Is The Detroit Lions Logo Change Appropriate?
President Obama said it was time for change. And apparently the beleaguered Detroit Lions got the message. At a news conference April 20, 2009 the Lions announced that they changed their Logo from the one they’ve had since 1961. And it’s a good thing they told us they changed it, because if they hadn’t, it’s doubtful anyone would’ve noticed. Of course, Lions president Tom Lewand also admitted the obvious saying that this won’t turn around the team’s image unless the team improves on the football field. That said, a change in visual identity could serve as a powerful signal for change on the field and can motivate and encourage fan support. It’s an important clue. No other initiative offers more promise in enabling business transformation than effective branding. The key word however, is “effective.” By accurately defining the new company position, expressing it consistently through all marketing materials and forming tight alignment across the organization, it will:
– Make business strategy visible.
– Create universal understanding of the organization’s direction.
– Make the new direction “real” to employees and fans.
– Accelerate the achievement of desired results.
Perhaps the Lions hope to follow the path of the Rays, formerly the Devil Rays, after their last place finish in 2007. After changing their name and getting new uniforms, the Rays went from worst to first and made their first playoff/World Series appearance in 2008.
Let’s play Monday morning Quarterback:
At the news conference, the franchise revealed very subtle changes to a couple of the key visual representations of the brand, the logo and the font for the word “Lions.” Under close examination, the leaping lion appears a little more fierce and they added teeth (but no claws). However it is important to note that with a successful logo redesign, close examination would not be required; instead, changes would be immediately noticed.
The team name appears in an italicized font, which is probably intended to express the spirit of moving forward, perhaps even speeding ahead. The block style lettering has discreet left-side curved serifs on the top and curved bottom corners of each letter, which might add to the feeling of action and movement. But the graceful wave shape connotes more of a gentle Caribbean summer breeze than a speeding locomotive (or charging lion). The question is: which is more appropriate for an NFL football team, a relaxing breeze or a scorching blast?
Minor changes have also been made to the team’s uniforms. New trim lines have been added, and the logo is above the numerals on the jerseys. But the team’s Honolulu blue and silver colors remain unchanged. One wonders if this moment isn’t an opportunity to introduce a color more closely associated with lions? Like gold, maybe? It’s close to the color of a lion and gold is regal, like the king of the jungle. What does Honolulu blue and silver have to do with lions? The Honolulu blue could represent the Caribbean quite well though. But again, what does that have to do with lions?
Need for change?
Therefore, management apparently believed there was no need for a dramatic overhaul -only microscopic tweaks. Stealth change, if you will. One wonders if that’s an accurate representation of how they feel about the team itself. The question is, is that the best plan? Many would, and many have, argued that major change is necessary for the Lions to have success. Tweaking, rather than changing, the logo suggests that no major change is eminent. Tweaking evolutionary, not revolutionary. But which is it that an 0-16 team needs: Minor imperceptible tweaks or a revolutionary overhaul?
Here’s the issue: Can an NFL team with the dubious distinction of being the only team in NFL history to go an entire season without one single win convince fans to buy and proudly wear their gear? If ever there was a challenge for sports team branding, this certainly must be it. There is a significant amount of negative baggage associated with the Lions brand and such a situation is very difficult to overcome. For the near term, negative feelings will probably be more powerful than anything positive that might be done. However, something positive must be started if there is to be any hope of redemption for the brand. The good news is that they have a fan base that WANTS to believe. All the Lions need to do is support that belief with some clues that resonate.
What do the fans think?
The fan’s reaction to the Lions new logo? Not surprisingly, a big yawn. A Bleacher Report survey indicated 43% of respondents were indifferent toward the new logo. 13% hated it. Many preferred the old logo. That’s not good. If you’re adopting a new logo, it should generate some interest and enthusiasm on its own. Close up, of course the Lion is little more dramatic and the numbers are slightly altered. But from a distance, which is how it’s normally viewed, it’s virtually impossible to notice any difference at all. If the goal is to signal a dramatic overhauling of the team, management wasted the opportunity.
“What they did was put lipstick on a pig,” said one fan at the news conference. Another complained the logo and uniform “change” didn’t have enough CHANGE. In contrast, in 1997 the Buccaneers and the Broncos changed everything.
This is not a bold move by the organization. It’s similar to the most recent imperceptible logo changes made by the Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, and Minnesota Vikings. While it allows the organization to talk in big terms about branding and having a mission, it falls far short of effectively representing such talk and encouraging fan loyalty. In fact, it represents the opposite. And as such does not support the claim. And that hurts fan loyalty.
