Critical Words

19 February 2016

Yesterday a couple of tweets popped up, pointing out a new trademark filing from the CTC. It was widely known that a major rebranding (and revision of strategy) was in the pipeline, and this was the first publicly available taste of that change.

There is little doubt in my mind, and that of many others, that rebranding CTC—the Cyclists’ Touring Club—is wise.

I’m a member of CTC, but I think that making cycling accessible to more people (for the side-effects that it brings) is hugely more important than a club for enthusiasts. Besides, there’s no reason to abandon that role; it’s simply being dropped from the organisation’s primary identity.

The most obvious reason for change is that touring is only a small part of the CTC’s modern day function, which makes the name unrepresentative and anachronistic. It’s been simply “CTC” for a long time now, but of course that’s not exactly self-explanatory, and any explicit explanation obviously has to be saddled with a lengthy caveat about the “touring” bit.

But actually, although it’s obviously problematic, I don’t think “touring” is the key issue.

I’ll come back to that.

The brand

The new branding is “Cycling UK”, and the logo is as follows.

wearecycling

The visual branding is… not my taste, for what that’s worth. The Cocon typeface, a quasi-brush stroke sanserif, is presumably intended to covey a soft, welcoming image; nothing wrong with that, but combine it with the “we are” prefix (à la “We are Macmillan”, which also uses a brush stroke in its logotype) and the “UK” suffix used by countless charities, not to mention some insipid colours, and—if I’m brutally honest—it feels plaintive. It makes me feel that cycling might be some sort of currently untreatable genetic disease that demands sympathy.

But these things are in no small part highly subjective matters and we’ve not yet seen how they fit in to a full rebrand, so let’s just treat the preceding paragraph as petty opinion and move on to what I would argue is the real problem.

The real problem—from both a design point of view and, crucially, the more significant messaging point of view—is the strapline that’s been crudely dumped below the main logotype.

(You can almost replay in your mind the hypothetical meeting at which some objectors to the original, clean designs demanded the addition of a line such as this, and I can only imagine that the brand designer has made it look completely incongruous as a matter of spite. If that’s how it came about then, as a fan of passive-aggressivism and a part-time designer among other things, I might have been tempted to do the same.)

The strapline

That strapline: “The cyclists’ champion.”

The cyclists’ champion.

Maybe it’s not obvious.

Here’s the problem: the word “cyclists”.

Let’s consider this rebranding: from the “Cyclists’ Touring Club” to “Cycling UK”. The new name may not be to everyone’s taste, but it gets one thing exactly right: it replaces “cyclists” with “cycling”.

These are critical words.

Critical to communicating the right message.

Why so? Because the main, if not entire, point of this exercise is—at least I hope it is—to support the enablement of cycling as a normal, safe, everyday mode of transport; to make cycling accessible and appealing to far more people. To make cycling accessible and appealing to people who are not cyclists.

This is something that needs to be borne in mind by any entity seeking to promote cycling: “cyclists” is almost always the wrong word to use.

The strategy

The CTC’s future strategy likely rests heavily on securing large public grants. Politically, this process must be delivered in one of two contexts: either that of funding for cyclists or that of funding for cycling. And, politically, these are very different. To the public at large, “more government money to improve cycling [for everyone]” plays out rather differently to “more government money given to cyclists“. (And, if it doesn’t play out differently right now, explaining that difference is crucial to progress.)

Of course, there is a broader debate as to whether funding via a charity that starts to look a little like a Quango is appropriate, or whether the only way to achieve real results is to keep hammering away at the DfT and the various highways authorities until general highway provision includes infrastructure for cycling (as well as other non-motorised vehicles and mobility scooters) as part of a balanced and sustainable transport mix. After all, it’s not as if Sustrans—a long-established Quango charity in much the same space that Cycling UK will presumably be in—has achieved much of substance other than cementing cycling’s status as nothing more than a leisure activity.

But let’s set that aside for now. There is a great deal of progress to be made and “Cycling UK” should be supported if it is able to drive that progress.

The future

It will be interesting to see where CTC/Cycling UK goes with its strategy. I have some faith that it will be progressive, though I remain cynically wary that these things are often too much about encouragement and too little about enablement. But these are early days, and although I (and just about everyone else) might object to a couple of details here and there, that doesn’t undermine the point that a brand change is necessary and is a significant step forward.

I do hope, though, that the “cyclists’ champion” strapline is quietly dropped…

Comments

  1. Bob 19 February 2016 3:14pm #

    All I see is what the CEO’s previous Charity background is not his cycling pedigree. Is he actually interested in taking the CTC forward or another notch on his CV?

    They (the CTC) should devote less energy in re-branding and more in working with other UK cycling organisations to unite into one effective body to represent cyclists as a whole.

