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Our MVP Pick For Super Bowl XLVI: The Old-School Branding System

In an age of morphing logos, the NFL delivered a rigid, static branding system. But it still works, writes the Brand Union's Richard Bates.

As an undergrad in design school, back when print was king, we were taught that the practical rules of identity development were: Keep it simple enough to be effective on a business card and stationary, and the logo should always be reproducible in one color, vector art with no gradations. Then, as now, a strong creative idea was the key requirement, but today, logos—and the identities that support them—often need to work harder than they did in the pre-digital age. Now, the logo and its extended identity can take on a more dynamic role in brand storytelling by leveraging the familiarity that comes from the frequent and virtual nature of the fast-paced conversation between a brand and its consumers. Google’s ever-changing logo is an obvious and literal example, but even brands as diverse as DC Comics, Brand USA, and JCPenney have recently evolved their identities, building variation and storytelling into the system, not just for variety or complexity but to instill a dynamic sense of entertainment, energy, and lifestyle in the core brand equity—the logo.

So, when the NFL debuted their new "logo system," designed by Landor, it came as somewhat of a surprise. Having previously embraced 45 years of variation and regional customization, the NFL presented a more rigid system placing a monochromatic, chromed-out rendering of the Vince Lombardi trophy at the center of all future Super Bowl logos. They retained the equity of the Roman numerals by including them at the base and kept a hint of regional variation by allowing a small glimpse of the host stadium to peak out from behind the trophy.

When pressed—truly pressed—for a response, fans focused on the pros and cons of the Roman numerals and the obvious lack of color in the new logo. The personality seemed to have been sucked out of the Super Bowl identity. The brand seemed to have removed some of the spice from fans’ tailgate chilli-cheese nachos and left a few limp giant foam fingers. I personally don’t believe the past history of the Super Bowl logos will ever be held up as an example of great design system thinking, but I do see life and energy in both the variety of color and design gymnastics required to wrestle those Roman numerals into some type of acceptable configuration. I don’t believe tasteful and intelligent were ever requirements.

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By imposing a more rigid system on future host cities, the Super Bowl brand seems to be moving in the opposite direction from many of the brands evolving their identities in this digitally focused era. If you check out this year’s Super Bowl swag, available on the NFL shop website, you have to assume more elaborate visual identity system heroics—background graphics—will be required in the future to clearly differentiate one year’s Super Bowl T-shirt from another. Possibly the execution is a bit lackluster, but overall the strategy seems sound. Considering the Super Bowl’s fast-growing, expanding demographic, the time seems right for a clean reset, to refocus all eyes on the prize—the iconic Vince Lombardi trophy.

Yesterday, and in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, anyone with a TV or Internet connection had the chance to see the new logo in action. In its natural habitat of swirling infographics, the simple, iconic logo is strong and effective. I believe the NFL should be preparing for their touchdown dance in the Brand Bowl end zone.

[Image: David Lee/Shutterstock]