Football captures hearts and minds all year round. But international football is instilled with singular power. It stirs national fervour, brings utter elation and inflicts the bitterest disappointment. Football creates loyalty many brands can only dream of.
As Euro 2016 kicks off we’re set to witness plenty of great performances, but only a few will persist in our memory. Veneration in football is about more than just national pride. It’s about heritage – and the blood, sweat and tears it takes to build it. We may know what a brilliant team looks like, but what truly makes an iconic football brand?
It all starts with the crest. Humans remain primitive creatures at heart and we require something symbolic with which to connect. Take England’s three lions. David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and The Lightning Seeds seared it into our minds, but its deeper origins are fascinating.
First off, the three lions is actually the logo of the Football Association. England have been sporting it since 1872, the year of their first international match against Scotland. The story goes further still, back to our 12th century monarch Richard I, known as the Lionheart. The three lions represented Richard’s triple position as King of the English, Duke of the Normans and Duke of the Aquitaines. Celebrating king and country, soldiers carried a standard with three gold lions on a red field into battle. Big, bold and bloodthirsty – what better way to rally the troops?
The Germany shirt follows similar heraldric traditions with its screaming black eagle. Red feet and tongue out, it’s also an undeniably striking emblem. Like Brazil and Italy, the stars that sit next to it nod to the amount of World Cup trophies won. Of course, our lone star is just as meaningful, if not more so – and we wear it with pride. The crest on a football shirt is a badge of honour that draws on both cultural heritage and contemporary sporting history. A football shirt would be naked without it.
Well, almost. A team’s colour arguably holds a different kind of importance. The brain is hardwired to respond to colour before anything else. It’s inextricably linked with our emotions and an indelible part of any brand. The shade of red worn when England won the World Cup on home turf on 30 July 1966 lives on. As does Croatia’s red and white checkerboard, which while polarising, is recognisable in an instant – the key to effective brand design. But with their green, white and red flag, why do Italy play in their distinctive blue? It comes from ‘Azzurro Savoia’ (Savoy Blue), the colour traditionally linked to the royal dynasty which unified Italy in 1861. No doubt this colour will feature in the latter stages of Euro 2016, as ‘Gli Azzurri’ (The Blues) of Italy will rise to the occasion as they always do.
As with any bold new messaging, a new kit can make or break a team. Rebranding is brave but not unusual. Big names from Coke, to McDonald’s to Budweiser have all made major changes this year. Each year clubs and international sides bring out designs that are either universally panned or adored. It’s a high stakes game and if a new look doesn’t work there is hell to pay. The resignation of Uber’s head of design following the debut of its disastrous new logo is a case in point. Let’s just hope that Germany, whose Euro 2016 green and grey away shirt design which has received the thumbs down by many, don’t lose too many games in France. It apparently draws inspiration from street and amateur football, but if the Germans appear in a penalty shoot out, I’m sure there will be nothing ‘amateur’ about them.
Of course, sometimes it all goes to plan. A daring kit can reflect a team’s success. The revival of the style of England’s 1966 kit doesn’t just come down to our penchant for vintage, the design has strong associations with victory (here’s hoping…again!).
Design plays a massive part in crafting an iconic football brand. Players and fans alike spend every minute glued to the colours and design cues that adorn a football kit. Ultimately though, like branding, football is a psychological game. Whoever wins gets all the glory. And whatever success a team achieves on the pitch gets fed back right into the mother brand.
Simon Gore is group creative managing director at Sun Branding Solutions