  2. Andy Morris 19 February 2016 4:03pm #

    Everyone’s in favour of encouraging cycling, providing they don’t have to actually do it, outside of the occasional ride in center parcs, or in a Volvo assisted facilities based experience.. Who actually sticks up for people for cycle, cyclists for short?

  3. Clark in Vancouver 19 February 2016 7:04pm #

    I agree. It should be about the activity, not the people doing it. The tagline having the word “cyclist” in it, I agree, makes it as if new things like protected infrastructure will only benefit the racer types that get in the way. That some hobbyists will be the only ones to benefit. It should not be presented that way. It should include anyone who doesn’t currently cycle. If it’s the same in the UK as North America where there is latent demand of 60% of the population wanting to cycle for their short trips, then there are many people who would like to have that option. Those are who to rebrand for.

    The logo is awful. It looks like for a brand of baby toys. Also design-wise it looks dated by about 10 years.

  4. Ring My Bell 19 February 2016 11:04pm #

    Its an historic shift to try and champion cycling for the masses. CTC is long overdue a change to promote issues they actually address and that their brand does not represent. CTC means nothing to the public. This charity sticks its head above the parapet when British Cycling and Sustrans do not for fear of pissing off their pay masters. Yes the new look may not be perfect, that’s not the point. Its what they stand for and their mission as a charity that matters and this badly needs communicating. This is a start. CTC still remains as a subset of the many issues in cycling they support, its just not reflective of their overall work. Lets see how they live and breath ‘we are cycling’ before we all jump in on just a logo.

    • MJ Ray 22 February 2016 12:18pm #

      “This charity sticks its head above the parapet when British Cycling and Sustrans do not for fear of pissing off their pay masters” – but if this rebrand is motivated by making it easier to find more grant-making paymasters as many suspect, then why would CUK still stick their neck out like that?

      And I’m still in disbelief that they’re renaming it to something which abbreviates to basically “cock” while being easy to confuse with both British Cycling and Cycle Nation. Is the idea of “unique selling point” now unpopular with marketing consultants?

  5. Dan B 20 February 2016 1:09pm #

    It’s something the LCC got very right with the #space4cycling campaign. At the start I thought it should’ve been “space for cyclists”, but I was massively wrong. People, especially the media, HATE cyclists. They (it’s always ‘they’) jump red lights, terrorise old ladies on the pavement and don’t pay tax. None of the above can be said about cycling – it’s a benign activity that just happens, and can happen for everyone. We need to help ‘people on bikes’, not those bloody cyclists in their weird clothes and silly hats.

    • Martin 23 February 2016 1:57pm #

      Actually, good spot. LCC’s recent campaigns (post Blackfriars) have all had a very clear brand about them, are on message, graphically coherent and embrace social media at their core (grassroots, people powered). They feel more like they’d be at home on ‘The Thick of It’ than on ‘Yes, Minister’.

      Not that there’d be no push-back from the provinces on a London-led solution, but can we just get LCC to run the country’s cycling campaigns? Not saying they’re perfect, but… this.

      • MJ Ray 25 February 2016 2:00pm #

        With hindsight, I wish the money for the national space4cycling campaign had gone to LCC not CTC but that would also need LCC’s members to vote to offer services beyond London and they’re mainly London-based. I don’t know how tightly LCC’s aims are defined, which might be another problem.

        In the opinion of this small semi-rural borough activist, I’d love to use more LCC-provided services. I’m not sure we’d convince the fiercely independent locals to let LCC do all the provision, though, and presumably they’d still like our wheels on the ground here rather than schlepping cross-country themselves for county meetings.

        • Paul 8 June 2016 2:10pm #

          err LCC is London Cycling Campaign – they are specifically not a national organisation (although “London Cyclist” mag is getting to be indistinguishable from “Cycle”) and the traffic issues in London have tended to make TfL take a lead in promoting high density travel (you can get a lot more bikes on a m2 of road than cars) . Quite a lot of LCC activists are also CTC/Cycling UK members and the way that CTC picked up the London Space for Cycling idea and then spread it nationally does show the organisations working together.

          • MJ Ray 8 June 2016 3:56pm #

            CTC seemed rather ineffective at spreading space4cycling nationally in my opinion. More work seemed to be done by local campaigns (who got none of the funding that CTC did) and the best work seemed to be that which didn’t rely on CTC. Then finally, at the last minute, CTC turned space4cycling into funding4cycling and seemed to rather lose the point. That’s why I think it would probably have been better if LCC had managed the national campaign.

            CUK says things will be different in 2017. It’s a different person working on it. I’ll wait and see, but I’ll be trying to do stuff that doesn’t rely on them – once bitten, twice shy.

  6. Kevin Costelloe 1 March 2016 9:23pm #

    I think I’ll start a club for touring cyclists. There seems to be a gap in market. I’ll call it the Touring Cyclists’ Club (TCC).

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