12th November 2013

A branding horror story: the exec, in Loughborough union, with a camera

LSU blog photo 2-01


This year, Halloween was spent with the RBL team at the D&AD industry nightmares event in London: a night of agency horror stories recounted by industry legends. Encouraged to consider our own branding nightmares, no absolute horrors seemed to come to mind. Little did we know, one was developing without our knowledge…

A year ago, I was setting out on my tenure as a sabbatical officer at Loughborough Students’ Union (LSU), full of big plans for my year, with little idea what was to come. Just over a year later, I am working as a Junior Brand Consultant at Rebecca Battman Ltd (RBL), the agency that, as a student officer, my team and I had selected to conduct the LSU rebrand. As the then VP Communications, I managed the rebrand project with support from RBL.

As the months went by, LSU went from dated to visionary; ‘the driving force behind the UK’s best student experience’, delivering high quality in a world where students pay £9,000 tuition and where expectations are higher than ever. Soon enough handover arrived; a process whereby each Exec passes on to the next team, entrusting them with running one of the most successful Student Unions in the UK and owning the new brand that came with it.

Flash forward several months and here we are; our branding nightmare realised.

Some will have seen the coverage of the ‘LSU Exec video 2013’. If not, where have you been hiding? This video has garnered hundreds of thousands of views worldwide, ignited debate amongst students and alumni, and received coverage from ITV, Daily Mirror and Radio 1 amongst others. Cited as “one of the worst videos ever”, the song choice is poor, the lyrics don’t fit, the singing is less than ideal, and the delivery is far short of the usual LSU mark. It was this video that went viral the day after our D&AD horror story event and it quickly dawned on us we were experiencing our very own branding nightmare.

Months of hard work creating and implementing a new brand proposition, look and feel, and defining a core set of values, one of which is ‘be the best’, and what we were watching was the dramatic opposite! Having taken a breath and thought about it, we asked ourselves one question.

Is there such a thing as bad publicity?

Loughborough Student’s Union, and Loughborough University for that matter, is still an incredible place. The other week, LSU took just over 100 students down to London and they returned having raised over £60,000 for national charities. Just last year, the Union secured their 32nd BUCS win. These are just some of the messages presented in the video, which hundreds of thousands are now more aware of (…if they aren’t too busy cringing to listen).

For me, the main issue lies in the fact that the purpose of the rebrand has been ignored. The image we worked hard to create and the reputation of LSU has been jeopardized – far from portraying LSU as an experiential driving force. All because an engaging and lighthearted tradition (meant for the eyes of Freshers to introduce them to their Exec) has been taken out of context, with some even believing it to be a Loughborough University recruitment advert.

The lesson?

Building a strong brand doesn’t stop at articulating a strategy, defining a culture and developing a new identity, you need to embody what you’ve set out to create. This experience highlights the importance of internal teams becoming guardians of the brand they have helped to create, living the values in everything that they do.

From my perspective, as an ex-Exec officer who devoted hours to the rebranding of LSU, and who is now seeing it unfold from an agency perspective, the conclusion is two-fold. The video completely contradicts the culture that we created for the ‘new’ LSU, tainting the wider image of the bold, inclusive, and high-quality organisation we set out to develop. But, huge numbers now know about Loughborough and what the Union has to offer, and one bad video isn’t going to destroy years of success and a bright future.

No matter what impact the video has, I am still proud to be a Loughborough alumni.


…but if you want to have a watch, check it out here

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Rebecca Battman

Managing Director

Rebecca is the founder and Managing Director of rbl. An experienced brand and marketing professional, Rebecca has spent over 30 years helping clients to build, design and manage their brands.

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