Marketing Matters: What's Your Sign?

by Steve Cony

What comes to mind when you think of McDonald’s? Prudential? How about United Way?

Chances are that you recall that product or organization’s most consistently used visual symbol, its logo. For McDonald’s, the arches; for Prudential, that imposing rock; and for the United Way, a poised hand in front of a rainbow.

In the last issue we considered the value of a well-chosen theme line to match your camp logo. Now let’s take a step back and consider the logo itself.

Your logo is your camp’s visual identity for anything and everything people see other than the facility itself. More than any single marketing tool, letter, or postcard — your logo is the consistent element that represents your camp.

Therefore, there is no better way to say the following — your logo must be good. If the best thing you can say about your logo is that it was developed the year the camp was founded, you need to strongly consider a re-evaluation.

There are five important attributes for a good logo:

  1. Originality and distinctiveness Your logo is perhaps the most frequently seen symbol of everything that you are. As such, it should represent the resourcefulness and the spirit which you apply to the total operation.
  2. Legibility and simplicity Any logo must be seen in many different environments. When it appears on a business card or on a fax cover sheet, it is necessarily small in size. In these situations, it must communicate just as effectively as if it were spread across a large sign or Web site home page.
  3. Memorability You want your logo to make a lasting impression. Think once again of those unforgettable logos that you don’t need to actually see in order to experience them in your head.
  4. Ease of association with your camp Too many camp logos don’t even hint at the types of organizations they represent. Some are too corporate; others are too generic. Something about your logo should suggest what it is you provide — a fun-filled summer experience.
  5. Ease of adaptability for all important media Camp logos go in lots of different places — even on camper and staff clothing items. Your logo should be something people want to see — and want to wear.

There are seven mistakes to avoid in refining a camp logo:

  1. Lines too thin Thin lines do not communicate boldness. (How’s that for a revelation?) A fun and adventurous and sometimes loud experience like a summer camp should have a look of boldness to it — starting with the logo. In addition, thin lines wash out when copied and reproduced in certain media.
  2. Strong dependence on color for successful communication There are times when your logo appears in black and white, and it should communicate effectively even when not shown in full color.
  3. Inappropriate imagery Take great care to make sure your logo does not appear too sophisticated, too stately, or too “quiet.” Yes, your camp is steeped in tradition, but it is not advisable to design a logo that looks more like it represents an Ivy League college.
  4. Wrong proportions Your logo must not be too vertically oriented or too horizontally oriented. Particularly when applying it to clothing, it is best to make it fit roughly into a square.
  5. Too busy As discussed earlier, your logo must often be reproduced in a small size. A high density of detail works against clear communication in a small format.
  6. Fad fonts Every year sees the rise of several trendy fonts. You seem to see them everywhere, and then they just sort of disappear — often after people are weary of their usage. For all these reasons, avoid them.
  7. No imagination A camp logo is the first way to communicate the spirit, the mission, and the total ambience of the experience that is offered to children. If your logo does not do this, you miss a valuable opportunity to communicate.

There are countless examples of logos that have been updated, in order for the visual image to remain relevant and thus maximally functional while styles evolve. General Mills updated the image of Betty Crocker five times between 1936 and 1980. Each revision made the image of this lady more and more “modern.”

How does your logo fit in with our present-day styles and standards? The concept that camp is built strongly around tradition does not mean that the symbols we use should remain antiquated — just because they are the “originals.” You can update and even, if necessary, overthrow your current logo.
Work with a seasoned graphic designer who can suggest multiple options for revisions — various graduated degrees of change from subtle to radical. Having these alternatives from which to choose allows you the opportunity to best determine how much to change the logo. Once a decision is made, plan to introduce the new design in the months following a camp season. Your loyal campers and staff will have the time during the winter and spring to see the new logo design on various pieces of communication, and it will be familiar by the time camp begins — and the new T-shirts appear!

Will your loyal campers and staff be upset? Perhaps, but remain steadfast. You will have made an important business decision that they may not be able to fully understand. Explain to them that this is similar to your efforts to upgrade, modernize, and enhance the facilities and programming of the camp.
Regardless of your logo’s stage of development, you must make a firm commitment to use it with perfect continuity.* Too often a camp sends out various forms of communication and uses whatever font happens to be handy in the word processing program, enlarges it, bolds it — and then pastes it across the top of the page. It bears little or no resemblance to the actual logo. This is similar to having the name Jeannie, then spelling it Jeanie, Jeanny, Jenny, Geney, or Genie. If your name is Jeannie, you always spell it the same and when others spell it differently, you correct them.

Your logo is your camp name.

*OK, what would this column be without an occasional contradiction? It is fine to occasionally “play” with your logo. For example, allowing some kind of humorous modification on the front of a T-shirt can add to the fun of a particular event or award. Just make sure that the modification is done in a loving spirit of good-natured satire and not of sarcasm.


Steve Cony is a marketing consultant who assists children’s camps with the development of strategic plans and the execution of marketing materials. Camp directors may contact him at 914-271-8482 or e-mail

Originally published in the 2003 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.