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Why the YMCA Rebranded as 'the Y'
By: Jeff Louis
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For as long as I can remember, "the Y" meant one thing: the YMCA. In fact, casual conversation disjointed when someone used its full name. After 166 years of being known as “the Y” by anyone and everyone who used the facility for health, wellness, or a place to sleep, the YMCA has rebranded to just “the Y."

Why? According to Katie Coleman, the Y's senior vice president and chief marketing officer,“It’s a way of being warmer, more genuine, more welcoming, when you call yourself what everyone else calls you.”

The non-profit organization seems endemically American, but George Williams founded it in London with the goal to develop "a healthy spirit, mind, and body."                   

The Y YMCA stands for "Young Men’s Christian Association," but today it is open to all, regardless of age, gender, or faith.

The Y is branding the non-profit from the eyes of their consumers for the first time, which is tactically a smart move. Some may see the shortening of the brand name as a result of blogs, but organizations tend to use acronyms or initialisms to replace full names, mainly because they’re easier to remember. (Think HP, SYSCO, 3M, GM, IBM, and BMW. I’d bet no one outside Sysco refers to the company as Systems and Service Company.)

This lends credibility to the argument that consumers, not companies, own brands, and consumers, not corporate executives, live the brand experience. They ultimately decide whether or not they will engage with certain brands.

A single name, group of letters, or symbol is much like an organization’s gang name or nickname. These consumer-created names often describe the relationship between brand and consumer more definitively than any brand score.

TacoHellThis association, however, can be both positive and negative. On the plus-side, millions (if not billions) recognize McDonald’s as Mickey D’s. Taco Bell, however, is not as lucky due to consumer gut reaction. Obviously, many unpleasant dining experiences culminated in the nickname, Taco Hell.

Moreover, brand identity by letters or symbols is trendy. The past decade saw numerous organizations officially changing their names to acronyms: United Parcel Service is UPS, Lucky Goldstar switched to LG, British Petroleum assumed BP, and Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC. (Then there is Prince, who once was known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.)

The Y’s “new” brand name arrives at a key time. The organization is accentuating their efforts to highlight the positive impact their programs have on young people -- healthy living and community involvement -- in an effort to increase funding. 

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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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