Adweek | Inside Code and Theory’s Rebranding Plans for the Washington Football Team
Centering inclusivity and fan input as the agency takes creative control of crafting the team's new identity
Code and Theory was just handed a rebranding assignment like no other, tasked with reimagining the identity and visual representation of one of the NFL’s oldest franchises as it moves away from a former team name widely regarded as one of the most racist in professional sports.
The Washington Football Team has selected the digital-focused Stagwell Partners agency to develop its new permanent brand identity following a review. Code and Theory was previously selected for the initial stage of the rebranding process, working with the team to introduce its interim Washington Football Team identity and developing the “No Name But Team” campaign. On July 23, the team announced the official name change, not long after a letter from investors calling on corporate sponsors to divest from the team unless it dropped the Washington Redskins name and rebranded.
“As we move to the next phase of our rebrand, the search for our agency partner was a thorough and deliberate process. It was clear that Code and Theory grasps the weight of our mission, has the vision to help us develop a meaningful identity for the future of our franchise, and understands the importance of engaging our fans and the community in an innovative, interactive rollout,” said Jason Wright, president of the Washington Football Team, in a statement to Adweek. “Also, importantly, their team is honest and unpretentious, an important set of attributes for connecting with our no-nonsense and invested fanbase.”
The new brand and identity will be developed with the goals of inclusivity, reflecting the Delaware/Maryland/Virginia region, and resonating with fans both regionally and across the country, while also nodding to the team’s long history.
“A team embodies itself in the community almost unlike any other brand. It’s important to make it very transparent and inclusive. It’s part of you, part of your community. It’s important to have an inclusive design here that connects community,” Code and Theory founder and CEO Dan Gardner told Adweek. “There are relationships based around fandom. It is almost like a member of the family.”
“We wanted to take the history and not forget it’s one of the older organizations [in the NFL],” he added, “and take that heritage and bring that forward for the next 100 years.”
Focus on inclusivity
To make inclusivity core to the rebranding effort, Code and Theory associate director of creative strategy and inclusive marketing Renee Miller is playing a critical role in the design process.
Miller explained that a key aspect of her role on the project would be to contributing realistic local insights for the region, as well as “taking a fair and balanced look at the landscape and challenging this agency-client team to really push our innovations to best serve all of Washington Football Team’s fans.”
“I think it’s critical to the success of this brand and new name that we center marginalized fans as part of both the strategy and design processes and actively seek to incorporate the input of all the people the Washington Football Team culture reaches,” she added, noting that both ethical and business reasons are driving the team’s push for inclusive marketing. “Most critically, by opening our agency perspective and designing with empathy, we hope to increase [the team’s] potential for real and lasting fan connection for generations to come.”
Getting fans involved
The next stage of the rebranding process will build on the “No Name But Team” campaign, which invited widespread fan participation resulting in over 10,000 submissions of new team name and logo ideas. While many found the temporary team name underwhelming at the time it was revealed, Code and Theory CCO Amy Carvajal and Gardner explained that the move acknowledged the urgency to drop the former name, as well a desire to engage the community in developing the team’s new identity over a longer timeframe.
The brand and agency were united on the mission of resetting the franchise with the temporary rebranding.
“When we reset, we had to figure out what it means to be part of this team,” Carjaval said, “what it means to be a part of Washington and the district and including those fans,” as well as national fans, players and coaches in the conversation.
It’s unclear if the new team branding will be introduced before the 2021-22 NFL season or precisely what direction the franchise’s new identity will take. The team’s burgundy and gold color scheme will very likely remain part of that identity.
“It’s important moving forward that we’re listening to the fanbase and what has built this franchise,” Carvajal added. “Gold and burgundy is something people have an affinity for.”
Gardner explained that the next stage of the process would be informed by the fan ideas generated by the “No Name But Team” effort as the agency and team moved on to the insight and discovery process, adding, “There will be a lot of testing around what resonates and what works, how inclusive it is and extending it out to all channels.”