A Mark of Distinction
It takes an enormous amount of time, effort and money for any organization to establish its brand. For Georgia Southern, 35 years ago, there was little money and little motivation for such an effort, but that didn’t stop the college’s then-new president, Dale Lick, from taking up the cause.
“I don’t think we had the symbolism that people could look at and automatically say, ‘That’s Georgia Southern,’ and say it in a positive way and feel positive about it,” said Lick. “And that was the dynamic we were looking for — to grab people and make them see it and appreciate it and know what it stood for.”
Call it coincidence, kismet, serendipity, or just another moment of magic in our University’s lore, but not only did Georgia Southern get an iconic logo that redefined its brand for the next 35 years and counting, it was also created by one of the best brand designers in the country…as a donation.
John Parcels, a former professor of philosophy and religious studies and a member of Lick’s cabinet, had an extensive background in marketing, and had been taking photos of the many logos, insignias, stationery and print pieces floating around campus. In a presentation to the administration, he showed the brand’s lack of continuity and the need for change.
“In those days, any department could have its own logo, do anything it wanted,” he said. “It always concerned me because, as I argued to Lick and the others, whatever you put out there sends a message.”
To find the right message, Parcels developed a simple questionnaire, which he took to the vice presidents, deans, athletics and other campus stakeholders, to find out what they wanted the public to think about the school and what values they wanted to portray. Number one on the list was academic excellence, with “up-to-date” and “modern” following closely behind.
Lick created a committee with Parcels, Linda Smillie (chair), Steve Batson, Sharon Fell, Wendell Hagins and Hank Schomber — all of whom would be responsible for creating a logo that would meet the needs of the College and its athletics teams, which was no small feat.
Early on, some members of the committee thought they should hold a contest among art students on campus to create the logo, but Parcels feared they’d be forced to move forward with something that might not work. One committee member actually suggested changing the school mascot to a cardinal, and changing the school color to red.
“If you’re trying to make an impression and you’re ranking birds, which one would you put at the top?” Parcels said, laughing. “An eagle or a cardinal?”
After more than a year of the committee “spinning its wheels,” Parcels said he offered to call in an expert. Luckily, he knew one of the best brand designers in the country, a designer responsible for some of the most recognized brands around the world, a designer he also referred to as “Dad.”
J. Roy Parcels (see photo above) was one of the founding partners of Dixon & Parcels Associates, a commercial design firm located off Fifth Avenue in New York City. The company is responsible for international brands and packaging for Quaker State, Campbell’s Soup, The Borden Company, 4C Foods, M&M Mars candies, and several other Fortune 500 companies. Every home in America has at least one trademark and package designed by his firm.
Roy happened to be passing through Statesboro on his way to a meeting of the U.S. Trademark Association in Florida, and stopped to meet with the committee.
“By the time he finished talking, they all wanted him to do it,” said John. “I asked him not to do it, because I didn’t want anyone to think my interest in this was in trying to steer work to my father.
With the messaging finalized, Roy and the committee set about to create an image that would project a modern college focused on academic excellence. They settled on a navy blue instead of the school’s former pale blue. In marketing psychology, darker colors convey quality. They also decided to use gold as an accent color instead of the school’s former silver accent — ”Do you want the silver medal or the gold medal?” said John. Finally, the iconic eagle mark is drawn in simple silhouette, facing to the right, looking into the future, moving forward.
“Just simplicity,” said Roy. “If you get too fanciful, logos get out of fashion quickly.”
The mark was officially adopted at Georgia Southern on July 1, 1982, and it was perfect timing. The new mark coincided with the arrival of the College’s football program, and its new outspoken coach, Erk Russell. There was a sense of excitement and anticipation surrounding the school, and the logo gave this feeling a new voice and a new focus.
“It spoke to our alumni and our students and our prospective students in a new way,” said Lick. “This wasn’t an old, mothcovered university, this was a dynamic university going somewhere. That’s what our symbolism spoke to. We are alive and well and you can be a part of it. But it also made the alumni feel a new attachment to us, a new relationship with us, a new pride in their institution. I thought it covered a lot of waterfronts.
“I thank John’s dad for helping us get there.”
Through 35 years, the Georgia Southern logo remaines largely untouched. It still speaks of a University on the move, moving forward, reaching for excellence. “I liked it. I still like it, and it gives me fond memories when I see it,” said Lick. “We wanted to paint class, and that logo has class.” — Doy Cave