UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs Reveal New Brand Identity

After five months of information sessions and more than 18,000 survey responses, the University of California, Santa Cruz unveiled its new brand identity during a virtual athletic banquet on June 5. 

The new look features a sleek update for “Sammy The Slug,” who has taken on many styles since the Banana Slugs nickname was introduced in 1986, including several activity-related and sport-specific marks. It includes redwood trees in the background as a nod to UC Santa Cruz’s wooded campus and its commitment to the environment.

“Before we can do other things that are fun and cool for the university community, we had to get the brand right,” athletic and recreation director Clint Angus said in a statement. “Our goal with this campaign was to create a brand identity that instills unity and pride, and not just in athletics. We want it to be inclusive. We want it to be accessible enough so people can say, ‘I’m not an athlete, but I’d still love to see that slug on a shirt I can wear.’”

The Redwood Slug, as its called, replaces the Strong Slug as Banana Slugs’ primary logo, but not the Fiat Slug used by the bookstore or the stylized logo used by the department of recreation. The Strong Slug will be be considered a heritage mark moving forward, though, which allows it to be used on vintage apparel and merchandise.

“As iconic as the Banana Slug mascot has been within the landscape of college athletics, the department had never gone through a formal branding process to develop and ownable, trademarked image,” Skye Dillon, founder of Skye Design Studios, told SportsLogos.net. “Fiat Slug was designated for licensed use through the university bookstore only, and while the Strong Slug had become the most notable symbol for the department over the last two decades, it was not officially trademarked and could not be sold in retail settings.

“Further, its overall tone and masculine demeanor had proved to be contradictory to the hermaphroditic nature of actual band slugs as well as divisive within the context of the full university community.”

The #NewSlug2020 campaign began in February with 18 logo concepts featuring varying facial expressions and 10 different wordmarks. The goal was to establish a single visual representation of the slug across the athletic department, and the two finalists actually shared many of the same qualities, particularly the slug’s facial expression and overall stance. So rather than choose just one, the stylized “UC” was slightly modified and included in the final package as a supporting mark.

“This was as pure a collaboration as it gets,” Dillon said. “Above all, our goal was to develop one new slug to authentically represent athletics and recreation, and to design it in a way that would bring unity to the entire university family. What better way to achieve this than to be inspired by the legacy of how the Banana Slug was birthed in the first place, through a student-led referendum in the 1980’s? 

“Making the process open and transparent with multiple rounds of community engagement through a popular vote ‘election’ format was a way to honor that legacy, leverage a fun platform of 2020 being a presidential election year, and ensure that the final product was a true reflection of the collective voice of the university community.” 

While there was a strong desire for the university to move to an anatomically accurate slug, with four antennae and eyes on the ends on the top two, most survey respondents favored a caricatures rather than a literal interpretation. Still, the team at Skye Design Studios was able to include the pneumostome, which is a respiratory opening unique to slugs. 

“I’m really excited about this outcome,” said UC Santa Cruz chancellor Cynthia Larive. “Obviously, everything changed this year because of COVID-19, but the way (the athletic department) was able to handle the outreach is really fantastic.

“I think this is a great way for us to be forward-looking in this difficult time. A number of people have told me how excited they are to get new Banana Slug gear. We are going to see this as a point of pride when we can get together in person again.”

Photos via the University of California, Santa Cruz and Skye Design Studios.