A&W Takes Up a Worthy Cause: Adding the Ampersand (Back) Into the Alphabet

The chain even dropped the symbol from its logo in protest

The ampersand, once considered the 27th letter of the alphabet, now can't even be used in a hashtag or URL. A&W Restaurants

When a brand changes its logo, customers notice. Look no further than when IHOP briefly became IHOb, and the world exploded.

Now, to celebrate its 100th birthday, A&W Restaurants has unveiled a new logo, and (gasp) there’s no ampersand! The symbol has not held up well in a digital age; good luck finding one in a hashtag or URL. Even my magic 8-ball noted the outlook was not so good.

A&W Restaurants, with help from Kentucky-based agency Cornett, hopes to rectify that by returning the ampersand to the alphabet as the 27th letter. That’s right, well into the 1800s, it was considered part of both the Latin and English alphabets, but the symbol fell by the linguistic wayside—and then really took a beating when the internet was coded with scant respect for the ampersand.

So A&W created a change.org petition asking Merriam Webster to recognize and return the ampersand to the alphabet in the hopes of making it a more recognized and usable symbol digitally.

“The Internet has not been kind to this centuries-old symbol of unity,” says Sarah Mueller, A&W vp of marketing. “Have you ever tried to use one in a hashtag? Or a URL? It doesn’t work, which has become problematic not just for us, but many brands.”

The brand is promoting the initiative on social media using the hashtag #BringBackThe&, and since the ampersand isn’t recognized, it’s not accepted by social platforms as part of the tag. The company also teased the campaign online with an ampersand-less collectors’ mug giveaway.

Here’s a look at the logo before and after it got an ampersandectomy:

“Our website home page will remain ampersand-free until we reach our goal of 10,000 petition signatures, until some dictionary somewhere hears our plea or until National Root Beer Float Day, Aug. 6, 2019,” continues Mueller.

As of filing this story, the petition had 250 signatures.

If the ampersand were more accepted digitally, it would alleviate brands with ampersands in company names from going long or short when selecting URLs and Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Crate&Barrel wouldn’t have to use “and” in between names, H&M wouldn’t be “HM” and “HRBlock” could be know by its traditional moniker, H&R Block.

“We’re doing this for all the people that love the ampersand and all of the companies like ours that proudly display it in their names and logos,” Mueller says.

The agency behind the campaign notes that this campaign is about more than digital diversity of characters. “The ampersand is all about bringing people and things together,” Cornett says in its announcement of the campaign, “which A&W has been about from the beginning.”

Interestingly, this isn’t the only cause marketing A&W is doing these days. On a more serious note, the restaurant chain’s Canadian operation has become the first in North America to abolish all plastic straws.

Amy Corr is a contributor to Adweek.