First, do no harm
I would like to thank the proprietor of this site for giving me this forum. I’m a life long fan of the Browns (the first game I remember was the Drive and I’ve been hooked since) and 2015 will be my 14th season as a season ticket holder who commutes from Columbus eight times each year to watch consistently horrendous football. This post started off as an idea banging around in my head that I’ve been wanted to get out, but when I put fingers to keyboard it grew to a size that didn’t really fit a typical forum post. I hope you enjoy, I certainly feel better having my thoughts released in what I hope in cogent fashion.
First, do no harm. That is the directive doctors are given, but it applies to many other areas of life such as “branding.” It’s acutely important when the brand is iconic like a soft drink company, an automobile manufacturer, or a storied football program. What do the above examples all have in common? Some marketing people got it into their head1 that their iconic brand was becoming stale. Truth, sometimes a brand needs to update to changing consumer tastes.2 But the majority of the time, the brand is suffering from self-inflicted wounds of simply not maintaining its core product.
This brings me around to our beloved hometown football team, the Cleveland Browns. This past off-season, three years of tireless work resulted in a complete rebranding for the franchise. Over the course of two way over-hyped announcements the browns updated their color scheme, logos, and uniforms. Let’s review the results.
The first stunt was a reveal of the new team logo and color scheme. To paraphrase our esteemed Cheddar Bay founder, that was a big, fat nothing-burger. The highlights, despite weeks of hype and foreshadowing announcing major exciting change was a “brighter” orange color and a brown facemask. Had the team been forthright about the plan and not hyped a nothing move, this could have been a huge marketing win. But in classic Browns fashion, they snatched defeat directly from the jaws of victory. The new primary logo with a Brown facemask was at best a tweak. The facemask color has been grey, then white, then grey again, so a move to brown wouldn’t have even raised eyebrows. Well, except for several weeks of hype and teases.
But that brighter, more energetic shade of orange. That’s a big deal, right? No, like a new coat of paint or fresh carpeting (new louder orange paint/carpeting, mind you) in a hotel, this is maintenance and nothing to get excited about. It’s not like they tore down the stadium and rebuilt it.3
Round two of the rebranding effort somehow accompanied more hype than the nothing that was round one. This involved three years of hyping focus groups, surveys, Nike, energy, and a cacophony of other buzzwords. When that April Tuesday rolled around, the big secret reveal was already on the internet because the Browns can’t even let boxes sit in warehouses correctly.
And oh what a mess!
Back the beginning I reference “do no harm.” With an iconic brand like Coca-Cola, Ford, University of Michigan athletics, or a beloved football team with a storied past,4 a modern update that harkens to the past is, to put it simply, what is required.
For example, did you know that the Pittsburgh Steelers made a dramatic change to their uniforms before the 1997 season? It’s true. They changed from classic block letting to a Futura rounded font on their jerseys. It’s dramatically noticeable when watching old NFL films, but when the Steelers play games. Meh. Still looks ugly, but it is a classic look.
So back to that April Tuesday, in a star-studded event, what should have been a fresh coat of paint, was a rearranging of the lobby to put the front desk in the hotel restaurant where the bar used to be.
What the March logo reveal said about imperviousness to rebranding should have provided the important lesson in how to freshen up the uniforms. Instead we got monstrosities that the coaches don’t even like. So much for energy and edge. More like distinct strategic disadvantage.5
My basic premise is that by “doing no harm” the team could have freshened up the look in a positive way while infusing several of the elements the team ended up using.
First, let me extol the positives. The kit stayed true to strictly brown, orange, and/or white colors.6 If they wanted three pairs of pants and three jerseys sticking to colors the team has worn at times throughout its history is straight “keep it simple, stupid” stuff. Making all striping match the 3 color striping of the helmet is also positive, especially when you consider that that stripe is the primary feature of our primary logo. And if we’ve got to have a orange jersey,7 the cleanliness of our orange makes it the best of the lot.
