Audience Engagement & Living “Hardcore”… Clippers Rebrand Means More Than Just a New Logo

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“Change is always hard on some people…But the truth is people get through change. If you love the Clippers, you’ll love the new Clipper logo.”

That’s what Clippers owner Steve Ballmer told a LA Times reporter about the new look that initially made social media nauseous.

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Like most changes in life, it takes time to adjust as Ballmer alluded to. But how do businesses guarantee that their branding adjustments will resonate with their audience – old and new?

You always want to attract new consumers (or fans in this sense) …and you certainly don’t want to piss off your old faithful. So how have the Clippers managed this balancing act during a very eventful NBA offseason?

For starters, the Clippers launched a brilliant campaign blending new and old school marketing strategies. With the use of social media and an on foot StreetTeam, the Clippers focused on engagement in both digital and face to face environments.

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Clippers #GearUpLA Street Team Map

Following along with the #GearUpLA hashtag, fans were asked to engage with each other and the Clippers’ reps to shout their allegiance and a chance to win more swag. Pictures of Clipper Nation (the signature name for fans) were retweeted by the official @LAClippers account, a new media method that works to validate a fan’s affiliation and enhance their emotional connection to the team, often resulting in a positive sense of well-being.

Translation –> brand loyalty.

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Audience engagement creates consumer longevity, particularly when done in an authentic manner that translates to a group made primarily of digital citizens. Using the lingo, sharing the digital dwelling spaces, and dropping references known only within their highly mediated culture, Users feel as though they’re being addressed specifically from brands and organizations. So within this #GearUpLA campaign, a social media mention like a RT or Favorite on Twitter worked well in tandem with face to face interaction to meet the fan’s needs.

Digital #GearUpLA

Digital #GearUpLA

Face to Face #GearUpLA

Face to Face #GearUpLA

Plus, I’d wager to guess that majority of Clipper fans are between the 18 – 35 demo. Now I don’t have the numbers or research to back that up… But being born and raised in southern California, it’s made clear daily that LA has one of the richest winning franchises of all time in the Lakers. Their first title came in 1949 and 15 more followed from 1950 – 2010. Several people hop on board the bandwagon during a team’s most winningest time. And under that guise, LA is still (an old) Lakers town.

Because of that Clippers know they have to appeal to a younger demographic and do things in a way that wouldn’t appear bogus or some persuasion tactic. Consumers can see right through phony. Especially in today’s media saturated age. We don’t have time for fake or things that don’t speak to us. Vines have helped us become 6 second expert judges of character. So when the Clippers shoot a Funny or Die video with Ballmer and team superstar/commercial veteran Blake Griffin, it’s met with embrace and humor rather than rejection as a forced marketing ad because it speaks to brand’s new personality – and more importantly, it syncs with their audience.

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[Screengrab of a @LAClippers tweet, mimicking a Drake album cover; a move that pop culture surveyors and members of the hip hop discourse recognize]

As I followed along via my Timeline (aka realtime Twitter feed), I was impressed with how many other brands and businesses participated in the Clippers rebranding effort. I guess raising kids isn’t the only thing that takes a village…business sponsorships also has a hand in the rebrand process. Say there was a Roscoe’s customer having a savory lunch at the time the Clippers Street Team arrived…he or she might mark that as the day they officially became a fan – just from being present and engaged with.

Hey - free stuff never hurts. Especially when you're on the fence about something...

Hey – free stuff never hurts.
Especially when you’re on the fence about something…

Or take a guy pumping some obnoxiously expense gas at Arco. He might get surprised that his gas this afternoon came with free Clipper Gear because as a company, Arco decided to support their hometown team as a sponsor, backig their new look and direction.

Tweet from official @Arco gas showing their solidarity in the Clippers rebrand

Tweet from official @Arco gas showing their solidarity in the Clippers rebrand

A random consumer of a participating business like these examples help spread the new Clipper message and attitude across the Greater LA area like a branding virus…creating new soldiers of Clipper Nation just by direct exposure.

Now about that Clipper attitude…

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New logo. New unis. New court. Great…

But what’s the message behind the image? Can these team-based alterations change you as a consumer too?

The Clippers franchise isn’t new to rebranding; originating in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves, a move west turned them into the San Diego Clippers in ’77; and in ’84, a trek north about 120 miles turned them into the Los Angeles Clippers…aka the red headed step child blinded by the ShowTime lights of the then booming Los Angeles Lakers.

The Clippers narrative for decades was the butt of every joke. They became so regular that even people who didn’t follow the NBA knew they sucked just by the repetition of ridicule.

The official sign of rebranding came far before the new logo release this summer. It started in the mind of the team, players, and made its way to the fans. The franchise made a baby step in a direction of positivity and forward progress when Blake Griffin was drafted in 09-10 season. From there, even having missed majority of the season because of a knee injury, the promise his sheer presence made drew attention, hope, and the team finally started collecting more SportsCenter highlights than jokes.

The acquisition of Chris Paul in 2011 still leaves Lakers’ fans salty and now the brand makeover manifested into more Ws than Ls in the record books. The plaguing and lumpy shadow that hung over the team in the shape of Donald Sterling finally resurrected itself when the league banished him for life in April of 2014. Shortly thereafter, Ballmer swooped in with a cape made of $2 Billion and bought the team. And this is when I physically felt the Clippers brand change…

Staples Center during Clippers Pep Rally Aug. 2014

Staples Center during Clippers Pep Rally Aug. 2014

A Pep Rally to introduce Ballmer and the team’s new outlook drew thousands of fans, and it was the first chance for Clipper Nation to hear from the new leader in person. I was in attendance, naturally, and from the moment he came out to Eminem “Lose Yourself” – I got goosebumps. He jumped, gave every fan a high five down the aisle, and shouted one word over and over in a microphone – hardcore.

That is the origin of what has become the new attitude and core value of the team from office to locker room – hardcore. And it works. As I looked around at the thousands of other Clipper fans in attendance, we all shouted in joy and let out a collective sigh of “FINALLY!” because at last we were told what we wanted and needed to hear from our team.

A brand CEO can spatter catch phrases and spend millions on flashy ads all day. But if doesn’t resonate with anyone, it’s a mute point.

Brand meaning is not what someone scribbles on a dry erase board in some corporate office. The meaning is defined by the public’s perception of that brand, and how it resonates with them on a conscious level.

The Clippers have historically sucked.

The Clippers have never been taking seriously.

And it wasn’t until recent years that the franchise has acknowledged its trivial history and vowed to aggressively move in an upward direction. Conscious decisions from coaches, team roster, and level of play all point to the Clippers finally taking things seriously – giving spectators something different to believe about this team for a change.

That is the rebranding process. The new logo means more than a different font; it’s a new shared value between franchise and fanacknowledge your past, overcome your adversities, keep fighting, come back stronger.

Ballmer said this on The Conon O’Brien Show after the logo was revealed – “We have introduced a new look that is bold, edgy, powerful and truly representative of us turning the page and entering a brand new age,”

This logo is now a patch representative of an evolution in mindset.CIOQyECUMAAE3Bd

Possessions are considered identity markers, a way to represent what you stand for by the items you consume. So now when consumers wear the new logo and embrace the Clippers as “their” team, they’re reflecting an underdog, hardcore mentality.

This rebranding process has taken place over the span off at least 6 years. Branding is a continuous process of advancing forward. We are each individual brands; defined not by what’s visible through our public image, but by the meaning we place behind our possessions…and our logos. So when if you catch me on the street with my new Clippers bag, think “damn, she must be hardcore.”

 

Out with the old…                                                        …in with the new.

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