Can Essendon divorce its bomber?

One of the AFL's largest and most successful clubs is considering a rebrand, but fans weren't too happy when they heard the news.

Branding, Design, Digital, Brand Marketing, Marketing

Adam Elovalis 28 Jun 2023
3 mins

As an avid Eagles supporter, this year has been tough. I have been less than enthusiastic about wasting time in front the TV watching an inevitable Eagles loss while other supporters gloat and rejoice in our misery and their success.

I needed a distraction from how poorly the Eagles have been. And I found it when news came that the Essendon Bombers had announced a brand review and were considering removing their iconic bomber from their logo.

As an Art Director and brand strategist, I was immediately interested.

Former Essendon players and many fans immediately voiced their displeasure that the Bombers are even considering such a move, and I can sympathise. Essendon has been one of the most successful VFL/AFL clubs and recently celebrated its 150th year.

Why Essendon would consider a brand survey

Essendon’s current logo is more than 25 years old, and it is timely that brand managers ask: “Does anything in this brand need to change?”

Businesses and organisations conduct surveys to get accurate data on how their stakeholders perceive them and their brand. This is part of business as usual for consumer brands who conduct research each year.

All brands are ultimately driven by emotion, and sporting-club brands are possibly the most emotionally-connected brands. They are fuelled with passion and the success or failure of the team (and brand) leaves their stakeholders elated and euphoric, or, as I am acutely aware this season, feeling a sense of loss and even grief.

Brands must conduct this research before conducting any work on changing the brand. So, it’s encouraging that Essendon are asking the right questions. Good brand managers, managing big brands especially, must acknowledge that they do not control the brand, but are merely custodians.

In this case, the Essendon brand is far older and bigger than the communications team, so they’re asking the people to whom it truly belongs – its supporters. Brand managers must listen to their stakeholders and not the general public who have no vested interest or emotional connection to the club. In this case the response has been a resounding negative.

But negative associations are bad for brands, right?

It could be assumed that negative associations are bad for brands. But is that the case?

For instance, you might think that coronavirus being very bad, would take some of the shine off of everyone’s favourite Mexican beer Corona. But curiously, the opposite was the case and sales increased.

Brands need two things to be successful – awareness and salience. Awareness is obvious, but salience, a psychological term marketers use to measure how likely someone is to consider the brand when deciding to purchase, is more complex.

This is when brand association comes in. Words like “quality” or “flavour” or “range”, when associated with a brand, give our brains context and shapes our preference.

Ask any Australian to name some AFL football brands, and Essendon’s awareness would be high.

As far as salience goes, we generally have room for only two associations with a brand.

With Corona, there were already deep-rooted associations in the consumer’s mind, and all coronavirus did, was to remind them of the name, and how good it might be to have a cold beer or to dream of holidaying in Mexico, and not being in lockdown.

Negative associations only affect salience if the negative association is contrary to the core of the brand. It didn’t in the case of Corona, and I’m not convinced that this is the case for Essendon with its bomber. But this is why brand managers conduct research – they need to know for certain.

What’s the likely outcome?

My sense is that the logo probably won’t change. But even if it does, the Essendon bomber will still be used as a brand code for a while to come. Essendon Football Club are The Bombers. There’s no getting around it.

However, there are a myriad of ways to include something like the bomber in a brand, without including it in the logo. Fans should take comfort that the brand management team is asking questions, and not just making decisions about their brand without consulting them.

Adam Elovalis More from author

Adam lives and breathes branding strategy and design. An Art Director with a diverse skillset covering strategy, print, user-experience (UX) design, user-interface (UI) design and digital design, Adam developed his knowledge and design touch in a variety of industries including real estate, government, mining, not-for-profit, technology, and information technology.

Today, Adam applies his design thinking, with a particular focus on corporate branding strategy and design, through a range of services including web design, user interface, and user-experience design; logo design, infographic design, animation, and corporate video; and document design, style-guide design, and annual-report design.

Born and bred in Perth, Adam started working with Purple on a contract basis in 2013, becoming a full-time team member within two years. Adam is married with two kids, enjoys being beaten in online gaming, writing, and occasionally he can be heard preaching at his local church.

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