It get5 worse: New PCPA signs confuse rather than clarify

As mentioned previously (When branding goe5 terribly wrong), Portland’s downtown PCPA has been “rebranded” and given a new name.

But since no one can figure out how to pronounce the jarring combination of letters and number that is “Portland’5 Centers for the Arts”, folks will likely continue to use “PCPA” to refer to the red brick building on Broadway next to the Schnitz.

Or, in a nod to the purple Minnesotan: “The performing arts center formerly known as PCPA”.

Or for simplicity: TPACFKAPCPA.

Meanwhile there is a new sign up on TPACFKAPCPA.

And it illustrates everything wrong with the new name.

New signs on the north entrance of the PCPA.
New signage on the north entrance of the PCPA.

It may be ugly, but at least it confuses the customer and cost a lot.
It may be ugly, but at least it confuses the customer and cost a lot.

For starters, those kaleidoscope images on the top row that look like they were auto generated by your screen saver circa 1998? Those are actually letters. In other words, the new visual icon for each of the 5 space5 is simply the first letter of the theatre name, camouflaged and colored weirdly. Note the left panel is the overall brand, while the three on the right are actual performance spaces. Alles klar?

A visitor might look up at this unlovely placard, assuming they can read the icons as letters, and mistakenly think the acronym for the building is “PNWB”. Nope.

Could we maybe use the word “Portland” a few more times here? Yes, we’re in Portland. WE GET THAT. But using the word four times doesn’t contribute to the brand experience – it starts to numb your brain.

What else is there to say?

A visual color signature is a big part of any brand. Even if you can’t read the words, the color combo will often tell you what it is. Note the complete absence of any identifying color scheme here.

Also, see how the older signs stenciled on the building are still there? So above the new new sign we have “Antoinette Hatfield Hall”. And below it we see “Newmark Theatre – Dolores Winningstad Theatre” (but note it’s “Dolores Winningstad Theatre” – not “Winningstad Theatre” as in the new sign: so which is it?) and “Brunish Theatre”.

In other words, there already were signs for the three spaces. So what did the new signs add? And why weren’t the old signs removed? And what is “Antoinette Hatfield Hall” – and why is there no new sign for it? And why are there so many questions on a beautiful September morning?

A rebranding should clarify and simplify. This one does the opposite.

Do your own test. Take an out of town visitor to the north facade of TPACFKAPCPA, plant them below the new signage, and ask them what they think the overall building name is. As in, what name would you use if you wanted to tell a friend, “I’ll meet you at 7 downtown at the [NAME]”?

The overall goal here should be to get people to actually come out to more downtown shows, and making the name of the venue unknowable to the city’s potential audience members is not a first step down that path.

Adding to the overall confusion, the big electronic marquee sign on the Broadway side of the building is still headlined “Portland Center for the Performing Arts”. Will that be replaced? At what cost?

And again, the original question behind all of this: Why? Why the rebrand? What was the problem for which the rebrand is the solution?

Meanwhile, lost in the din surrounding the nonsen5ical rebranding of TPACFKAPCPA is a much more important question than what we should call a cutting edge performing arts center for showcasing local work in downtown Portland.

Namely: Why don’t we have such a place?

More on that one soon.

What will it cost to replace this marquee sign?  Or will the old name hang on to confuse people?
What will it cost to replace this marquee sign? Or will the old name hang on to confuse people?