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New KC logo evokes strong feelings, positive and negative

Updated: 2013-10-13T00:11:27Z

By LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

If Kansas City leaders wanted civic engagement with the city’s new branding logo, boy, did they ever get it.

The city’s communications department unveiled a new marketing logo Thursday night, prompting a flood of reaction and very mixed opinions Friday.

The image of an interlocking K and C is replacing the heart-shaped fountain as the symbol on city publications, on the new high-definition Channel 2 broadcast and on the new city website that debuts Jan. 1.

“Artistic,” “fresh” and “classy,” said supporters. “Boring,” said detractors. “Looks like a cattle brand.”

Mayor Sly James is a big fan of the new design and said it will be much more recognizable to people outside the city.

“I know it’s a KC,” he said, adding that nobody outside of Kansas City had any idea what the fountain symbol meant. “At the end of the day, you want something that when people look at it, they say Kansas City, boom, it jumps right out at them.”

But to Crossroads artist Stretch, it’s just a set of initials that doesn’t celebrate what’s great about our city. He can’t envision it on city vehicles or the official seal.

“It’s a monogram like on a shirt,” he said. “It doesn’t do Kansas City justice.”

A very unscientific poll about the new brand was the most-read item Friday on The Star’s website, with nearly 2-to-1 against it.

But even negative reaction is OK, said Chris Hernandez, the city’s deputy communications director.

“I think it’s great people are getting engaged in it,” Hernandez said. “If they weren’t paying attention, that would be worse.”

Mike Swenson, president of Crossroads, the public relations unit of the Barkley advertising agency, isn’t surprised at the emotional reactions.

“It is all purely subjective,” he said. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to branding and art.”

He believes the old fountain design has served the city well, but a rebrand was overdue.

Communications Director Danny Rotert wanted to make one thing very clear Friday. This is not a new city seal, completely replacing the heart-shaped fountain and inscription: “City of Fountains/Heart of the Nation” that the City Council formally adopted in 1992. Any new seal would take a new vote of the council.

But Rotert said it was about time the city freshened up the 21-year-old fountain image and the timing for new graphics was right, as the city communications office rolls out a bunch of new products, including the revamped TV channel and website.

He said designer Emily Elmore of Single Wing Creative, a Kansas City startup, had done some work for Kansas City’s economic development initiatives and volunteered to do the new brand for the city, for free.

Elmore did not return a call seeking comment.

Some people have said the new brand looks like a ripoff of the old Kansas City Blues and Kansas City Monarchs baseball team logos. Rotert said that was partly intentional — those teams were well-loved and represented unifying forces for the city.

Rotert said the city and designer tested the design with members of the American Institute of Graphic Artists and other creative groups, who liked it. He said it went over especially well with 20-somethings who the city is trying to get more engaged in civic affairs.

If the city had done a formal selection process and paid for a whole new marketing campaign, Rotert said it could have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The new logo will roll out slowly and won’t require any massive, expensive replacement of old markings.

Still, some City Council members complained they weren’t consulted about the new brand and prefer the old fountain design.

“Who died and made them king?” Ed Ford asked about the communications department’s decision to launch a new symbol.

Councilman Scott Wagner, whose background is in public relations and marketing, said this doesn’t follow the typical rebranding effort, where there’s more methodical research and outreach to get a consensus on a new brand. Since the fountain image will remain even as the new KC image rolls out, he wonders about sending a mixed, confused message.

“What does the city stand for?” he asked. “What are we about?”

But Councilwoman Cindy Circo said she and a majority of her council colleagues like the new brand, and she thinks it would ultimately make a good seal for the city. She said she may seek a council vote to do just that.

Ford suggests all this debate may hold the ingredients of a compromise.

“Someone really artistic,” he said, “could incorporate KC into the fountains.”

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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