The Denver Broncos may have won the football game, but the Carolina Panthers won the battle of the brands at Super Bowl 50 last week. It was a chance to watch superlative branding in action, with the outstanding Panthers image system providing a welcome distraction from all the poor throws and dropped passes.
No disrespect to Broncos MVP Von Miller (who’s both relentless and exceedingly likeable) but for me, the game’s standout performer was the Panther logo. It was mesmerizing and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. In contrast, the Bronco logo looked weak and tentative. Updated in 2012 to look better in digital, the Panther looks killer on the website as well as the field.
Beautifully drawn symbolic logos are becoming increasingly rare in this era of wordmarks, so the Panther particularly stands out as an example of a symbol drawn right. There’s still a place for symbols in branding, and the football field is one of them. Whatever you think of football, the Panther logo is dynamic, contemporary, and completely appropriate for the NFL. Here are some secrets to its success:
- Three dimensionality. The Panther is drawn in three quarter view rather than in flat profile like the Bronco. That contributes to the illusion that the Panther is lunging forward aggressively. It also creates an active silhouette that signals danger to our primitive brains, which recognize animal threats in an instant by shape, a vestige of evolutionary survival strategy.
- Implied light source. Highlights and shadows are formed by carefully placed strokes that create the round shape of the head and pull the eye in.
- Color scheme. Choosing cyan blue as the highlight color keeps the Panther visually unified, since the value (lightness/darkness) of the blue is not nearly as far from black as white or yellow would be. And using light gray instead of white for the eyes and fangs also keeps the symbol integrated. By comparison, the high contrast colors of the Bronco – navy, white and orange – have the unintended effect of making that logo look less compelling.
- Form to void ratio. With a form to void ratio of roughly 90/10 (90% solid mass, 10% highlights), the Panther logo has a visual weight and solidity that makes it look powerful even from a distance. By comparison, the predominantly white Bronco logo looks fragile.
- Eye contact. The Panther is looking at us, hungrily I might add, and that makes us look back. This is a device used to great effect in packaging (Captain Crunch et al) and advertising (Flo, Gecko etc.) to get and hold attention, and form a bond with the viewer.
- Emotional content. This Panther’s got fangs and it’s not afraid to use them. The Bronco, by contrast, looks like it’s having an asthma attack.
The Panthers also did a great job at executing the full brand image system. Their uniforms, with the black jerseys and silver pants and helmets, were a striking presence on the field. Coach Rivera looked great even as he stoically watched Cam Newton repeatedly fumble and get sacked. The Panthers visual vocabulary was carried throughout the entire organization with style and consistency, from gear to vehicles to digital. Despite winning the game, the Broncos looked bland and anemic with their white uniforms and an image system that looked as tired as Peyton Manning.
Super Bowl 50 was New vs. Old, and this time the ring went to the quarterback who’s flirting with retirement. No amount of branding could lift the Panthers up to meet their potential on the field, but we loved watching them anyway. A great brand image is a rallying point, and both the team and Panthers fans are determined to come back and live up to expectations. We’re already looking forward to next year’s Brand Super Bowl.