When branding goes bad.
It’s tough being a football fan sometimes. “We’re not famous anymore” rings out from the terraces at Elland Road, home of the once Champions’ League semi-finalists … that was nearly fifteen years ago. After a recent history including dragging themselves up from the third tier of English football, financial mismanagement and an endless stream of short-term managers the fans are tired of the ridicule and new owners promised to restore pride in the club. And so a new branding was launched with the noble intent of representing the fans, the beating heart of Leeds United, on the club badge. (Image www.leedsunited.com)
In the days before social media this may have been met with a few hand written signs of objection in the crowd at the next half dozen matches, or a scathing t-shirt or two. But the club’s new corporate branding launch, not a week ago, caused a huge stir with instant social media scorn and a petition of over 70,000 objections, so much so that the club have promised to overturn the decision.
Football is big business and branding is a key marketing tool, so how could Leeds United get this so wrong? Most clubs have nick-names or emblems that represent the club: Liverpool’s Liver birds, Manchester United’s Red devils, there are the hatters and the brewers, the terriers and the owls, but Leeds United are … The Whites. Not much there to go on. Past use of the white rose of Yorkshire was seen as too generic, after all, Leeds are no longer the top Yorkshire side. The white strip was adopted in the past as a referential nod to Real Madrid, but they are the ‘meringues’, a sweet blob of egg white isn’t going to offer any inspiration. “Marching on together” is the club’s unique chant, but translated into a fist-pumping figure on the badge design this has an uncomfortably aggressive connotation. Add to that a headless figure, instantly mock-able, and a distinct similarity to an indigestion medical brand the fate of this idea was sealed. Maybe an elegant typographic solution is the only answer.
As a response the club have announced an open call for ideas with the promise of true consultation with fans, but what does this mean to the graphic designer? Not an opportunity to work with one of the biggest football teams in the English league, but more free pitching when the industry is squeezed enough. Leeds United may have got themselves some column inches, the fans may have had their say, the detractors have had some fun, but the graphic designers are once more seeing their expertise devalued and that can’t be good for the industry. Email your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org if you must!