Campus, News

CSULB continues to grapple with identity crisis

If there is one thing most members of Cal State Long Beach can agree on, it’s that the school has commitment issues. First of all, what is the university’s official name — CSULB or Long Beach State University? Is the mascot a prospector, a pyramid, The 49er or The Beach?

A revolving door of logos, various acronyms and conflicting mascots has screamed identity crisis for nearly 70 years.

Andy Hoang, associate vice president of marketing and communications for the university was hired in 2013. Ever since, he has been working to remedy the school’s lack of consistent branding — and he’s received mixed reviews.

Regardless of what business or organization you’re from, lacking a cohesive and consistent look weakens your identity,” Hoang said. “It does not put you in a position of strength as a unified organization.”

After several years of research and combing through statistics about the school and the Cal State University system, Hoang and his team have launched what they feel will unify the school — the Strengths and Strategies initiative. This initiative inspired the “no barriers” campaign and has updated older university logos. Under the campaign, Hoang has also taken steps with his team to upgrade the school’s website to a modernized video-storytelling platform.

The logo

From new athletic uniforms to the newly built 6-foot “GO BE????CH” letters at the West Campus Turnaround, the initiative is present everywhere on campus. While the GO BE????CH letters are a part of the strategy, funds for marketing were not used for the structure of the letters.

For the past year, large banners line the fences around every construction site on school grounds, showcasing the name “Long Beach State University” with smaller type underneath reading “A California State University Campus.” This imagery is repeated in advertising and promotional materials displayed around the university.

All of this effort to attain a concise and unified look begs the question: is the school going rebranding? University officials have answered no.

“Andy [Hoang] is really enthusiastic about this [initiative],” said Terri Carbaugh, associate vice president of public affairs. “But there are no plans to rebrand or change the name [of the university].”

According to professor of classics Douglas Domingo-Forasté, when the university first started using “The Beach,” it was to increase applications to the campus. Now that the school has just received a record 102,000 applicants for the fall semester, some are beginning to wonder if placing value in the aesthetic of the school is still important, and if the “GO BE????CH” letters are well thought out.  

“I’ve always thought we were a little far from a beach to call ourselves [The Beach,]” said Forasté in an email. “Also, many people have pointed out that without the crossbar in the A of BEACH, it could easily be a Greek lambda Λ and read GO BELCH.”

Since the new campaign was introduced at homecoming last fall, it has some campus members wondering if the initiative was worth the money. According to Hoang, the only funds used so far have been to pay his staff and for a year-long contract of a full-page advertisement in campus publications, with a price tag at $10,000.  

“Since now we are an extremely popular campus, I wonder why we pay marketing people to promote the campus,” Domingo-Forasté said. “The money could be spent on academics or student services.”

Despite a neatly packaged bundle of matching logos, fonts, new athletic uniforms, website platforms, a 6-foot sign and the same “GO BE????CH” lettering gracing almost every new sign and screen around campus — Hoang’s work will not be considered “rebranding.” He affirmed that his goal is to tell the story of the campus and the students who inhabit it, with an emphasis on “no barriers” to success.

“President [Jane Close] Conoley’s direction to our marketing team that the new Go Beach logo is to be presented primarily within the context of the No Barriers campaign,” Carbaugh said in an email. “While [the new logo is] modern and forward facing, it is to supplement, not supplant our traditional seal or other campus logos.”

According to Hoang, the ‘80s reminiscent “go beach” lettering would always be present in merchandise, perhaps in a “retro” section of the University Bookstore, but it would eventually fade away.

“It’s going to phase out and it already has,” Hoang said. “When you take on something this big, it’s not as simple as walking in and turning on a light switch. We want to be cognizant and respectful of cost.”

Alternatively, Carbaugh affirmed that none of the older logos will be less present or be replaced with the new one.

“Nothing will be phased out,” Carbaugh said. “…We have a wealth of logos from which people can choose based upon their personal preference and taste.”

Despite a few visible cracks in the bureaucracy surrounding whether the school should commit to a new look, several teams within the Athletics department have seemingly accepted the change as the “GO BE????CH” logo has replaced the retro logo on several teams.

“We are using [the “GO BE????CH” logo] for the Dirtbags, and we’ve embraced the Beach name and look on our other teams with the new campaign,” said Andy Fee, athletic director. “[However,] it isn’t a complete rebrand, we’re not going to spend needless money to do that.”

Although basketball players are still dribbling across a gym floor that bears the ‘80s retro “go beach,” Fee said that repainting the gym wasn’t completely out of the question.

“I think that will be an ongoing conversation, there are a lot of areas that have that [older] font,” Fee said. “If others want to look at the new font with the pyramid A, we’re open to that.”

The name

Since the university’s opening in 1949, the school has undergone four name changes before settling on Cal State Long Beach.

“In 1972, we became Cal State University of Long Beach. Somewhere during this timeframe, our athletic department kept their name, LBSU,” Hoang said. “We have two names, if you’re in athletics, you’re at LBSU. If you’re on the academic side, you’re California State University, Long Beach.”  

Currently, the argument still rages on whether the school should abandon “CSU” from the title and take an approach similar to San Francisco State or San Diego State.

Perhaps, to students, the most perplexing part of this argument is the fact that the school does have two names.

“I’m a transfer student here…It was kind of confusing because I wanted to buy a sweater. So I was looking through the sweaters in the 49er shop and I was like, ‘CSULB, LBSU? Same thing, not the same thing?’” said Jeremy Detera, junior chemical engineering major. “I don’t know, I wasn’t sure.”

Hoang said the new initiative was inspired by a Cal State System-wide brand analysis that was conducted in 2015, which revealed how some students viewed the campuses within the system. According to the assessment, students were asked “which of the five describes why you chose to attend a Cal State campus.” Students listed low tuition, campus location and the ease of getting in as their top reasons.  

“Being cheap, easy to get into and the location are not things you want to lead with and be specifically known for,” Hoang said. “How about academic excellence?”

So, is the school changing the name? Officials have repeatedly said no. Hoang’s response to this question is — mostly — neither yes or no.

“We’re distinguishing without distancing,” Hoang said of the two names.

Although Hoang has denied that a plan for a name change was in the works, the research he conducted seems to point toward that idea.

“One of the biggest arguments I’ve heard from faculty [about changing the name,] is if you lead with “Long Beach State University,” we won’t be as respected academically…but through the CSU branding survey, we know that’s not true,” Hoang said.

Hoang said he has received mixed feedback from focus groups and surveys he has conducted over the years.

“As a professor…who teaches and does research on the subject of branding,” said Sam Min, chair of marketing, “I support unifying our school name with Long Beach State University.”

According to Hoang, American Marketing Association partnered with Public Relations Student Society of America to also collect feedback from students.

“Let’s get that info back to President Conoley, and then, hopefully, a decision will be made,” Hoang said of the feedback collected, referring to the goal of the procured feedback.

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