MONMOUTH -- Even if you're not into college sports, there are certain logos that you need only a glimpse of to know what school we're talking about.
An Irishman in a boxing stance? Notre Dame. The bold, block "M" of the University of Michigan is hard to confuse, regardless of whether it is the navy blue or gold version.
"You get mail and see that longhorn out of the corner of your eye and you know it's the University of Texas," said Daniel Hare, Western Oregon University's athletic director.
"That logo, that brand is extremely important," Hare said. "It creates identity."
Sometimes, those images need an update. Last fall, WOU began working with a design studio to modernize its 14-year-old logo and branding text.
After teasing an announcement for several weeks on Western's website and Facebook pages, officials unveiled on Tuesday, May 3, a new athletic logo, as well as an academic "wordmark" that will grace all WOU printed and online materials.
Western also created usage standards and trademarked its logo for the first time, allowing it to sell merchandise through third-party vendors, said Dave McDonald, WOU associate provost.
"A lot has happened at Western in the last decade," said McDonald, noting WOU's enrollment growth and jump to NCAA Division II sports. "We thought it was a good time to refresh our symbolic representation."
Most noticeable is the makeover of Western's athletic logo, which incorporates a more sinister-looking wolf than the current version of "Wolfie."
Ohio-based Rickabaugh Graphics handled the logo redesign and crafted a wordmark -- the typographic treatment of Western's name -- for the university.
Rickabaugh has created more than 500 logos for universities across the United States, including Ohio State University. McDonald said the process cost about $25,000.
"We wouldn't have gone through it if we didn't think it was important, especially in this fiscal period," McDonald said. "But the image helps translate to enrollment, to donor giving and other things."
Western will roll out merchandise with the new imagery at its bookstore this week. The uniforms will feature updated logos when replacements are needed, and stationary, when supplies are exhausted, McDonald said.
"I do expect to see the logo on football helmets in the fall," Hare said.
Leadership changes or fashion trends often serve as catalysts for branding updates, Hare said. Western last altered its logo in 1997, when the school changed its name from Western Oregon State College.
Hare, who was hired in 2010, said a factor for him was consistency. Over the years, the school's logo and script has been tweaked by its individual sports teams so that uniform appearance varies.
Hare said he was at a track meet last spring, watching a race featuring three WOU runners and "I couldn't tell which ones were ours."
Hare said focus group meetings to narrow down design options indicated that many people didn't have a particularly strong connection to the current logo, hence the change.
"If somebody sees a shirt with our logo on it, we want them to instantly say, `oh, that's a WOU shirt,'" Hare said.
McDonald said the change was edgy, but without completely "jettisoning our history."
Trademarking was key, in that large merchants won't sell non-licensed sports gear to avoid legal issues. Clothing manufacturers must also now pay royalties to the university.
"A great deal has changed over the years with universities protecting intellectual property," McDonald explained. "The University of Oregon has been one of the best nationally in building brand marks ... but it's becoming more common for Division II schools to go to this route."
Hare said retail sales are secondary when it comes to altering the logo, though "I would love to have something in Lids or Footlocker."
"Even if it's one stack of shirts or hats, it's getting WOU's name out there," he said. "It's not so much about selling stuff as it is about getting WOU's name out there."