Moving on the the neutral “features”, I’ll just list them quickly as they neither add nor detract from the overall look.
- Orange and brown socks. Meh.
- Enlarged city wordmark. Could have really worked with the “we play for the name on the front” type marketing/motivational stuff.
- Custom block letter font. It’s no Tampa Bay digital clock font. But what is?
- Helmet stripe texture. Seriously, even with HD cameras broadcasting individual blades of grass, can you tell the stripe has a texture?
But the negative is so pronounced…
Let’s start with the pants. An absolute case of “what should have been”. What it should have been was three colors, simple stripes down the leg set to a width that matches the helmet and shoulders. Instead they got too clever, and decided the look wasn’t wordy enough with the oversized wordmark on the jersey. Thus we were presented the word BROWNS down the leg. So I did a Google image search of “wordmark on football pants leg” and three of the top twelve results were team sweatpants.8 Nothing states professional and energy like sweatpants! ((That’s why bloggers are known for their professionalism and energy, right? Aww.))
On the jerseys, I’m going to start with the brown jersey because traditionally, it has been by far my favorite. If you’re updating a recognizable brand,9 why not just add the new bells and whistles — new stripe pattern, flywire, thread colors(!!!), whatever. — and keep the stuff your customers know the same? Heck even the drop shadow is a subtle enough innovation it can be argued that it falls safely into “do no harm.” Ultimately, that’s several sentences to simply say, the Brown jersey should have had white numbers and letters. I’d be willing to entertain alt color (oversized!) wordmark, but the matching white-with-white on the orange looks so good, I prefer consistency.
On the white jerseys, let’s stay with that consistency theme. WHY ARE THE NUMBERS AND WORDMARK IN DIFFERENT COLORS???? You went orange/orange on the brown. And white/white on the orange. But you go orange/brown on the white? No. No. No. No. NO! It’s a professional football, keyword professional, football uniform, not a Geocities webpage!
Going back to my being ok with the large jersey wordmark, the shoulder stripes create a problem. Because the stripes encroach into the jersey the top becomes too busy and simply looks awkward. The solution is simple, more traditional shoulder stripes or a less pronounced wordmark. Either, or, or both.
So ultimately, with four simple tweaks, the Browns could have successfully slapped a fresh coat of paint on their classic car.
Instead they swapped out the tires for spinners and added a lift kit.10
The end result is the new threads are a laughingstock. Many fans hate them.11 The manner in which everything was released was an abomination. And thanks to adventures in marketing, an already corroding brand is stuck with these clown outfits for at least 5 years. At least we didn’t end up with embarassing two-tone helmets.
- I use the term singularly because in my experience, marketing people tend to all think alike. Like pink shirt Thursdays with no prior coordination alike. [back]
- See the craft beer revolution that has AB-Inbev buying craft breweries like it’s iPhone release day. [back]
- The stadium changes before the 2014 season were far closer akin to a rebuild. And the team somehow mostly got it right. Yes, some fans were relocated and unhappy, but overall, the updates were a net positive. Except for the public financing scheme. [back]
- I’m implying Packers, Raiders, Bears, and Steelers along with the Browns here. [back]
- Link to Charlie Weis’s resume. [back]
- That this has to be said might be the biggest indictment of the entire process. [back]
- Personal point of bias, hate orange jerseys, love orange pants. [back]
- Two were the Browns new unis, two were football pants with a star design and no wordmark, two were of SEC uniforms sans wordmark, one was Army’s “Duty, Honor, Country” alt jerseys, one was a low level FBS school with no wordmark, and the last was James Franklin talking to Joe Girardi. [back]
- See Steelers, Pittsburgh above. [back]
- Editor note: and also the black lights in the under carriage to make it look like a hover craft. [back]
- Including the proprietor of this website. As for me, these new threads are doing the exact opposite of growing on me. I think they are worse today than I did when they were revealed. [back]