“New” Browns Logo Leaves Cleveland Graphic Designers Deflated
The New Cleveland Browns Logo – Cleveland Designers & Brand Experts weigh in.
As anticipation swelled for the unveiling of the new Cleveland Browns logo two years in the works, buzz in the Cleveland graphic design community was especially palpable.
After all, love for the Browns runs deep in Northeast Ohio. Few cities in the league can boast more enthusiastic fans than those posted up in the raucous Dawg Pound.
In the Cleveland graphic design scene, there was optimism that a punchy rebranding effort would be a strong symbol reflecting fans’ passion, the new ownership’s dedication to a winning next chapter and the greater revitalization of Cleveland as a whole.
The Big Reveal
“A pantone shift.”
That’s just a sampling of the snide. The “new” logo remains a single, non-stylized orange helmet, albeit in a bit brighter in color. The tired typeface was scrapped for a cleaner font. A secondary logo for the Dawg Pound featured a snarling bulldog, which some described as more appropriate for Chuck-E-Cheese than the zealous fan base it represents.
“Both as a designer and a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, I really expected more,” Go Media Vice President Wilson Revehl said. “A big change done right would have created big excitement. It would have given us a chance to shed the baggage of all the legacy problems the team has had over the last 35 years. This was a major let-down.”
Irreverence from outsiders is nothing new for Browns fans. Here, though, derision is being generated from within, and there is a general consensus among Ohio design professionals the ample criticism is fair.
Among Cleveland graphic designers and the branding experts at Go Media, the conclusion isn’t so much that the new logo is bad. Rather, it simply isn’t new. Or at least, it’s not different enough to have warranted the hype it generated.
“The team has been readying the fan base for a logo change for two years,” said Todd Radom of Todd Radom Design, an independent graphic designer who specializes in branding for professional sports franchises and events. “I have likened it to this scenario: It’s Christmas morning, and the Browns had a present for the fans. They gave them a gift card. Disappointing.”
Radom, who designed the previous “Dawg Pound” logo, is far from the only one who feels the buildup part of the problem.
Many local design professionals characterized the subtle shift as more of a “refresh” or an “update.” Terminology can set the tone for expectations, which is why designers say marketing language should always be chosen carefully. This is a good example of that.
‘A Missed Opportunity’
The team reportedly spent two years reviewing hundreds of iterations and tapped the aid of focus groups, the NFL and Nike to reach the final product.
“It was a great opportunity to replace the helmet icon with a strong, exciting secondary mark that could get fans excited about the team,” Sechrist said.
But those efforts fell short, he said.
“… I mean, could they have at least re-drew or updated the vector drawing of the helmet? It’s just deflating and feels like an afterthought.”
That plain orange helmet – the only helmet-as-logo in the league – has never been an inspired image.
“I’ve only ever seen that orange helmet as a missed opportunity to slap something awesome on,” Sechrist said. “…I’ve thought for years the team should have completely rebranded – name, colors, everything – especially when the team returned to the city in 1999. I’ve been a Browns fan my entire life, and I can’t ever remember a time I looked at the uniforms and helmets and thought, ‘Boy those look cool.’ ”
Historically, the team’s branding left much to be desired, evolving from “Brownie,” a cutesy, 1950s-era elf, to the bland, faded-orange helmet and chunky typeface. Not only did the latter seem uninteresting, designers found it tough to translate the detailed design more broadly into marketing material.
Many assumed the team would rebrand during the expansion back from Baltimore, but that didn’t happen.
Browns President Alec Scheiner told The Cleveland Plain Dealer the newest changes accomplished the goal of bringing more energy and vibrancy to the logo, while holding firm to the traditional facemask piece, which he contends displays grit and toughness.
“We may not look fancy, but we’re going to humbly show up to work every day and do our job,” Beachy said of the team’s identity. “Translation: We’re going to kick your ass and skip the post-touchdown celebration dances.”
“Unfortunately, though, when your team isn’t winning, a boring brand is just adding insult to injury. It’s not a badge of honor to be worn. It’s a mark of shame.”
Revehl, Go Media’s vice president, said there are times a subtle change can work well, but “I struggle to think of firms that have done a so-called rebranding as minimal as this.”
