A sporting new look for the Banana Slug

UC Santa Cruz Athletics and Recreation reveals a new take on iconic mascot

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Here are a few of the images showing the new look of the Strong Slug. This decision to make a logo change was not taken lightly; in fact, Athletics and Recreation has held five input sessions and collected over 15,000 survey responses. Roughly 70 percent of the respondents favored a new Strong Slug design. 
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The Redwood Slug (shield slug) is just one of the new marks approved by the UC Santa Cruz community. It shows a smiling Banana Slug embedded in a forest setting. 

Since the late 1990s, UC Santa Cruz Athletics and Recreation has been using its own pumped-up version of the Sammy the Slug mascot, a bulldoggish character with a wrinkled brow, thick arms, and muscles the size of ham hocks.

But the time has come for the Changing of the Slug. Athletics and Recreation has just revealed a brand-new riff on the Sammy Slug character, with a sleek and immediately recognizable design that is meant to evoke the department’s core values: inclusivity, ambition, and progressive values. 

The stylish new slug looks adventurous and bold, with a smile on its face. The marquee icon has trees in the background, referencing UC Santa Cruz’s wooded campus as well as its commitment to the environment. 

The up-to-date version of the Athletics and Recreation mascot was announced after a virtual ceremony on June 5,  honoring outstanding student-athletes who have demonstrated their prowess in the classroom and in competition within the past academic year. 

Clint Angus, associate director for Athletics and Recreation at UC Santa Cruz, is excited about the switch-up. He mentioned that the current version of the Strong Slug  is challenging to reproduce clearly. 

“I’m wearing a Strong Slug shirt right now, with an embroidered slug on it, but it came out cross-eyed,’’ he said. “You can’t even tell that it’s a slug. One goal for the new slug is that people will look at it and say, ‘Obviously, it’s a slug.'’’ 

But Angus emphasized that the rolling out of this new Banana Slug design does not mean that the department is in any way abandoning the old “Strong Slug.” Out of respect to its fans, the old version will live on as a “heritage mark” that will be rolled out on special occasions, including events in which “vintage-wear” and nostalgia are part of the appeal. 

“We have a really small but passionate community that loves it,” Angus said. 

Honoring the traditional

After looking into several options, Athletics and Recreation decided to hire the New Jersey–based firm Skye Design Studios, a national leader in sports branding, creating comprehensive identities within all categories of the industry.

Skye Dillon, owner of Skye Design Studios, says the new version honors the UC Santa Cruz traditional Fiat Slug. 

“It is gender-neutral; incorporates anatomical detail; highlights environmental awareness; positions the department clearly within the UC system; conveys our active, fit, and confident persona through the stylistic lens of a lifestyle brand. But most importantly, it reflects the collective voice of the entire UC Santa Cruz community,” Dillon said.

Skye Design worked hard to respect the integrity of the slug—the Fiat Slug version, as well as the real ones, slowly gliding their way across the forested UC Santa Cruz campus. 

“We were mindful about asking the community about anatomical correctness throughout the campaign,” Angus said. “Most of our survey respondents were interested in a caricature more than a literal interpretation of the Banana Slug.

“While we couldn't effectively put Sammy's eyes on stalks and maintain the character's personality, we were able to include the pneumostome [a slug’s respiratory opening] in the design, which is unique to our mascot and a nod to our science-centered folks on campus,” he said. 

The Slugs, they are a changin’

This decision to make a logo change was not taken lightly; in fact, Athletics and Recreation has held five input sessions and collected over 15,000 survey responses. Roughly 70 percent of the respondents favored a new Strong Slug design. 

The final version was approved by a committee consisting of UC Santa Cruz students, faculty, staff, alumni, and local community.

UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive praised the new design. “I’m really excited about this outcome,” she said. “Obviously, everything changed this year because of covid-19, but the way (Athletics) was able to handle the outreach, with 15,000 survey responses throughout the academic year, is really fantastic.” 

“I think this is a great way for us to be forward-looking in this difficult time,” Larive continued. “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.”

Staff members have also spent significant amounts of time looking at the facial expressions of UC Santa Cruz’s Fiat Slug logo and its various spin-off versions, while letting their imaginations loose. 

“We looked at everything—the placement of the antennae, the eyebrows, the smile, the mouth, the shape of the nose, the face, all those elements together,” Angus said. “We had to play with it so it showed the connection to the Fiat Slug, but gave you a sense of what it would look like if that slug took off its glasses and just started running.” 

The catalyst for change was new leadership in the department, Angus said. 

“We identified that the brand is super-important. Before we can do other things that are fun and cool for the university community, we had to get the brand right.

“Our goal with this campaign was to create a brand identity that melds with the Fiat Slug character, but also 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.'”