Successful Brands and Logos Stand Up and Say ‘Yay!’

In 2700 B.C., the ancient Egyptians painted images on the temple walls of livestock being rounded up and branded with the Pharaoh’s cartouche using a hot iron to sear it into the flesh. It was the first known example of a logo being used to permanently and unabashedly identify ownership and send a powerful message that the king’s cattle were far superior to everyone else’s.

While the practice of modern day branding was made popular by the late David Ogilvy, known in the 1950s as the “Father of Advertising,” the idea of establishing a brand name and logo as something permanently burned into a company’s very existence, has gone the way of modern day livestock ear tags.

Instead of a red-hot branding iron, cattlemen put tags on the cattle’s ears, but the tags often fall off and get lost with the cow’s meanderings. In the same way, many businesses fail to realize the importance of their brand, sending mixed signals about who they are as a company and why their products and services are unique.

“If I go into a new client and start talking to them about growth strategies, the first thing I’m going to look at is their brand,” said Felica Sparks, founder and chief strategist at Huntsville’s Ad4! Group. “Most of the time, I see brand disfunction with huge breaks between where the brand started and where the brand resides today.

“You should build a foundation that continues building upon itself, so you become vertically integrated as a company. Dysfunctional branding looks more like an octopus. It’s over here, it’s over there.

“If I can, I start with a brand survey, talking to their employees, associates, and customers to see how they feel about the company and the products or services they provide. If possible, I will do impromptu focus groups and let them tell me what they consider their brand to be. That feedback gives me a roadmap.”

Much has been said recently, both good and bad, about the naming of North Alabama’s new minor league baseball team, but it might be a good time to reflect on the advice given by Ogilvy, concerning the importance of building a powerful and enduring brand.

You cannot bore people into buying.

When Ralph Nelson, managing partner/CEO of BallCorps LLC, met with Madison Mayor Paul Finley in April, the mayor brought with him what both men thought to be an excellent name for the team: The Madison Missiles.

“I worked on the player’s side of the majors for 25 years and buying a minor league baseball team has always been a dream of mine,” said Nelson. “I’ve been studying the business side more than the player side for a long time and I think branding this team is the most important thing we will do until we actually have people in our ballpark; and then the most important thing will be the experience people get from being inside the ballpark.”

The new team’s name is the Rocket City Trash Pandas, after a record-setting vote count in the franchise’s name-the-team contest. The logo and team colors will be unveiled at a public celebration Oct. 27 at Madison’s Dublin Park.

Among the things Nelson said he has learned is that incredibly successful minor league franchises, both financially and substantially, have teams whose names and mascots were selected by the community.

“A brand is more than a name or a logo. It’s an emotion,” said Sparks. “When you’re launching a business or product line, the name should be the best representation of the overall emotion associated with your company, product or service.

“The name is important because it is an extension of that emotion you want a community, city, or the world to know about your company brand.”

Nelson and Finley jumped on the phone with Brandiose, a San Diego-based branding company. The company designed most of the logos of the 10 most successful minor league baseball teams and merchandise. All the names were chosen by the communities, Nelson said.

“Their response was that people are going to hear that the team will be called the Madison Missiles, and they are going to say, ‘Oh yeah. I like that. I get it’,” he said. “But, being left out of the process, they will move on to something else.”

Victor Johnson, founder and marketing communications consultant for Huntsville’s Nightowl Communications, said the tricky part for successfully branding the newly named team is identifying common messages and visuals that have 100 percent buy-in from the community, and not just 20 percent here and 20 percent there.

“The whole marketing pitch, logo, graphics, color, name, music, message has to be such that it doesn’t leave any member of the target market scratching their head and asking, ‘What is that?’, ‘What does it mean?’,” said Johnson. “It has to be fun, bright, cheerful, show activity and motion. When the 6-year-old sees it and hears it and gets excited, the whole family has to get excited.

“The branding and logo have to say ‘Yay!’ to the parents, ‘Yay!’ to the kids. ‘Yay!’ to the community as a whole. That gives it power.”

He said that is not always easy and the new baseball team will find it more difficult because there are several equally important market segments who see and hear visuals and messages differently. Because it is not possible to design a logo or brand that appeals to 100 percent of a segmented target market, they should instead design it to meet the common needs of all those segments.

“Color will be essential,” Johnson said. “Psychologists say there are certain colors that trigger certain emotions. The way our culture is created, we look at blue and green as the outdoors. Blue is water and motion; green is food, red means stop, yellow means caution.

“I look at the people who will be coming to baseball games and I would let them define those colors.”

Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, in science, and in advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. 

Both Sparks and Johnson agree that Ogilvy’s advice is perfectly exemplified in the Nike “Swoosh” logo.

A graphic design student at Portland State University in 1971, Carolyn Davidson unconsciously saw so many sports in terms of a “swoosh” – tennis, golf, baseball, etc., and she was able to encapsulate all of it in that famous sports logo.

“It has been so well-branded and so well-supported,” said Johnson. “As adults, we get blurred and look for something fancy, something unique, but what Davidson did was focus her mind and sports came to life in that logo. That’s the fun part, when you realize you have created a brand that is so unique, it is an immediate hit out in the marketplace.”

Sparks agreed that simple and unique can go hand-in-hand.

“I have worked in ad agencies where we charged $5,000 to $7,500 for a branded logo and that did not include a marketing strategy behind it,” Sparks said. “The Nike logo is one of the simplest and yet most recognizable brands worldwide and it was created by a student who was paid $35.”

The image and the brand. It is the total personality of a brand rather than any trivial product difference which decides its ultimate position in the market.

Nelson said the contest and the new name have been the talk around the region and, even, the country.

““The community engagement has been extraordinary,” he said. “People are talking about it at cocktail parties and in restaurants. I was in a bar in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago, a 6-hour drive away and the people at the next table were talking about our Name the Team contest and they had absolutely no idea who I was or that I was there.

“It has stimulated conversation everywhere and, although some of it has been negative, most of it is positive and, at least, everybody is talking about it!”