The reaction to Formula One’s redesigned branding and logo on Monday (27 November) was nothing but extreme, with fans mourning the death of the previous design and Lewis Hamilton pronouncing “I don't think the new one is as iconic”. But for the sport’s head of marketing, the response is almost irrelevant – the logo is but a symbol for the wave of further changes owner Liberty Media is set to make.
The decision to ditch the emblem designed by Carter Wong in 1994 was partly practical. The hidden ‘1’ and intricate speeding chevrons meant it wasn’t even possible to embroider (it was always printed) and difficult to render in the digital, mobile-led age.
Now, the bold, flat style design, created by Wieden+Kennedy London to represent the low profile and aerodynamics of a race car, allows for “more personality” when animated or translated into 3D, according to Formula One’s first director of marketing, Ellie Norman.
“I think there are a multitude of different ways that we can bring it to life,” she said, explaining that the logo can be reworked visually and audibly to increase the excitement around the new entertainment aspect of the Formula One brand, too.
This evolving side of the business is a big change for a sport that, Norman discovered, is known even among its fans for being “a bit inaccessible”. Plans are already afoot to relax the stringent barriers that previously locked down video content, and mobile is a key part of that demolition process.
Richard Turley led the design process at W+K. His brief was to create a symbol that would elevate Formula One into becoming a “fully-fledged media and entertainment brand”.
“We're in the business of building a relationship with a new generation of fans, energising lapsed fans, growing the reach of the sport and its fan-base,” he said, referring to findings reached by Norman in the first ever global survey of the sport’s supporters. “It's a sign to Formula One loyalists that we are 100% focused on taking their sport to new audiences that we believe will ultimately be the future of Formula One.”
The logo is just “the first piece” of the new strategy designed show to some love to new and old fans, as well as the sponsors who, under Bernie Ecclestone’s old regime, were barred from even positioning their logos next to Formula One’s in branding. But while the plethora of brand partners may be incredibly positive towards the logo and what it represents for their interests, the fans’ kneejerk backlash to the change must have been a disappointment to all involved in the design process.
Turley is prudent about the matter.
“It's a high wire act doing these big brand repositions, we knew that when we took his on and we certainly know it now,” he said. “I think when you place a new logo in front of someone and ask them for an instant opinion their reaction is likely to be, at best, mixed. Our relationships with our favourite brands’ logos are based on years of association and repeated reinforcement of icon with an emotional connection to the brand it represents and the associated memories it evokes.
— Twitter Moments (@TwitterMoments) November 26, 2017
“So when a new logo is introduced those associations are temporarily severed, which is upsetting, unsettling and disorientating for those with deep relationships to those icons and their ‘meaning’ to them. Add to that (and self-evidently), we're living in a society that has developed reactive platforms and instantaneous comment as 'entertainment' and you have a kind of bitter tasting soup where people collectively broadcast the experience of having those emotional connections broken, which in turn reinforces the group-think.”
For Norman, the reactions of Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel (the latter “liked the old one better”) were almost expected.
“At the end of the day they are people,” she said. “[Growing up racing] I imagine that it’s a logo that they kept close to their heart. I think the more that we kick off next season and start to demonstrate what Formula One is doing for fans to help grow the sport, then I think their reactions will change.”
No design changes are on the horizon because of the criticism, but the brand will soon roll out iterations of the emblem that the world has not seen before. This change will not just encompass its form, whether that be through animation, the creation of a sonic identity or the prospect of embroidery. It’s where it will be seen.
The new red F and 1 will be at new events, entertainment stages, digital platforms and merchandise as the sport speeds past racing and into entertainment and media. The fans may curse the branding now, but it symbolises the changes made largely for the benefit of them.
“For all those who still hate the logo (and me), I feel your pain,” added Turley. “We're about six months ahead of where you're at now, having known for a while now that the logo is changing. It gets better, I promise.”
The new Formula One logo – the industry’s verdict
Dan Broadwood, strategy director at Mother Design
“Personally, I really like the new logo. Itfeels like a step towards a more progressive, modern brand for a business that is increasingly going to shift into the entertainment space under the new ownership. The new logo will signal the evolution from motorsport to entertainment franchise well and the new brand should help recruit a new generation of fans to Formula One – something that is desperately needed.”
Tony Hurst, head of visualisation at Bray Leino (and lifelong Formula One fan)
“I’m in the ‘don’t mind it’ camp. I think it will be a grower. Formula One fans seem to always look back these days, to the days of Senna, Mansell and Prost etc. Proper races when men were men and so on…
“This has had to change of course, with the cars reflecting the advances in technology and safety across the board. The old logo, I think, looked back whilst the new one reflects the change in the sport and is more aimed at newer fans.”
Lee Hoddy, creative partner at Conran Design Group
“From a design perspective, the new F1 logo has greater simplicity and will help the brand drive greater impact across multiple touchpoints, therefore resonating with more people more often. The previous identity failed to engage with some audiences, and many did not see the '1' within the branding.
“From a cultural perspective, the inherent 'track' references within the design serve as a key semiotic reference to the sport. While a little generic in execution, these characteristics will help the brand to gain traction with its target market globally. For now, the backlash challenge is that in attempting to achieve brand simplicity and broad appeal, it has inevitably lost some originality. It’s reminiscent of the sporting generic of the 80s and 90s and feels like I'm looking in my design mirror - the execution does not connect me to the future potential of the sport and its vision to reach new audiences.”
Mark Wood, design director at The Partners
“My concern is not with the design but the reaction to it from some of our industry. In my view, it’s too early to tell how successful it will be – it has only just launched and I’m sure there is lots more to come.
"The backlash to rebrands is always stronger when it’s a loved and iconic brand – when fans feel a sense of ownership over it – but that’s not to say change shouldn’t happen. Formula One has built a legacy but it would be foolish to get complacent, Liberty is (as it should be) looking at what will keep the brand iconic in the future.”