Rustling Brands – Changing Names, Changing Identities

You probably didn’t see the news in December that United Response, which runs homes for people with learning disabilities, has a new logo. According to Third Sector, the rebrand cost £3,500. You will also probably not be surprised to know that rebrands are nothing new. There have been quite a few in the disability world.

Sometimes name changes reflect changing priorities or are accompanied by mergers. The Campaign for the Care of Crippled Children, founded in the 1910s, renamed itself the Central Council for the Disabled after the Second World War as it became more concerned with disabled people in general. In the 1970s it then merged with the British Council for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled (REHAB), with a bit of encouragement and a large slice of funding from the Labour government, to create the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation (RADAR). Already the largest disability lobbying organisation in the country, it merged with the Disability Alliance and the National Centre for Independent Living to create Disability Rights UK in January 2012. Each merger was an attempt to pool resources and to create a larger, more effective lobbying organisation.

But probably the most famous was in 1994, when the Spastics Society became Scope. Uncomfortable with the way that “spastic” had evolved from a medical term to a form of verbal abuse, the organisation chose a new “brand” without the negative connotations. Since then, Scope seems to have been more interested in its image than many of the other organisations in the sector. Its latest rebrand is its logo. Frankly, I haven’t got a clue what they’re on about:

To achieve our vision, we have energy. Drive. Confidence. Our brand fizzes, which means our icons pop up in unexpected places – you’ll see them fizzing off the edge of the page and around the corners. You can’t contain these little symbols of aspiration and opportunity just as we never ever set any limits on what could be possible.

You’ll also never see an icon on its own. For us it’s never about one single possibility or an individual having to go it alone – we want to inspire belief in anything that could be possible and remember that we believe that by working together we can create a better society. We really mean it. Our brand fizzes…

Hmm. Anyway, beyond the David Brent speak, there was an important point to Scope’s rebrand in the 1990s. One that, interestingly, some “spastics” objected to as they saw the term as their own identity – a reclamation of a derogatory term in much the same way that “crip” has become the disability-politics equivalent to “queer”.

Of course, whether these rebrands work is up for debate. RADAR certainly became more powerful, and Scope was a political decision that allowed the charity to focus more on disability issues than narrow medical terms, but these are just two examples. If you know of more that have worked or have failed spectacularly, let us know in the comments below.

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3 Responses to Rustling Brands – Changing Names, Changing Identities

  1. CClements says:

    I think it is really interesting to be able to trace changing charity brands – thanks for the post Gareth.

    In addition to the above, I think perhaps, sometimes a rebrand or name change reflects a changing society. For example the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child (NCUMC) founded in 1918, became the National Council for One Parent Families (1970) and finally merged with another existing charity, taking its name and becoming Gingerbread (2007/9). (http://www.gingerbread.org.uk/content/442/Our-history). The first change of name especially shows a changed view of helping the stigmatized group of ‘unmarried mothers’ to a charity dealing with the specific issues of single parent families.

    I think it goes alongside the branding issue though – as voluntary organisations seek to show how current and pressing their issues are through their brand.

    I’d also be interested to think about it in terms of a changing fashion which currently favours the short catchy word, phrase or acronym over a longer acronym/more descriptive title which gives a better idea of the organisations aim. Again, Gingerbread might be an example here. I do not know the answer when I ask this, but do you think there is a danger that with less obvious names the brand risks becoming larger than the issue?

  2. Lindsey Metcalf says:

    Interesting stuff. Maybe other examples of rebrands are the result of charity mergers? One example that springs to mind is the creation of Age UK, when Help the Aged and Age Concern joined forces in 2009. There has been much speculation that charity mergers will become more commonplace as a strategy to cope with the pressures of the recession and ‘austerity’ measures.

  3. Gareth Millward says:

    CClemens: With regard to names losing their meaning, I think that’s an interesting point. In my own work, I maintain that the Disablement Income Group actually declined precisely because its name was too… er… precise. The branches wanted to be a sort of representative group for disabled people in general, not just on the incomes issue. The lack of flexibility in their name (and behaviour) created disillusionment and splinter groups.

    NCUMHC/NCOPF/Gingerbread is actually an excellent example of rebranding to use. I should have mentioned it really!

    @Lindsey: Mergers are happening all over the place, it’s true. As I showed, Disability Rights UK is the merger of a merger. In the 1970s it was seen as “efficient”, because talent and fundraising could be pooled and create a stronger voice; now I wonder whether we might see the overall voice of various groups diminished by the relative weakness of voluntary action finances and a lack of “competition” keeping groups on their toes and sparking proper debate.

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