Rebranding in the Real World

Three examples of how higher ed institutions across the U.S. are using rebranding to their advantage.

In our latest blog post, we examined the merit of a rebrand and how it can benefit an institution. Tom Sternal of Generation outlined the critical questions a university needs to ask to begin the process and offered more efficient alternatives if a rebrand is unrealistic. As an accompaniment to that piece, we chose to showcase some recent examples of rebranding done right.

Harvard Business School Online

Rebranding isn’t always an entirely visual change. In an effort to raise awareness about their online offerings, HBX recently changed its name to Harvard Business School Online. Dean of Harvard Business School Nitin Nohria said “Harvard Business School Online has allowed us to extend the reach of the School to people wherever they are in the world.” The seemingly small change from HBX to Harvard Business School Online is an important one. Not only does it immediately inform a potential student about the school’s curriculum, but it eliminates any question about the meaning behind the vague “HBX” initials. 

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Towson University

At the beginning of the year, Towson University launched its new graphic identity. The abstract black and yellow streaks were replaced in favor of a cleaner, TU monogram. Using bold initials to create an identity for your institution isn’t a unique idea, but Towson’s updated identity is more than just a simplified logo. 

As the university continues to expand, President Kim Schatzel hopes that this new identity will help convey the growth that Towson has undergone in recent years. According to Schatzel, too few stakeholders knew the “contemporary story” of the university, so Towson updated their visual identity as a part of an overall update to the brand’s voice. The change was a welcome one, both within the university community and across a larger marketing landscape. In May, the campaign was named the “Best Rebrand of the Year” by the American Marketing Association Baltimore Chapter.

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Cal Poly

As we mentioned, one of the most challenging aspects of a rebrand is gaining buy-in from internal and external stakeholders. Cal Poly learned that lesson the hard way when they unveiled their new logo in April. There was widespread pushback to the updated identity, including a Change.org petition that, at the time of this writing, has amassed almost 7,500 signatures. The petition states the new logo lacks “professionalism and sophistication” and was a misuse of the institution’s resources (tThe complete rebrand cost an estimated $340,000).

In an effort to alleviate some of the negative feedback, Cal Poly enlisted the help of Pierre Rademaker, the designer of the old Cal Poly logo. Rademaker taught graphic design at Cal Poly for 14 years and was consulted throughout the redesign process. Rademaker himself agreed that the university was in need of a fresh look, citing the fact that the old design was difficult to use in small mediums and the light gold color could easily be illegible. 

The updated brand identity has only been active for three months, but it has garnered a significant amount of scrutiny. This situation will be interesting to monitor as we await Cal Poly’s response to this criticism and attempt to shift the narrative around their rebrand.


What is your favorite example of a rebrand? Do you like the updated identities we showcased? Connect with us on Twitter and LinkedIn to share your thoughts.