As the sporting seasons change from a summer packed with the World Cup and Commonwealth Games etc to the long winter slog of an overloaded football and rugby schedule I find myself musing on the way that all sports have become so much more commercialised. One of the most visible symbols of this are the ever- present logos of sponsors jostling for space on shirts, shorts, swim suits, vehicles and all around the stadia. I wrote on this subject in my book The 20 Ps of Marketing as follows:
“For many people it would seem that the logo is the most important part of brand management. Except in a few cases which I will consider, for me it is one of the least, but it is a step in the hierarchy of creating an identity. It is difficult to conceive of any logo being of itself inspiring and many of the press releases that are written about the launch of new logos are nothing but candidates for Private Eye’s Pseud’s Corner. Logos or symbols have been with us for millennia. Throughout most of human history most people have been largely illiterate so two-dimensional symbols of simple graphical design were important rallying posts for humans to flock to. Religious leaders adopted naive but Powerful symbols with the Christian Cross and the Mohammedan Crescent being long-lived examples. Military campaigners had their emblems which evolved into coats of arms and then national flags. There is archaeological evidence for the swastika in Neolithic times and in the East it was used in the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions. Notoriously it was adopted by the Nazis and is now banned in Germany and taboo in the rest of the Western world.
All such symbols are simple enough to enable easy recognition but with sufficient distinctiveness that they can be identified separately from their rivals and in the modern context legally protected. Analysis of a range of logos will reveal that many are quite unsophisticated but serve their purpose perfectly well. To a car enthusiast the Mercedes logo is instantly recognisable and brings to mind all the qualities of Mercedes cars, engineering excellence, reliability, efficiency and so on. However, if you add one extra stroke it looks remarkably like the universal symbol for the campaign for nuclear disarmament.
Logos are of particular importance in the Sportswear market. During the 20th century a number of brands of athletic wear were introduced which over time were skilfully managed so that the clothing and footwear became used much more widely than in its strict sporting context. However, to legitimise its adoption as a fashion brand there were two universal rules. The brand would attach itself to leading sportsmen and women or indeed in team sports to national or club teams. Second, a stylish logo would be an ever present feature of the design of the apparel. This last was quite a trick because prior to that labels were always worn inside the clothing to mark the designer’s branding. The owner would know, her admirers would guess.
Adolph Dassler was one of the first to follow this strategy. He shortened his own name to coin adidas. He then set out to persuade leading athletes to wear his shoes so that ordinary people would want to emulate their heroes. In the 1936 Olympics held in Germany the great Jesse Owen wore adidas spikes while winning four gold medals and soon the German national football team was wearing his football boots. However, the famous three stripes logo was only acquired from a Finnish company, Karhu Sports, in 1949 for (the equivalent of) 1600 euros and two bottles of Whisky. In the 1980s I visited the headquarters of adidas in the town of Herzogenaurach near Nuremburg, and saw the museum with the long consistent history of building a brand based on close partnership with sports stars and the easy recognition of the three stripes. adidas has been fastidious in its defence of the logo and has been involved in numerous disputes, some over logos that are clearly different but, it can be argued, are derived from the adidas motif, such as logos with two or four stripes.
Nike was founded in 1964 by Phil Knight with the vision to “Beat adidas.” It has achieved this aim in terms of annual revenue as it has overtaken it as the largest sportswear manufacturer in the world. It has followed a similar strategy though tracing a slightly different path through the various sports. It first entered athletics as adidas had done; after all, the simple running shoe is the most widely used article of sportswear. But it then famously entered basketball with the sponsorship of the extraordinary Michael Jordan. Jordan was one of those sportsmen who transcend their sport and the sight of Jordan sinking basket after basket wearing the Nike logo that resembles a stylised tick, or sign of endorsement, embodied its slogan, Just Do It. The complete Packaging of name, logo as worn by all conquering sports stars and slogan is well-exampled by Nike which has followed up its relationship with Michael Jordan with long-term deals with similarly iconic stars such as Tiger Woods and Roger Federer.
A brand that does not try to achieve the volume position of a Nike or an adidas but is highly successful in its own right is Lacoste. This brand follows a similar model but was founded by the eponymous tennis star of that name. René Lacoste was one of the so-called Four Musketeers, French tennis stars who dominated the game in the 1920s and early 1930s. He won seven grand slam singles titles in the French, American and Wimbledon championships without ever making the long voyage to compete in Australia. He was world number one in 1926 and 1927 and was nicknamed “the Crocodile” by his fans because of his ferocious style of play.
In 1933, Lacoste founded La Societé Chemise Lacoste with André Gillier. The company Produced the tennis shirt which Lacoste often wore when he was playing, which had an alligator (generally thought to be a crocodile) embroidered on the chest. The company had many firsts. It was probably the first to introduce coloured tennis shirts and later non-wooden tennis racquets. It gradually diversified into golf and sailing but kept careful control of its brand. In 1963 René passed the management of the company to his son Bernard who did an outstanding job in building both the brand and the volume without sacrificing quality in Product or reputation.
I had the honour to work closely with Bernard when I was responsible for the footwear license granted by Lacoste to Pentland. Bernard taught me many lessons in the strict control he and his small team exercised from their tiny headquarters in Paris over a global sports brand. Bernard sadly died in 2006 but I still have the restaurant guide to Paris which he gave me. He called it Crocodile Gourmet and published it on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the foundation of Chemise Lacoste in an inevitable green cover with the famous logo.”
This extract comes from Chapter 5 on Packaging in my book The 20 Ps of Marketing. There is a link on the home page of this website direct to my publisher Kogan Page.
Special note: I learnt this week that the book is going to be published in a Spanish edition. I am intrigued how the 20 Ps will be translated. Most of them are straightforward but a few are more challenging. My wife is delighted as now she can recommend it to her many Spanish-speaking relatives and friends.
Copyright David C Pearson 2014 All rights reserved