The Grab Bag section of Friday’s Ticker had an item about the pharmaceutical powerhouse Johnson & Johnson changing its wordmark from its longtime script to simple sans serif lettering. The linked article, submitted by frustratingly surnamed reader Blaise Lucas, had one passage in particular that caught my eye:
Many children no longer learn to write cursive in school, noted marketing consultant Laura Ries. People may recognize the [script version of the J&J logo], but they weren’t necessarily reading it, she said. The new logo, she said, is easier to process.
“Because it’s easier, it almost even draws your attention to it,” said Ries.
Hmmm, can you think of any industry that uses a lot of script logos and is also having trouble marketing itself to a younger demographic?
By my count, 19 of MLB’s 30 teams currently have a script logo on at least one — and in most cases more than one — of their non-CC jerseys: the A’s, Brewers, Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants, Guardians, Marlins, Mets, Nationals, Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, Rangers, Reds, Royals, Tigers, Twins, White Sox, and Atlanta.
That’s a lot of script jerseys! Obviously, scripts also appear occasionally in hockey, football, and basketball, but they’re most prevalent in baseball. And baseball is the sport widely perceived to be facing the steepest marketing challenges with younger fans — the ones who are no longer being taught cursive writing..
Personally, I like most of MLB’s jersey scripts and am in no hurry to see them change. But this isn’t a question of aesthetics or taste or trends; it’s a question of functional design. I was taught how to read and write cursive writing when I was growing up, while many of today’s kids are not. If they can’t read the chest scripts on jerseys — or, arguably worse, if they just think of the scripts as relics of a bygone age — that’s not good for the sport. And if a uniform isn’t legible to a team’s young fan base, then it’s clearly not a successful design.
I got in touch with Laura Ries — the marketing consultant quoted in the article about the J&J logo — to ask what she thought about script logos on uniforms.
“Script isn’t as legible, but that’s not the real issue,” she said. “Young people aren’t morons — they can figure out what a script logo says. But script looks old. Old and old-fashioned. There’s a certain nostalgia factor, but it doesn’t look modern. Now, old isn’t always bad — if you look at old wines and liquor brands, old can have a lot of value. But if you look at the big brands of the world, very few use script.”
I asked Ries what she would tell a marketing exec from a script-clad team. “It depends on the team,” she said. “You have to ask ‘Is our past so significant that it’s worth keeping, even in script?’ I mean, if you’re the New York Yankees, you don’t change a thing.” (She laughed when I pointed out that the Yankees don’t have to worry about this because they don’t use a script on their uniform.)
Ries wasn’t ready to say that the uni-verse should abandon script logos altogether, but she basically said that script is going to look increasingly dated as new generations of fans emerge without a background in cursive writing. Script logos have always looked a bit more traditional, and that impression will probably increase as fewer and fewer people use cursive in their everyday lives. MLB, of course, tends to lean heavily on tradition and nostalgia, but some people think that’s part of why baseball has an aging fan base and we have a nation of kids who are more interested in soccer. Hmmmm.
I’d be interested in hearing from you folks, especially those of you who have kids. Are your kids being taught cursive writing? If not, do you know if they have any trouble reading and/or appreciating the scripts on sports uniforms? Do they think script logos look so old and stodgy as to be uninteresting?
It’s hard to imagine a team like the Dodgers or Cardinals not using their familiar scripts. But maybe the time has come to at least start thinking about that — not for aesthetic reasons but for the good of the sport. What do you think? Discuss!