Yesterday we reported on the University of Western Ontario’s rebranding to Western University in an attempt to become a globally recognized education institution. The university appeared genuinely excited about the change, and while I’m sure they anticipated a few displeased alumni, it’s highly unlikely that they expected a vicious online backlash. Which is precisely what they got.
WU last week published a YouTube video articulating the change. It got tons of dislikes – the red bar was nearly as big as on a Rebecca Black music video. In fact, it reflected so poorly on the insititution’s decision that they actually removed the ability for viewers to like or dislike the video. Of course, that initself only fans the flames – social media savvy types hate it when organizations try to silence their voices. The move definitely didn’t go unnoticed: “LMAOOO I love how Western just removed the like bar, or more accurately the dislike bar,” one mocking pundit commented.
WU did leave comments open, although I’m sure they didn’t want to – furious students, alumni, and critics denounced the change, leaving blunt notes such as, “This is just terrible,” “This is so stupid,” “This is fucked,” and “This sucks ass.” And any media outfit that covered the news was littered with more negative comments. Those defending the change have been few and far between.
Why the anger? For one, people think the name makes no sense – after all, it’s on the Eastern side of Canada. The word “Western” is terribly generic besides, they argue. And, if the online haters are to be believed, WU – whose domain name continues to be UWO.ca – failed to ask students and alumni about the change. They basically just did it.
It’s a classic tale of caution for any organization, be it school or corporation or government, to solicit the thoughts and opinions of clients and customers when performing anything as major as a rebrand. Otherwise, a firestorm of bad public relations is all but guaranteed. Just ask the University of Western Ontario.