The Story Behind the Meme: Equal Rights Equal Sign
As a person who’s worked on branding and social media in the non-profit sector I’ve always admired the Human Rights Campaign.
Their branding, use of social media is at a level that most corporations can’t match. In a country where it seems there’s a 100 groups for every cause the HRC stands out and has become the go to organization on GLBT rights. So this past week when the HRC logo went viral I was wondering to myself – how did they decide on something as elegant and straightforward as the equal sign.
Well I’m guessing they’ve been asked that a lot – as they have a great explanation on their site.
The Human Rights Campaign logo is one of the most recognizable symbols of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. It has become synonymous with the fight for equal rights for LGBT Americans.
The logo — unveiled in fall 1995 — helped usher in a new era for the organization, which had previously been known as the Human Rights Campaign Fund. When HRCF was founded in 1980, it was primarily a fund for supporting pro-fairness congressional candidates. The rebranding in 1995 announced to the country that, in the words of then- Executive Director Elizabeth Birch, “We’re so much more than a fund.
The logo was the final touch on a complete reorganization of HRC. In addition to the well-established lobbying and political action committee capabilities, new Foundation programs — including the Workplace Project and Family Project — were added. All of HRC’s research, communications, marketing and public relations functions were broadly expanded. HRC began a long period of robust growth and became respected as one of the largest and most effective mainstream advocacy organizations in the country. As Birch would often say, “A logo is only as meaningful as the hard work and standard of excellence it represents.”
The new name and logo reflected the wider goals and influence of the organization, which grew in strength to now spread the message of equality to every corner of the country.
The genesis of the HRC logo began with Birch’s vision for a unifying message for the organization. Birch formed a committee that included HRC senior staff such as Cathy Nelson and David Smith and board members and marketing talents such as Lisa Sherman and Wes Combs. She also enlisted the help of marketing and design firm Stone Yamashita. Birch had worked with Keith Yamashita while at Apple Computer and admired Robert Stone’s clean and exciting design style. Susan Schuman, also from Apple, joined Birch at HRC and helped guide the new positioning and branding efforts.
Stone Yamashita created 10 potential designs for the logo, some of which were variations on the old torch logo. Birch was drawn to one depicting a yellow equal sign inside of a blue square. Though it was the second-favorite choice among focus groups, Birch and her committee insisted on the simple, bold design.
After four months of work to reinvent the organization’s branding, the logo was introduced with new HRC letterhead, business cards and a campaign T-shirt. (The shirt is still sold in HRC Shops and on shop.hrc.org.)
The logo started popping up everywhere. In doing research for a bumper-sticker purchase order, staff member Don Kiser, now HRC’s creative director, learned that a square logo — different from the traditional rectangular bumper sticker — would cost just pennies to produce. The logo sticker was — and still is — distributed to new and prospective members who, in turn, help draw attention to HRC’s work by placing the sticker on their cars and windows.
Before long, the HRC logo was as visible at pride celebrations and other LGBT events as the iconic rainbow flag. Today, the HRC logo can be spotted the world over, from cars in Japan to the backpacks of hikers in Tibet.
Whether the logo is seen on a T-shirt, an HRC publication, a lawmaker’s lapel or as a backdrop for a historic speech by the president of the United States, it sends a message that the Human Rights Campaign and its more than one million members and supporters will remain vigilant in the fight for LGBT equality.