January 21, 2012

NFL Brand Playoffs

In the upcoming round of the NFL playoffs, four teams will face off for a chance to play in the Super Bowl. But if it were a contest of brand strategy, which two teams would most deserve to compete on February 6th?

In the renaming of the New England Patriots in 1971 (originally the Boston Patriots), the Pats went from representing exclusively Massachusetts to encompassing New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut – a move that helped expand the brand’s fan base. The name ‘Patriots’ reflects back on the foundation of our country, when we valiantly defended our rights in a struggle for independence. By tying themselves to a national sentiment, the Patriots have a name that evokes emotion – fierce pride and loyalty – which can be felt from the entire nation. The name provides an avenue for traditions like The End Zone Militia (firing guns after a New England touchdown). The kind of traditions that develop loyalty and passion.

The Baltimore Ravens are named after the famous poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe, who spent his last few years in Baltimore. Personally, the poem doesn’t exactly bring to mind the ruggedness that a football game should carry. And ironically, Poe’s biography mentions the fact that he considered himself a “Bostonian”, not a Baltimore native. Nevertheless, a raven is not an animal to be messed with.


The Patriot’s Logo is strong, simple and patriotic. It is recognizable and speaks to the dominance of their team by using bold colors and sharp lines. Using the colors of the American flag reinforces the national prominence of the team and reflects their strength and determination.

The Raven’s logo represents winning characteristics – bold and strong. While the logo may clearly be a raven, it lacks any personal or human connection. Alex Barrett, a writer for The Bleacher Report ranked the logo 26th in the NFL – “Despite the great purple / gold color scheme, we have a casual looking bird with a beak way too big and cheeks that look like they’re storing nuts for the winter.”


With a stronger logo and a name that evokes pride and loyalty, the New England Patriots get my vote for the AFC Champions of branding.

The New York Giants, named after the baseball team formerly located in the Big Apple before their move to San Francisco in 1957, have one of the more abstract names in the NFL. While the name may have meant something to the baseball team, for the football team it is simply a hand-me-down. It may be seen as intimidating, but the name ‘Giants’ does not evoke any meaningful emotions on its own.

The 49ers, in a similar way to the Patriots, have history on their side. Their name brings to mind the glory days of the California gold rush, when there was nothing but hope of riches and a pioneer spirit. Again, this is something fans can reflect upon, which helps create a stronger connection to the team. However, the historical reference is not an obvious one, and without an understanding of the background you might wonder about the strange name.


It’s difficult to illustrate an actual ‘giant’ in a logo, so New York leverages its initials in the design. But the lowercase letters and simplified design seem to contradict the message in the name. While “Giants” implies strength, intimidation and stature, the logo makes the team feel small and unassuming. Barrett argues that the team should have stuck with their old logo, “I didn’t much care for the logo from 1999 that looked exactly the same, but just spelled out ‘GIANTS,’ but looking back I think it was just a bit better.”

As with The Giants, making a logo for a name like 49ers is a challenge. To me, this logo doesn’t say “intimidating football team” – it could be a logo for anything. Barrett, however, finds merit in its simplicity, “I have always been a fan of the burgundy and gold color scheme. It is plain, yes; but it is also classy and one of the only good ‘oval’ logos left.”


It was a close one, but the 49ers win by a margin for the historical significance of their name and for the bold simplicity of their logo.


Patriots vs. 49ers?
As far as the 2012 Super Bowl of branding goes, I have to go with the Patriots. I think the history behind their name and the boldness of their logo are unstoppable.


Did I mention that I’m a Pats fan?


Contributed by Christy O’Keefe

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