Bluebirds in red – a sad day of brand confusion for Cardiff City

Graphic designer Dave Hopkins sees “brand confusion” in the new badge and red kit to be worn by his beloved Cardiff City, the “Bluebirds”.

Here is an initial document written in May, when the idea was first suggested, followed by his reaction to the news on June 6 2012 that the team will play in red with a new dragon-themed badge next season.

Initial document written on Thursday 10 May, but prior to the release of the open letter by Dato’ Chan Tien Ghee suggesting that the colour change would not happen

I have no doubt about the commitment and desire of the Cardiff City owners to do the best for the club and to try to achieve the most out of their involvement. Indeed I congratulate them for what they have done so far and on their plans for the future. I also recognise that the investment and the proposed rebrand are linked, that there cannot be one without the other. As a fan, I am excited and impressed by the plans but I would just like to express my view as a branding professional who feels that there are some issues that should be recognised before making the final decision.
The brand of any company or organisation is its most important asset. Any changes need to be undertaken with the utmost care. Major changes in branding can work, but previous examples also suggest that it is a very difficult exercise to get right and even those with high profiles can get it wrong (Coke, British Airways, BP to name but a few). In most rebranding cases, particularly with well established brands, it is question of evolution rather than a complete change. A radical change in direction alienates the audience within which the brand works and I fear that will be the case with this proposal.
At the moment there is no brand confusion and the identity that is applied to the club strip, the badge, the stadium, the fanbase, associated literature and most other aspects of Cardiff City Football Club are predominantly blue. This sets it apart and has been an effective identity created over many years. What significantly effects the perception and the ability to market any brand is brand confusion.
I believe that there is potential for massive brand confusion if the current proposals are introduced for a number of reasons.
• The colour red and a dragon motif are far too close to both the Welsh National [Association] Football Team and the Welsh National Rugby [Union Football] Team to make the clear distinction necessary to achieve individuality. That is why blue (and arguably any other colour besides red) avoids any misconceptions.
• Using red creates the perception of a football club within Wales, rather than a club that represents the city of Cardiff. Cardiff has worked hard to establish itself as a European city of some standing and is the capital city of Wales. An individually branded football identity emphasises the uniqueness of Cardiff and does not associate itself with the wider Wales brand.
• There are many organisations and companies within Wales already using the dragon motif, including the Welsh Government, and the dragon can be seen as an obvious cliche. Any new brand needs to have individuality and relevance rather than basing itself on general stereotypes.
• It has been suggested that the colour has been chosen because it is a lucky colour in Malaysia. I totally understand and appreciate the desire to create links between Cardiff and Malaysia, however, the same associations do not necessarily exist in different countries and the proposal introduces a cultural element that will not be understood
everywhere. It would be better to market the existing brand in ways that are relevant to the market being approached at any given time.
• Brand continuity is paramount to achieve consistency and, by changing only part of the infrastructure, confusion is bound to arise. If, for example, the playing colours are red and the stadium seating is predominantly blue then the brand is diluted. Television coverage, particularly internationally, would be suggesting mixed messages of branding and identity.
It can be argued that a new brand will establish itself over time, however, I believe that there are too many potential conflicts with the implementation of these proposals to make it immediately successful. From a branding point of view it would be much more reasonable to maintain the current identity and market Cardiff City in other more creative and individual ways to specific markets.

My proposal on the rebranding element would be as follows.
• Maintain the current blue colour scheme for the home kit but introduce key secondary colours to be used more obviously than previous. These colours would be red and yellow.
• Use red as the away kit consistently, rather than changing it every season. There is a precedent with this in the England international colours. Many people associate England with red shirts because of what was worn for the World Cup win, but their first choice strip is white and both are immediately recognised as England.
• Promote the colours that relate to the market being addressed. That would mean blue in Europe, America and Australasia where there are significant Cardiff City followings, then red in markets where the colours are more significant. The England example mentioned previously proves that this is possible.
• Reconsider the suggestion of including a dragon within the badge. Whilst the dragon is a valued, recognisable and established symbol of Wales and Welshness, it does not and has not represented Cardiff the city in any way. It might seem appropriate but it identifies a nation (which includes those living in Swansea, Wrexham and Newport), not a city.
• Redesign the club badge to be a more modern and radical version of possibly what exists.

I have deliberately not argued the case for the bluebird as I can see arguments either way for possibly changing this. What is needed is a highly professional, current and simplified badge that relates to the club. Examples of successful badges are Arsenal (which has evolved over time but retained the important elements) and possibly Swansea City which has a strong but simple graphic take on its nickname.
As a designer of brands based in Cardiff, I have a genuine interest in this proposal not just as  a fan of Cardiff City Football Club but also as someone who has seen real confusion, inconsistency and ultimately failure in trying to rebrand where a rebrand isn’t necessary. I have tried to detach my response from the historical and emotional arguments and to look purely at the branding implications. I am sure that the club owners have had wide ranging consultation and advice on this, but there is no doubt in my mind that it is a mistake to link the investment with the brand change. It is possible to have one without the other and may even be more successful, particularly in Cardiff, by promoting the existing brand more aggressively and to a wider audience.
It is possible to blend various associations of colour and history and establish a very definite appreciation of what is right in certain circumstances. By way of example, for some, Italy is represented by the iconic azure blue of the national football team strip. For others, nothing says Italy more than a Ferrari, and in most cases that would be red. The brand strength is in the colour/product mix and to change that would be to take a huge risk at best and at worst throw everything that currently exists away.
I hope that these views are read by those involved in this exciting proposition as they highlight a genuine concern that the branding issues should be given the consideration they deserve.

Subsequent reaction to the news that the Cardiff City FC strip colour and badge change will now take place, announced on Wednesday 6 June

The rebranding that had been put on ice has now been steamrollered through and the fans either have to like it or lump it.

It’s really disappointing that the case for change has not been properly made and that failure comes across in the way that the rebranding has been handled, it is clumsy, divisive and looks like one big compromise. There is nothing worse in branding terms than visual confusion and a lack of clarity which is exactly what we’ve got.
Some key questions arise out of this debacle which, had they been properly addressed, might well have got a much better reaction and a better solution.
• Despite what was said by some – that the owners could do what they like – the fans do have a right to some input. They collectively contribute at least £10m per season to the revenue of the club (admittedly a guess based on season ticket sales).
• Opinion polls suggesting that fans were in favour of the change seemed to be have been based on one question – would you change to red if the investment came with it? This is not a fair question, it’s more involved than that and other issues about brand confusion made previously in this document do not seem to have been considered.
• From a design point of view the new badge is very poor. It’s a collection of elements that have been pulled together from a variety of sources rather than a specially redrawn identity that unites the elements and promotes a forward thinking, contemporary image.

The new badge is badly executed, it uses stereotypical imagery with inconsistent styles and looks like something out of the early days of the leagues rather than something fit for the 21st century.

• Why is the bluebird featured? Commentators have suggested that the club will always be called The Bluebirds but it’s just not appropriate any more. How can the terraces shout ‘Bluebirds’ at a team wearing red?
The problem with anything visual is that everybody feels that they can contribute to the proposals in some way, so you end up with variety of views most of which are not based on any sort of experience or an in-depth evaluation of the issues. The new brand gives the impression that any professional input has either been ignored, compromised or was never sought in the first place. Yes, Cardiff City has a future but it also has a massive image problem that is messy, confused and, therefore, unprofessional – and, whatever we had before, it was, at least, something that fans could all identify with. What a sad day.

Dave Hopkins is owner of The Info Group and creative consultant for Weltch Media.

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