The Cambridge Branding Bruhaha

Proposed New Logo for Cambridge

On Monday, Cambridge City Council approved new branding for the city. The new logo, wordmark and tagline (shown at right) were almost three years in the making and came at a cost of $25,000.

Update: I forgot to include a link to the report to Council that supported the new branding: Cambridge Branding Report

The reaction on Twitter and Facebook was generally negative – and one local graphic designer took it upon himself to whip up a much improved version in a matter of minutes (shown below).

To say I was disappointed with the new branding is an understatement – I hate it. My list of reasons for disliking the branding so much grows by the hour, but here’s the note I sent to city council Tuesday night.


When I heard that the city had undertaken a “re-branding” exercise I was nervous but hopeful. Mostly I was excited for something fresh and new that would capture the vibrancy of the Cambridge that I love.

Imagine my disappointment when I saw the article about the new logo in the Record yesterday. I am not a graphic designer nor an “identity expert” but I am a marketing and PR professional who understands the power of branding. Please allow me to offer my two cents on the matter.

  • when I posted the image to Twitter, the first two responses I got were: “it’s a napkin ring!” and “it’s a mullet!” — not a strong start
  • the image conveys nothing about Cambridge except that we have some water and a strange half-circle bridge (which we don’t)
  • The bridge resembles nothing in Cambridge and due to its shape would be impossible to cross. Not a good message there.
  • The water just about the only thing I like about this logo
  • The tagline: I get the double meaning, but there’s a significant third meaning. It could be interpreted to mean: “Cambridge: It’s so-so here.” In other words, “all right” is often used to mean something less than great. Again, not a good message.

Contrast this to the image I’ve attached which was done in about twenty minutes (working from the proposed logo) by a Cambridge graphic artist (who understands the city).

  • this bridge is instantly recognizable as “from Cambridge” though not “exactly” the Main Street bridge
  • this bridge also conveys a feeling of forward motion – even “leapfrogging”
  • the ribbon-like treatment of the bridge is lighter and seems to float on the page (the proposed logo seems much more like a paperweight)
  • the two streams of water could be seen to represent the two major rivers (Grand and Speed)

I could go on…

While I support new branding for the city, I cannot support this logo.

I’ve heard back from a few councillors who have expressed second thoughts about approving the logo – they also indicated they much preferred the logo I sent them and that they would be forwarding it on to city staff. I’m not so naive to think that the City will simply walk away from their $25,000 logo, but at least they’re taking a second look at it.

A few more thoughts on the logo that have occurred to me since I wrote to council:

  • the “little old bridge” feeling has a small hamlet feel to it the betrays Cambridge’s desire to be a “player”
  • I just can’t stop seeing a dog with its tongue hanging out on a hot day
  • the report keeps talking about “two rivers” yet the logo clearly only has one
  • I don’t understand the emphasized R in Cambridge – it throws the whole word off-balance
  • if you have to BOLD a word in your tagline to make sure it’s read correctly, you have the wrong tagline

Update 2: here are two stories that have appeared in the Record:

2 Responses to “The Cambridge Branding Bruhaha”

  1. jamEs says:

    The tagline is awful. The fact it could very easily take an alternate meaning “it’s all right here” vs “it’s alright here” is pretty damning.

    The fact the second designer was able to bring more balance to the logo and make it match up with the wordmark just works. The original logo is asymmetric, which makes it awkward to apply in various applications. The second logo forms a very balanced rectangle which would make it very easy to apply in any number of places.

  2. Michaela says:

    I knew I recognised Cambridge from the first logo!

    My mistake, it’s the Old Course in St Andrews in Scotland! A small old town. Not Cambridge the city in Canada at all! Not really a mistake, I used to live nearby! I now live here in Cambridge and the 1st logo is not a good representation of the city at all.

    The second one ties in much better with the two rivers shown. With the bridge and the two rivers it is a much more dynamic image and more recognisable. The other one-just plain dull. The logo is dreadful as I also read it as “Cambridge, it’s a bit mehhh, not great, just mehhh, here” You only get one chance to make an impact with a slogan. No amount of bold text is going to change that emphasis from reading it as “alright” to “all right” as written. If the viewer has to go back and re-read it again because they think “did I really just read that?” it would be best to rethink it or lose it altogether. Good luck on changing their minds on this!!