Radom, who has designed SuperBowl and All Star Game logos, was careful to say advertising for a sports team is a multi-layered, complex process. This one, he conceded, had to be tough.
“They are a team frozen in visual amber, with little opportunity to renew their look in a meaningful way,” he said. “Some teams can blow it up and start from scratch. The Browns cannot do that, which had to have made this a challenging assignment.”
Still, Chris Comella, Go Media’s art director, said the idea of honoring tradition by simply keeping what you’ve had for a long time is “Kind of simplistic. I think the concept of tradition, as it relates to the Browns, has much, much more to explore than that.”
“There comes a moment when you stop listening and call on experts to help make the right decision,” Briggs said. “There’s the quote by Henry Ford: ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’ I wonder how Henry Ford would have handled the logo change.”
The last two decades saw this city evolve from the epitome of Rust Belt rot to a hotbed of creativity. Schools like Virginia Marti College of Art and Design and the Cleveland Institute of Art have been instrumental in cultivating local talent. The number of graphics and web design firms in Cleveland has grown exponentially. The design team at Go Media has driven the momentum even further with its annual Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, an inspired summit of innovation from various disciplines.
Given all this, the Cleveland graphic design scene is not only an international presence, it’s an authority. There was every reason to expect a rebranding for the Browns, a team so central to this city’s identity, would be exceptional, especially as it marks the 30th anniversary of the Dawg Pound.
“Someone in this town had an opportunity in their hands to make a bigger impact, and couldn’t make it happen – again,” Briggs said. “I think that’s what this logo change represents to Clevelanders today.”
A Different Approach
If local designers had their hands on the project, how would they have tackled it differently?
Many agree bold would have been better.
“Football is entertainment,” Beachy, of Go Media, said. “If you’re going to be an effective entertainer over the long haul, you’ve got to embrace reinvention. You gotta make it fresh! In my opinion, this was an Ok step in the right direction, but certainly, I would have gone further with it and presented it with a little more glitz and glam.”
Comella, Go Media’s art director, said football teams today are increasingly searching for a contemporary image. Think Seattle Seahawks.
“Traditional is a bit too restrictive,” Comella said. “Classic is rooted in the ideals of tradition, but not limited to what’s been done in the past.”
Sechrist, asked what he would have done differently, answered in short: Everything.
He likened the players’ uniforms to “Thanksgiving on the field.”
Good news about that: The uniforms, too, are expected to be revamped, though the final design won’t be revealed until April. Beachy is eager to see the striping, the color of the pants, the material and whether any subtle patterns will be incorporated. He opines a thick helmet stripe could make an aggressive statement, noting the 2012 change The Ohio State Buckeyes had on their special uniforms, with extra-wide metallic striping.
“That’s a good example of how you can take boring and traditional and spice it up with color, material, texture and design,” Beachy said. “Even within the constraints of Cleveland’s traditional brand aesthetics, there is a lot of room to create bad-ass design.”
Sechrist agreed daring new uniforms could make the difference.
“Make no mistake: I love the Cleveland Browns,” he said. “They taught me at a very young age to persevere through disappointment, frustration and misery. I saw my first adult fistfight at a Browns game at age 8. When I was a kid, my dad spray-painted all of our family shoes orange when Webster Slaughter was getting fined for it. (The Browns) are as intertwined into my life as art itself. I’m a lifer fan.”
And maybe that’s part of what stings most for some Cleveland graphics artists: The idea that whoever was behind the change didn’t have that same kind of earnest emotional connection held tight by so many Clevelanders.
“There there was no reason for them to farm this out to an out-of-town design team,” Revehl said. “You have too many people right here in Cleveland who are not only phenomenal designers, but who would have been so passionate about a project like this.”
Beachy said if his team were tapped for the project, he would want to preview the designs on the athletes in full uniform, in dramatic lighting.
“At Go Media, we present our brand ideas in context,” he said. “Show me that logo on a flag, in the stadium, under the Monday night lights with the cheering crowd in the background.”
Bringing back an element of showmanship would have been key, he said. Yet perhaps the most considerable change Beachy would have implemented:
“I would have hired Go Media.”