Honestly, our new state logo is lame.
On Oct. 5 Gov. Doug Burgum unveiled a “refreshed” North Dakota brand identity, “Be Legendary,” an update of the “Legendary” tourism tagline of the past 15-plus years. Moving away from the energetic slanted font we’re all so familiar with, North Dakota’s new logo uses a basic sans serif font, and is more evocative of estate planning than a land of possibility.
Immediately the local design community weighed in by social media, the consensus being an overwhelming thumbs down. The satirical website Flickertail Times posited the logo was designed “in less than five minutes” in MS Word, given the governor’s prior alliance with Microsoft.
Sadly, that wasn’t too far off the mark. KNOX News Radio reported the logo was designed for less than $10,000 (meaning the job wasn’t required to go out for bid) by Muskoda Communications of Hawley, Minn. Muskoda is owned by Kara Ellefson, who (according to her LinkedIn profile) is a former employee at both Great Plains Software and Microsoft, the companies that built Burgum’s fortune. So it appears an out-of-state former colleague of the governor got the job, for a small fee, and the result is uninspiring.
I have worked in communications for most of my career. I know the state is under budget constraints, but it is disappointing that in-state firms were not given an opportunity to bid on the rebrand, as the state will presumably invest millions of dollars in communicating this brand to prospective visitors, workers and businesses. Even as a North Dakota transplant, I find myself defensive about the perceived boringness of the plains, and believe there is so much more potential than reinforcing North Dakota “meh.”
I am not alone. In the past few weeks leaders in the creative and business communities circulated an open letter to the governor, which has more than 800 signatures, asking that either the “Legendary” logo be reinstated — to retain established brand equity — or a new one be developed by in-state designers. Signers assert the “Be Legendary” logo will do nothing to attract top talent, and express concern for the logo mark’s “poor usability, aesthetics, and abysmal emotional resonance.”
By point of comparison, the state of Nebraska just announced a brilliant new campaign: tagline “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” Their campaign, developed by a Colorado firm, is exceptionally clever in its tongue-in-cheek copy, such as ads that stamp “Another day on the dusty plains” over a photo of a gorgeous waterfall. Ranking last among states tourists want to visit, Nebraska spent half a million dollars for market research and campaign development. Yes, that is a lot, but the campaign has already caught national attention in the Washington Post, the "Today Show" and the "Late Show with Stephen Colbert" and was described as “marketing genius” by Forbes. Nebraska has achieved every brand promoter’s goal: far-reaching, free publicity.
We don’t need to go out of state to be creative, but we do need to devote more time, attention and resources to a rebrand that will serve our state for years to come. Let’s not give in to the stereotype of Midwestern mediocrity. Nor, as the letter writers assert, do we need to remain loyal to the “rustic stereotype” of the “Legendary” brand, which suggests a state stuck in the past.
By the way, since we’re talking state advertising, can we nix the contract with Josh Duhamel? We don’t need an L.A.-based, waning celebrity to sell North Dakota, just a smart idea with a modern font and appropriate kerning.
Nebraska is winning, and they’re not even trying to be legendary. C’mon, North Dakota, we can do better.