Gannett chief marketing officer Maryam Banikarim sent a memo to employees this morning with USA Today artist/illustrator Sam Ward’s explanation of his paper’s new logo and “cool balls.”
“Just what are our balls? Well, they are what we will make of them. I believe our balls are symbols of who we are and where we’re headed. They are not stories, graphics, or illustrations. They are signposts, perhaps; reminders that offer inroads into America’s stream of consciousness. …
“Sure, our competitors will laugh. Let them laugh so hard that they cannot breathe. We should really only be interested in what the readers think. Yes, there may be a few laughing readers too, but not for long. Readers will come to enjoy “the show.”
From: A message from Maryam Banikarim
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 9:52 AM
Subject: Cool Balls
As I mentioned yesterday at the USA TODAY employee presentation, with Sam’s permission, I’d like to share his full note regarding our new logo and getting our mojo back….
Cool Balls by Sam Ward
I have a dream . . . that one day all Americans will join hands and declare their undying love for our balls; our spheres of influence, our behaviors, or whatever one chooses to call them.
Actually, and perhaps with an air of creepiness, I DID have a dream about this very topic. I dreamt that people all over the place were talking about the images in USA TODAY’s balls. It was creating quite a stir; which, if we do our job right, shouldn’t be far from the truth.
Whenever anyone steps outside the boundaries of the box it will create a stir. In fact, nothing good can be created without stepping outside the box. No, let me rephrase that; nothing can be created at all without stepping outside the box. Our balls could be our boldest statement; our chance to engage readers on a level that we currently are not doing.
We shouldn’t use that space for your everyday run of the mill promo; that’s currently being done by every newspaper in the country. Nobody would feel drawn to a photo of Neil Armstrong that could have been used on the day after his death. People would however have been attracted to a simple moon boot print, or a flag at half-mast planted on an image of the moon. I guess maybe “sophisticated” is the word that fits.
And I believe readers want to consider themselves sophisticated. They want to be challenged. They don’t always want everything spelled out for them. How can they feel challenged if we never offer them a challenge? If some days, readers can’t understand the symbolic imagery within our balls, they will feel a deeper level of appreciation on the days when they can. Readers form a bond with publications that trust them to “get it.”
And just what are we asking our readers to “get?” Just what are our balls? Well, they are what we will make of them. I believe our balls are symbols of who we are and where we’re headed. They are not stories, graphics, or illustrations. They are signposts, perhaps; reminders that offer inroads into America’s stream of consciousness.
And we have to be sensible about them too. We can’t beat our readers over the head with our cleverness. We should use our balls at the right time and for the right reasons. They should be important, and never feel too planned or overly scripted. We should think of them as we think about sex: sex is great but we don’t want to have it ALL the time. Well . . . maybe that’s the wrong analogy, but you get the point.
It’s quite clear that the old way of doing things isn’t working. The time has come to step into the light and dare to be different. Sure, our competitors will laugh. Let them laugh so hard that they cannot breathe. We should really only be interested in what the readers think. Yes, there may be a few laughing readers too, but not for long. Readers will come to enjoy “the show.”
And hopefully we will get folks talking. Great! We should want them to talk. If nobody talks it’s a sure sign we’re not doing anything very innovative. Maybe our balls will have a viral life. Maybe we will create a wave that readers want to catch. Our images can be our “preview,” our “trailer,” our trademark.
There is an aspect of this that defies explanation. I cannot prove that it exists, but I “feel” that it does. Let’s call it a sense of “coolness,” for lack of a better term. I don’t have any statistics on this, but I believe most people consider themselves to be cool; and they would like to feel they are reading a publication that is cool. They may not totally understand why, but they still want to be a part of it.
Readers will appreciate the risk we are taking; that we dare to be different. USA TODAY could take the safe approach, wading cautiously and nervously into the ever-changing media environment, but that isn’t what inspires people. Americans, in particular, like a big splash. Believing in oneself and taking that dive into the unknown stormy sea . . . now THAT inspires people.
It’s been too long since USA TODAY has taken a chance. We have allowed ourselves to become too comfortable in our niche. We seem to have lost our way, lost our mojo, if you will. But I’ve been getting some good vibes lately. This redesign is working. We are attempting to radically change the way we present the news and the way we go about our jobs.
Yes, I believe things are moving fast now and that our mojo is back . . . and we have the balls to prove it . . .