The new MEC logo debate: Can a controversial rebrand spark productive action among designers?

By Lionel Gadoury RGD, Creative Director, Context Creative

Love it or hate it, the change of logo for Canada’s beloved Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) has unleashed some stormy controversy – the like of which is all too common amongst the ranks of designers when recognized brands undergo change.


MEC stores have long been unique destinations for member-only buyers – stocked with the best gear and leading brand names alongside MEC’s own product lines and designs, but today, competition is fierce compared to what it was in the early years, with design and marketing ever more critical to success.


The firm selected to tackle the redesign of the iconic brand is Toronto-based firm Concrete Design, co-founded by Diti Katona RGD and John Pylypczak. “MEC has been undergoing an evolution for some time now. Their product offering has diversified to reflect the needs of their members,” explains John. “The category as a whole is growing more complex as consumers' ‘activity fingerprint’ becomes more diverse. Our objective was to reflect this evolution and establish MEC as the leader in this category.”


Concrete was selected for this project after responding to an RFP issued by MEC to agencies throughout North America and Europe in spring 2012. The firm was shortlisted and went on to win the project after presenting to MEC’s senior team.


On one hand, the flurry of commentary is understandable. After all, the MEC brand is built upon community involvement and engages collective memories of adventure, nature, and passionate outdoor pursuits. However, contrary to promoting goals of professionalism across the design industry, it is disconcerting how ad-hoc opinions and simplistic one-upmanship, i.e., “if it had been my redesign, the results would be much better” tends to dominate.


To me, the conversation sparked by the rebrand reveals a need for a deeper understanding and greater appreciation for why certain design decisions are made. Design is never about aesthetics alone, but more about the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ - what process was followed to arrive at a particular solution. Properly managed, the evolution of a brand name and mark is the result of close collaboration and consultation and hiring a qualified professional is the best way for clients to mitigate risk and achieve a successful outcome.


Concrete’s design is the result of intensive research and much consideration, taking into account the goals of the client as well as the people they are trying to reach. “Research was a very important part of our approach to this project - we knew that MEC was a highly regarded brand. It was important for us to engage a broad spectrum of Canadians, both members and non-members, to discover their attitudes to not only the retailer, but to outdoor activities in general,” John says.  


We might speculate as to the discussions and insights that were shared in re-developing the MEC mark, and whether three white letters on a green square will ever become as memorable as the mountain peaks and the fully articulated name that’s been replaced, but only time will tell.


It’s been an incredible journey over the years for MEC and the new logo is yet another milestone; rather than snipe about it, perhaps we ought to ask ourselves as designers what are the biggest misconceptions about branding and what strategies can be followed to help ensure a successful roll out of a new brand. 


MEC’s new identity is now beginning to appear on products in stores, and the full launch will begin in September 2013, including advertising, store signage, a new website and event branding.


RGDs interested in submitting an 'Insights' article can download the 'Guidelines for Contributing Content' PDF and email