so far. We will spend how much more on this? . Frankly, a cent would be too much. This does nothing to advance the core mission of the college.

23 thoughts on “Rebranding TCD

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Rebranding TCD

  2. bealoideas

    Trinity’s long history is a deeply valuable asset. Its original shield may appear cartoonish to modern tastes but its a deeply authentic part of its history. Removing it, is undermining its authenticity.

  3. Pete the Yank

    My University also just went through rebranding. After several hundreds of faculty man (person) hours and God knows how much money, they came up with their Opus – the Motto “Think Big? We Do?

    In the battle between Malicious and Stupid, always bet on stupid – there’s a limit to how malicious people can be.

  4. Pete the Yank

    Oops. That motto should have read “Think Big? We Do!” The exclamation is important (or so I’ve been told). I ask you – would this have happened at Unseen University? I think not, and that’s a good indicator.

  5. Sue Denim

    MIT and CalTech are good examples of universities without “university” in their name. But even more compelling: the Indian India Institutes of Technology and St Stephen’s College, Delhi. Some of the most prestigious third level establishments in one of the countries to which TCD is trying to appeal don’t even see fit to follow this precedent.

      1. Paul O'Mahony

        I’d love to elaborate Brian. For starters, here’s the blogpost I posted this morning. It’s first in a mini-series – so the full position of ChangeAgents Branding is not yet expressed.

        “UCD will go ballistic. That’s my prediction.

        Let me introduce you to the most interesting rebranding story in Ireland today. This will be a journey over several months – this blogpost starts a mini-series that aims to make rebranding TCD more transparent that ever.

        The news that broke publicly on Saturday
        in The Irish Times newspaper (the most authoritative newspaper in Ireland) is

        Trinity College (TCD) the university that’s located in the most historic part of Dublin city has taken the Bible off its crest.

        The Board of academics that run the university have taken a monumental step: they not only hired a company to help them rebrand Trinity, but they collectively agreed a series of gigantic steps.

        They could have been safer. Could have slightly adapted the image of the College. Instead they have caused a big splash.

        Much more meaningful marketing in store – I predict.

        Who’s the champion of change? The change agent at work?

        [I have no insider information on the state of play between the forces of conservatism and the forces of revolution. Hopefully someone from the Board of “Trinity College, the University of Dublin” will come here to this blog and enlighten us. That’s a warm encouraging invitation.]

        If you think the removal of the Bible (replaced by an image of an open book) is massive – wait till you consider the new phrase that introduces Trinity to the wider world.

        “the University of Dublin”.

        Obviously it depends on the emphasis you give to the word “the”. If it’s said with a capital “The” – it confronts University College Dublin (UCD) & Dublin City University (DCU) with an issue.

        “How dare Trinity claim to be “The” university of Dublin” – I hear the Boards of UCD & DCU rage.

        That’s why the branding guys behind the changes used the word “the” rather than “The”. But will that be enough to satisfy the opposition?

        Trinity has fallen down the university league table. That’s part of the context within which the Board of TCD have been courageous. Did they really have a choice? Their reputation is in decline. The Board had to act now – and the right place to move was into the branding of the College.

        That’s the heart of the business. That’s the nub of the problem.

        (1) For long-term improvements – go back to your brand – simplify & clarify its expression – and what it stand for

        (2) For competitive advantage – go back to your brand – make changes that make an impact

        (3) Be unforgettable, remarkable & resonate with the movement of changes in society.

        I promise you I’ll not drop this story. The changes coming out of Trinity College, the University of Dublin are a lesson for how to grow your business (including your not-for-profit).


        Whistle blower: Contact me with insider information – via Twitter (DM) @omaniblog.

  6. cormac

    Hi Brian, interesting post as always. I notice a trend at almost every conference I attend:
    (i) I’m usually the only Irish physicist there.
    (ii) It is assumed that I am from Trinity .
    You just can’t beat that kind of branding, I am green with envy. Not to say that Trinity’s reputation isn’t well-deserved and hard-earned over the years.
    So I think the default position should be that one needs a very powerful reason to change the name, however small the change. ‘Trinity college, University of Dublin’ is of course accurate, but it’s hard to see how it simplifies matters to academics worldwide. Doesn’t it imply that there are sister colleges?
    I always liked the way TCD was simultaneously a college and a university – unique as far as I know…

    1. brianmlucey Post author

      Hi Cormac.
      I ask myself increasingly of such initiatives – does it promote learning or teaching or research? If it doesnt, then it needs to jump over a very high bar. I think this fails.
      The logo is sh!te. And the namechange is pointless and wont be used. We DONT WANT students who cant work our that TCD is the sole college of a university. If they fail at that basic hurdle then they are simply brand shopping. Off ye pop elsewhere.
      100k down the swannee river.