In his statement, team president Tom Lewand said, “The new identity retains many important aspects of our history in terms of our primary mark and our colors. However, the evolution allows us to present our Lions brand and visual identity in new, versatile and distinctive ways.”
The team also said the changes are consistent with its “sense of mission and direction.” And, “It’s not just about a transformed lion. This is about transforming our brand.””We will consistently present the Lions as a first-class organization with a clear sense of mission and direction,” Lewand said. “We have made several significant changes this off-season in accordance with that commitment. The introduction of this new brand identity is another element of that process.”
Consider several key descriptive phrases from the above statements:
1. “The new identity retains many important aspects of our history in terms of our primary mark and our colors,”
But actually, what is important to retain is the meaning behind the “primary mark” and “colors,” rather than necessarily the mark and colors themselves. A return to historical roots could be a good idea, but the current mark and colors no longer represent that in the marketplace. And in branding, management cannot simply tell the marketplace what to believe and expect it to obediently reassign the meaning of the symbols to suit management.
2. “clear sense of mission and direction…”
But a tweaked rather than redesigned logo suggests a mission and a direction that is not much different than before.
3. “We have made several significant changes this off-season…”
But a logo that is merely tweaked and not redesigned suggests very minor, rather than significant changes.
4. “the evolution…”
The definition of the word “evolution” is: “a process of gradual, peaceful, progressive change or development…”
However it seems obvious that a TRANSFORMATION is what the Lions need, not an evolution. The Lions need to completely change course. To do a 180°. To turn from losing and look toward winning. The definition of the word “Transformation” implies “a major change in form, nature, or function, -transforming a small company into a corporate giant, or, transforming a losing team into a winning team. A new logo and visual identity could signal and represent change, a new dawn, a Transformation for the fans. What the Lions need is not an evolution, but rather a transformation: A change in direction, a disconnecting from, and replacing of, the image represented by their current visual identity.
Brand manager’s task.
In any event, the Lion’s brand stewards must do more than attempt to marginally tweak their logo; they must try to make it represent something that stands apart. They also must shed years of mediocrity and embarrassment. But is it possible for change in a logo design represent major change? Yes. And while major change in the team can happen without a logo change, a logo change can signal change in the team and that can rally the fans prior to any change being realized on the field. So the question is: How important is fan support at this time? And if a logo is to represent or signal that change, as it very well could, it requires major change not imperceptible tweaks.
It is costly to miss an opportunity like this.
The opportunity for the Lions is that this is the moment for a message about the Lions that positions the team as new and different. Not only different from its past but different from other teams. Creating or discovering a differentiating idea in a competitive marketplace is very hard to do whether on the football field or on the store shelf. But all Lions fans are on the edge of their seats wanting to hear that message. Buyers are eager to buy in. Management is responsible for doing something that effectively taps into that desire.
With this announcement, the Lion’s management has chosen not to determine a new appropriate cohesive message and fund its promotion. They have chosen not to create and execute a coordinated game plan that transforms their brand as it could’ve and should’ve. And they will go forward with less enthusiastic fan support than they could’ve had. This is characteristic of management with a naive and unsophisticated understanding of the power of branding. Something not lost on the likes of, for example, the Dallas Cowboys or the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Some may say logo design is a small thing. But little things that we do are more important than big things we may say. Visual clues are critical. For example, New York City’s image makeover during the nineties succeeded, largely because then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani made a successful effort to remove graffiti and fix broken windows in blighted areas of the city signaling real change to all viewers. And this influenced opinions making people willing to giving the city another chance to impress them.
So while team management claims, “We stand firmly committed to improving the team on the field. That success is always the most determinative factor of any NFL brand,” they are right, but they have also missed a very important opportunity to signal to their fans that they feel their pain, and, actually intend to replace it with joy. Bottom line is, one fan said that in this bad economy, with this imperceptible logo tweak, he won’t need to go buy a new jersey. The $ 100 jersey he bought last year basically looks like the new one.
About the Author
Steven Sessions has evaluated and developed successful business strategies based on over 25 years of experience working directly with CEOs and Boards of Directors. He has created and managed distinctive branding and effective marketing materials for industry leading companies as well as start-ups and mid-size companies. And he’s created effective advertising and marketing materials for those companies as well.
Sessions has won over 400 top national awards for creative excellence and has been published as an expert in over 60 publications in the U.S. and overseas.
Visit SessionsGroup blog to see examples and more information on how branding and marketing can greatly improve your chances for business success in the marketplace.