The outdoor apparel and gear company talks about why it rebranded, what the new logo represents and who was consulted in the process (hint: not enough of its members)
When a group of climbers from Canada’s West Coast founded Mountain Equipment Co-op (“MEC” to those in the know) in 1971, the business was centred on consumer cooperation and high-quality gear. Over forty years later, ostensibly little has changed. MEC’s guiding principles are the same: they still strive to supply their members with superior equipment and apparel for outdoor exploration, and they still charge just five bucks for a lifetime membership.
However, on June 18, to the surprise of many of the cooperative’s faithful members, something about reliable old MEC changed. The company revealed a new logo and announced a few additional esthetic changes.
The updated design dispenses with the silhouetted mountain crag and lengthy company name, and opts instead for a clean, white “MEC” in Trade Gothic typeface on a square, green background. The new, minimalist design is somewhat deceptive, though: the process of reaching this solution took over a year and involved “extensive research and exploration,” recalls Dianne Semark, MEC’s lead designer.
Anne Donohoe, MEC’s chief marketing officer, explains that the company hopes the “simple, yet bold” design will “communicate to Canadians the breadth and depth of what MEC has to offer” and “will help us extend our reach to inspire and enable more Canadians to live active outdoor lifestyles.”
The company evidently takes its status as a cooperative very seriously: before making any decisions, MEC called on consumers to weigh in on the new branding. “Using a social media tool called Sysomos, MEC was able to review, at an aggregate level, public discussions through blogs and social media postings related to outdoor recreation, gear and MEC,” says Donohoe. Mountain Equipment Co-op’s staff then passed the research over to Concrete Design, a Toronto-based firm, and left it to them to come up with options.
The result is a new logo that embodies “modern utility,” says the creative team at Concrete Design. With its simplicity, the new look is meant to evoke MEC’s uncomplicated origins as a mountaineering supply co-op, and be simultaneously progressive and sleek.
Though the release of the new branding has been a celebratory moment for MEC, the reaction from members has been mixed. Despite the company’s assertion that they “conducted focus groups, opinion-gathering and social-anthropology research of six million online conversations” before selecting the new logo, many commenters lament a lack of member consultation during the rebrand.
On the MEC blog and in comments on the company’s Facebook page, members’ responses have ranged from positive and supportive—“Great job!”—to frustrated and disappointed—"Members rise up and demand that our Co-op reverse this change." Several other irritated shareholders are concerned that the rebrand is a reflection of MEC’s increasing corporatization—“It could be a bank logo,” noted one disheartened Twitter user.
MEC may not have asked the opinion of each of its 3.5 million shareholders before deciding on the new logo, but it did use its members as inspiration. Donohoe notes that the new branding represents MEC “membership from coast to coast” and says the “rebrand is part of a larger strategy to ensure that MEC continues to be relevant to its members’ lives.” Whether the mutinous reaction from members continues or not, the company plans to roll out products with the new MEC logo later this summer.