Established in 1583, Edinburgh University has been a world-class research institution for centuries. It appears in pop culture as a place of great learning and innovation. While the newest of Scotland’s four (in contrast to England’s two) ancient universities, it has risen to the point of greatest name recognition. Even as a kid in rural western Pennsylvania, born into an uneducated family, I’d heard about it. Little did I dream that I’d actually attend it one day, skulking its time-honored halls and walking the same streets as so many worthies that I couldn’t count them. It was an inspirational place to live and learn. While it may not get you a job, a doctorate from it will keep you curious for the rest of your life, and that’s a fantastic gift.
Just as I was preparing to graduate that venerable institution announced it had decided to rebrand. Wait, what? A four-centuries’ old university known world-wide felt it had to have a brand? At great expense, they hired a consulting firm to make them more modern looking while retaining the trusted tradition stretching back to the late middle ages. It wanted to attract “modern” students (since this was in the early nineties those modern students are now adults). I felt crushed under the commercialism of it all. Branding? If a kid from remote foothills of the Appalachians can know and dream of a place, why does it need to get the word out about itself? Ah well, these wee bairn be wantin’ somethin’ flashy.
I’ve lived through other corporate rebrandings. They seem to me a waste of good money, especially if you’ve been around for a long time. Some people, I suppose, look at an old logo and say “looks outdated, not with it.” Others of us fall down and worship. You see, staying power is something rare these days. Corporations come and go. Even higher education institutions sometimes close down, but the old ones keep on. You can pick up a book from 1600 and read about Edinburgh University. It won’t have the new logo—in fact, it may not have a logo at all—but it will still be around four centuries later. If you get something right at the beginning, why do you need to change it to impress those who think present-day branding (which will only have to be rebranded again at some point in the future) is superior? Perhaps our ancient institutions need to learn that old lesson—trust yourself.