I have a friend who works in the marketing department of a major Canadian brewery. About a decade ago this company ran a very successful advertising campaign where an average guy proclaimed his nationality after listing a bunch of stereotypes about that country that he personally related to. I suspect that most readers are aware of what brewery and brand I'm referring to based on nothing more than my vague description provided above. The campaign was that successful.
Some would even call it iconic.
Yet, despite its popularity the campaign was abandoned at the height of its success. A new head of marketing was hired at the brewery, my friend explained, and it was understood that he would be creating his own, unique campaign. It didn't matter how well the old one was working. He had to make a change, for no other reason than for change itself. Predictably, all future campaigns have failed to reach same level of success.
When my friend was telling me that anecdote I could not help but think of Queen's recent decision to drop the Golden from its name. Despite an overwhelming lack of evidence that anything was wrong with the name, change just had to be made. A marketing firm had been hired. They had been given a mandate to "update" the image of Queen's athletics. It simply wasn't possible that they would leave good enough alone.
Whether the folks responsible for recommending the change understood just how much fallout there would be from the name change is not known. Actually, it's likely that they weren't aware. Marketers are obsessed with control and branding. They think that "consumers" want to have things spelled out for them. By controlling your "brand's" image you make it easy for people to "consume" it. In Queen's case, they were troubled by the inconsistent use of the name. Lots of people referred to the school's teams as just the Gaels, but Golden would slip in from time to time, especially when speaking about the team. For a control obsessed marketer that just wouldn't do. They needed to have their hand in every aspect of "their" brand.
What these folks didn't realize is, that when you are dealing with a program with as much tradition as Queen's, it wasn't their brand to control. It's the alumni, students and to a lesser extent the community's. And, based on the scuttlebutt that's out there now, those stakeholders aren't happy with losing the Golden.
In an e-mail exchange between Dan Pawliw, a Golden Gael captain on the 1991 conference championship team and 1978 Vanier Cup champion Paul Shugart that was shared with Out of Left Field, discontent with the change was expressed.
Writing that his opinion was shared by many of the former players that were in Kingston last week for a reunion of the '78 team, Shugart said he could not understand why Queen's would make the change.
"Apart from playing with tradition," he wrote, "there seems to be weak justification for dropping the word Golden from the team's name. Queen's Gaels sounds very flat. In fact, on a few occasions during Saturday's game, reference was made to the Queen's Football Gaels during announcements, obviously due to the fact it is more melodic."
Shugart referenced an article written by Andrew Bucholtz for the Queen's Journal that suggested that efforts would be made to continue to use Golden in the context of overall Athletics brand communications efforts. However, he wrote that he did not see evidence of that intent at the game Saturday.
"I never heard the word used once over the course of the day."
Shugart suggested that Queen's football was a tradition that didn't require an upgrade. It is a recognized commodity throughout Canada.
"If other Queen's sports or recreation programs need a promotional lift through the introduction of a new logo (to quote Queens' Athletics), then fine," he wrote. "Let them do so. But don't throw the baby out with the bath water. The Queen's football program, inclusive of its name, look and traditions, has been a major, national promotional pillar for the University for decades. I shudder to think what the reaction would be among Notre Dame or Michigan alumni if their respective administrations were to bring about similar change."
Although Shugart stressed that the decision to change the name would not impact his support of the program ("I will continue to support, watch and cheer loudly for the Queen's Golden Gaels at every opportunity, and wish them continued great success this season and in years to come, re-branding or not," he wrote) he called the change "an unfortunate turn of events."
He's right. It is an unfortunate turn of events when a university of Queen's stature and history turns its back on tradition. A tradition that has been prized at Queen's for generations. It is just a word, but the symbolism behind the change is more than that. At the risk of hyperbole, it's a change that speaks to the very idea of just who the school and the team belong to. Is it a product to be sold by the university? Or a tradition to be cherished by the alumni, community and students?
With homecoming just two weeks away the Queen's community has a chance to tell those responsible for the change just what they think about it—to stand up and reclaim what's theirs.
To stand up and yell "I am Golden."