(Originally published at SB Nation’s Wide Right Natty Lite.)
Change is difficult. It can take years for new logos to gain acceptance, to worm their way into the warm memories of yore. The I-STATE logo, which never met a bevel it didn’t love, took some time to become established as the primary athletic mark, but is now widely accepted by Iowa State fans. The current walking Cy logo that was released after the I-STATE logo has struggled to reach the same level of acceptance.
It probably has something to do with how irritated Cy looks, like he’s walking out of Jack Trice Stadium after watching Iowa clobber Iowa State, only to find a parking ticket on his windshield.
Years after this modern iteration of Cy was released, most fans still refuse to embrace the design. On Twitter last week, I asked Iowa State fans whether they preferred the new version of Cy or the old versions of Cy. Hundreds of votes later, 80% voted in favor of the old versions. I’m no statistician, but that can’t be a good sign for the current logo.
It wasn’t always this bad.
If we ignore the modern look, all previous Cy logos had a round head and more appealing features. The 1980s leaning Cy logo is the only one to feature a natural bird with no dentures and the shape of the design is the closest to being timeless, just like the missing Cyclone logo that begs to be slightly updated. Others prefer the older walking Cy with big yellow shoes.
In the 1990s, tradition was pitched out the window as sport mascots raced to keep up with a hyper society fueled by Surge and the X Games. Timeless was out, extreme was in. The new Cy logo saw him riding the world’s smallest tornado, fist extended, attitude about to be delivered. His head became an aggressive wedge and feathers became spikes. The current look continued some aspects, while introducing a secondary oval head logo that immediately recalled outdated ABC and ESPN oval logos from fifteen years ago.
Why does this matter?
Through animation history, the most likable, timeless characters are full of flowing round shapes that appeal to all ages. Villains are often drawn with sharp angles and rigid lines. This is no accident. Studies have found people subconsciously prefer soft, organic shapes to blocky edges. Just look at Mickey Mouse, the affable rodent that launched an empire with little more than his round face and some pluck. Billions of dollars later, appeal matters.
Oregon famously used Donald Duck as their mascot for decades due to a personal friendship between Walt Disney and the Oregon athletic director. In 2002, when Oregon tried trotting out Mandrake, their insanely muscular and futuristic duck mascot, the backlash caused him to fizzle away after just a year. In recent years, Oregon’s new duck logo maintains the same goofy charm of the mascot with nary any attitude to be found.
Unlike other schools who overcompensate by toughening up their meek mascots with the clear and the cream, Cy should have no issue being the lovable sidekick to a massive tornado that terrifyingly blots out the sky with lightning and thunder. Just look at the pleasing face here, which serves as a jumping point for a refined, timeless look.
Companies spend millions of dollars to capture the imagination of children from their earliest days with lovable characters. Those children grow up to be consumers and influencers of a new generation, parents passing down stories to their little ones. Iowa State could become the first school to fully realize the transition from a thin mascot created to sell merchandise into an avatar for the university as a whole.
By using Cy in various innovative ways, children from all over the world could be introduced to the Iowa State difference with him as their tour guide. Developing his personality further as a lovable underdog, not difficult given Iowa State’s historical futility in sports, creates a marketable character to be deployed throughout various media.
Following the legacy of WOI-TV, Iowa State should create a new media school that combines the best aspects of journalism and design to use Cy as the face of Iowa State University. Imagine an animated series in the vein of DuckTales or Phineas and Ferb, but with a science bent where Cy travels through time to share technology stories.
Books are another way to extend his appeal. As a child, The Magic School Bus book series introduced me to fascinating topics. Cy would be a natural fit to explore the various schools of Iowa State. Students could also compete to create mobile games and apps that use Cy in various imaginative ways and split the revenue with Iowa State.
College sports are full of amazing, goofy traditions and Cy could use some more of his own. A former Iowa State player reminded me recently of the giant football helmet golf carts that used to be seen at games. Inspired by that, Cy should drive around in an armored Storm Chaser cart, much like actual tornado chasers have. This would also be a natural fit at science fairs where children could learn about the actual science behind tornados.
Walt Disney liked to remind people that “it was all started by a mouse” and Cy can inspire a new generation of dreamers to attend Iowa State and leave a mark on the world. As a child, Mickey Mouse led me to create theme parks and cartoons and movies in my bedroom. I met my wife while working at Disney and we later moved to California to start Kagavi. My life would be completely different today if not for a series of simple round shapes drawn on paper. That is the power of a fully realized character, created to tell stories, not simply move merchandise. To change lives.
The ambitious evolution of Cy simply isn’t possible with the modern logo, reviled by a substantial portion of the Iowa State fan base. It’s time to fix Cy.
CONCEPT HELMET OF THE WEEK
Let’s take the most iconic, timeless Cy head and push it upscale with some gold leaf.
JACK TRICE RESEARCH NOTE
The Iowa State University Archives has an original football playbook (circa 1933) from George Veenker’s time as head coach. I found it very interesting that Veenker saw fit to include a section on Jack Trice in the manual, despite no apparent previous connection. Some versions of Jack’s story claim he was quickly forgotten after his death, yet the manual from about a decade later would suggest otherwise. See the Archives story from 2011 here and also follow the link within for more pictures of the preservation effort.
Do you have any original 1920s Iowa State artifacts? Drop me a line on Twitter or email joshua.t (AT) kagavi.com. Help reveal new insights into Jack Trice’s life.
TEACH ME SOUNDS
I was born broken, better known by the complicated medical term “deaf,” and need you to teach me basic sounds in written form. For this week:
Teach me the sound of a beer or soda can being opened in the tailgate lots.
Give your best version (turn of phrase or onomatopoeia) in the comments.
Kagavi’s Cyclone Soup will appear throughout the remainder of the 2016 football season. Follow him on Twitter here.