Varsity | The Mark of Cheerleading
This is a story about how we used visual design to help a segment of our population who often get unfairly judged and mocked — cheerleaders — reclaim the cultural and athletic respect they deserve.
The striped mark you see on the tape is now the universal signature of cheerleading, similar to creating the first trademark for Boy Scout or the international symbol of football. It is a little piece of tradition that is now pinned on every cheerleader, nationally and globally.
Over the years, Girlapproved has not just helped brands grow, but it has also been able to contribute to cultural progress. We’ve had the great honor of being able to use our innovation method with several national institutions. Varsity is one of these special clients.
“Varsity’s legacy is carved deeply into American tradition.” Varsity is all things cheerleading — it dominates 90% of the market and oversees every dimension of cheerleading. This company pioneered the pom pom, cheer camps, cheer competitions, designed modern uniforms, and put the dance in cheer routines. Varsity’s legacy is carved deeply into American tradition. But as much as Varsity has cheered on athletes and girls for dozens and dozens of years — it forgot to celebrate and acknowledge it’s own great accomplishments — American sports, American high schools, homecoming, all would not be the same without them. But Varsity was a very humble organization even to it’s own detriment.
“Like the olympic rings, this symbol represents high excellence, intensive training, and pride of accomplishing something very difficult.”
The first contribution we made to Varsity and cheerleading at large was we helped it declare its own pride, to honor its legacy, its traditions, its complex athleticism, and broad reaching influence.
How did we do this? Unlike other historic organizations and sports that are loaded with formal insignias and medallions — cheerleading had no unifying symbol, no formal crest or image or accreditation icon. To help Varsity claim their legacy and authority, we invented and designed the first official mark of cheerleading. This mark is now on every uniform, every camp certificate, every competition trophy, etc. Like the olympic rings, this symbol represents high excellence, intensive training, and pride of accomplishing something very difficult. And if you see cheerleading today, it is one of the most demanding and competitive sports in the business.
There were also important strategic and business reasons to create this mark. Varsity’s success and leadership has made cheerleading one of the hottest growing national and international sports — Varsity’s perpetual advancement of cheerleading in athleticisim, dance style and new competition has generated a massive demand — the market size for cheerleading is now in the millions. Large demands generate large opportunities for profit. And other brands started to recognize this. Nike saw this opportunity and started to design their own uniforms and cheer accessories. Independent gyms were opening up, threatening formal camp training. This new competition not only threatened Varsity’s profits — but also the standards and traditions and even the safety of cheerleading was put at risk.
Creating an official stamp of cheerleading differentiated Varsity as the authority and expert. Unifying cheerleading with a symbol helped Varsity claim their status as the pioneering force of cheerleading and also beat out all these newbies who were entering the market — just for the money.
I would now like to shift the conversation over to the topic of design.
Varsity is a fascinating study in design because they had two very common and destructive cultural phenomenons working against their success.
This case study demonstrates how our new innovation method can not just help businesses grow strong but is also capable of resolving long standing cultural issues, and in this case, fixing the inaccurate and harmful judgements we often have against young women.
“Humility is a beautiful thing, but in business it’s a killer.”
There are patterns I see in the female market that are not in the male market. The first one is that women often underestimate themselves when they talk about their worth — they represent their identities well below what is truthful. Humility is a beautiful thing, but in business it’s a killer— and Varsity was doing this. The second phenomena is something that I call the vicious design cycle — this happens when the designer or marketer doesn’t respect or underestimates the the sophistication of its target market.
When this occurs, designers tend to produce products that cause that target market to be disrespected by other people. For example — if I think you are tacky, I create tacky goods. Now the rest of society looks at you and calls you tacky. This is what was happening to Varsity.
Let’s start with the vicious cycle. It is an epidemic in the young women market — Varsity and cheerleading have been victims of this for generations. Far too often, we judge a community as being unsophisticated. But the truth of the matter is, this community are just victims — it is the industry’s failure to produce sophisticated products that is the real problem. Businesses pay top dollar for style guides, print collections, images and sounds — that all promise to connect that brand to what a target market really wants and what they will buy— most of these services are toxic to social and cultural progress. They reinforce negative perceptions about people. Marketing is full of beliefs and habits that are destructive to society. They just reinforce judgements, class differentiation, culture and gender hierarchies. They need to change.
So does this apply to cheerleading? When I first met Varsity, I felt sorry for them and the cheerleading community. Varsity had spent significant money going through multiple redesigns. And what did it buy them? Visual disrespect.
The brand looked junky, loud and garish. It was full of clashing colors and clashing fonts. The graphics made a mockery of teenage life. You would have never guessed this identity was supposed to represent one of the most intensive sports in the market and Varsity—a highly innovative athletic leader with deep roots in American tradition.
Cheerleaders struggle to get respect. Be it in Hollyword, TV shows, and talk shows, cheerleaders are constantly the subject of mockery. The cliche idea of a cheerleader is an unintelligent, culturally unsophisticated girl with loud, garish taste. Well truthfully, there’s an alternative model where she’s just a hot looking chick without much going on except her attitude. None of these prejudices are accurate or kind. Cheerleading is one of the most bad ass, dangerous, physically demanding and competitive sports.
Not only are cheerleaders extreme athletes, but they are also extremely kind and generous. Cheerleaders spend most of their time supporting other people. Many sports teams will tell you stories about how it was school spirit alone that gave them the extra boost and the extra confidence they needed to beat out a tough component. It is the cheerleader that is solely responsible for mobilizing the school and generating that school spirit.
Needless to say that the designers that came before us were blinded by the superficial cliches of cheerleading. Their work only reinforced age old negative stereotypes. These designers failed to recognize the true athletic and humanistic true nature of this sport. Unfortunately, Varsity was far too humble to stand up and demand differently. Varsity is cheerleading. And without them, American sports and American high school culture would look very different.
The Varsity V we created matches cheerleading’s true athleticism, academic legacy, and historic importance. This V is instantly recognizable. It is visually dynamic enough to compliment over 100,000 schools. It looks good at any scale, from a tiny uniform tag to a giant gymnasium mat or animated on ESPN TV broadcast of Varsity’s national cheer competition. We invite you all to go online and see our design work. your varsity.com logo
Fs femine standards
feminine but not too sweet
classy but not old fashioned
credible and authoritative
with movement but not 3D
that can support alot of logos
that is soft that never clashes
siamiliar but easy to remember
simple but still sophisticated
This is Girlapproved’s tiny contribution to making American culture a little more kind and a lot more truthful.
NEW + SUMMARY
bs*_designers | Cheerleaders were viewed with no respect
GROWTH | We re-defined people’s perceptions of cheerleaders
BS* | Cheerleaders were viewed with no respect
GROWTH | We re-defined people’s perceptions of cheerleaders