  7. cormac

    Haha. Of course I should have said ‘It is usually assumed that I am from Trinity College Dublin!’. Another problem is that ‘Trinity College, University of Dublin’ may be perceived as a different place, like all those wannabe Oxford language colleges that aren’t really Oxford Colleges at all!

  8. Shaun

    The new shield is nothing short of horrific. It is soulless and lacks any sort of uniqueness. Removing the bible for an “open book” is also nothing short of historical pilferage.
    And the “rebranding” is embarrassing. The media are openly reporting that one of the world’s oldest universities is “rebranding” itself as if it were a bar of chocolate or a commercial radio station repositioning itself. This is not a radio station or a chocolate bar. It is an ancient 400+ year old university. It is sad to see individuals led astray by paid marketers – next time I go to IKEA I certainly wont be comparing their wonky furniture to the university I graduated from.
    Any sign of a revolt to this Brian?

  9. Pingback: The Irish Economy » Blog Archive » Rebranding Trinity College Dublin

  10. Treasa Lynch

    I have to say that I think that Paul O’Mahony’s contribution to the debate leaves out a key issue. How does this support learning? In my view, it doesn’t even come close to contributing. What will happen? People will start asking “what’s the difference between UCD, University of Dublin and DCU anyway? Aren’t they all the one?” Trinity College Dublin has a winner with TCD. It is out of the confusion matrix. You’re suggesting putting it back in will help its position. it won’t. The whole thing about the and The is an irrelevancy if you’re a non-native English speaker. UCD is pushing hard for foreign students at the moment.
    Trinity has to stand on the basis of its scholarship or not at all. Standing on the basis of a brand is superficial and derivative.
    That 100KE is spent on this in a sector which has massive financial problems is lunacy particularly when it brings as little as this has so far and it contributes nothing to the quality of work coming out of Trinity.
    For competitive advantage, you need to do what you do well and better than your competition in your sector. Trinity’s sector is not brand awareness. Whatever else they need to be doing to push up their ranking position – I’d argue more research output would help – spending 100KE on a redesign of their logo is not the top priority. Spending it on supporting pure research, on the other hand…that might help a lot.

  11. Pingback: Further thoughts on TCD rebranding | Brian M. Lucey

  12. Pingback: The history of the Arms of Trinity College Dublin | Brian M. Lucey

  13. Kevin Elliott, TCD MBA 2012

    I am reminded of the University of California’s (UC) ill-fated attempt at re-branding in late 2012. Rather than rely on the (existing) internationally recognized UC seal and the “Let there be light” motto, UC decided to create a logo that was charitably described as a flushing urinal! The contempt over this effort was virtually unanimous and UC quickly brought back the seal.
    You can see an example here:

  14. Kevin

    Brian ,
    I notice you mention 1824 University of Manchester-well as a Manchester history graduate I can tell you that merger in 2004 was a load of old cobblers-the Victoria University of Manchester amalgamated with its own former Faculty of Technology-UMIST to form a new “bogus” instititution that gave out that both parts were equal .In fact UMIST was part of Manchester for 95 years -had its own status for about 6 years and then we came together again -new Arms granted -new academic dress-at one time there were three sets of dress concurrently being used.To the rage of the traddies we lost our coveted Rabbit Fur adornment on our bachelors’ hoods.
    The 1824 thing is a bit bogus too -it marks the start of Manchester Mechanics Institute….not the degree giving university in 1880.
    A ludicrous example with provenance is the Univ of the West of England -UWE, in Bristol.It tries ( as a former Polytechnic) very hard not to live in the literal shadow of the “real” University of Bristol
    and claims a link to the Merchant Venturers of Bristol Navigation school going back to the same decade as TCD….a trifle gilding the lily for a place only dating as a university since 1993.
    I urge caution for all here.
    In Britain Cambridge has Arms dating from 1571……Southampton Solent University, granted degree giving university status in 2004 and with a ranking about 116 /130 UK universities sports a wonderful logo that looks like a teething 11 month old has vomited across his bib.
    Esse quam videri-I say.

  15. Pingback: BASIC at 50 and other items :: Dartmo.

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