F1’s branding challenge

Following weeks of speculation, the podium of this weekend’s lackluster season finale was used as the public reveal of Formula 1’s new logo and brand identity.

Yet the timing of this launch leaves many questions unanswered, and raises some concerning questions for the sport’s global fanbase – particularly from a communications perspective.

Is the timing right?

While F1’s new owners are clearly eager to establish that change is occurring as they seek to distance themselves from the increasingly unpopular regime that preceded them, the timing of their launch demonstrates that they do not yet fully understand the sport that they have bought into.

A rebrand is designed to demonstrate that a company or product is being taken in a new direction. But Liberty Media have yet to show any real difference in the product that fans are buying into – and one only need review the social media comments about Sunday’s dull Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to understand that fans crave more entertainment for their money.

While some glints of positive change have appeared, such as the London street demonstration, few tangible improvements in spectacle have materialised. In fact, in terms of fan engagement, even the London street demonstration missed a major opportunity by electing to run celebrities in the two-seater fan car, rather than members of the public. From a communications perspective this is a major missed opportunity.

So why rebrand now? Well, one can assume that Liberty Media have plans in place to put their on stamp on F1 starting next season. But they have shown their naivety in launching their rebrand at a circuit notorious for poor overtaking, which has the effect of reinforcing that little has, or will, change.

Building the brand

Any successful brand must be built on recognition and the sale of a desirable product. Yet by choosing to rebrand so heavily and during the off-season, Formula 1 risks losing its identity and its floating audience.

While the new logo has generated a considerable amount of social media discussion, it hardly stands out on these platforms. The once distinct logo has been replaced by one that is easy to overlook when scrolling through a social media feed, and does not immediately jump out as a recognisable evolution of the brand that preceded it.

This is a particularly concerning issue on social media, where brands rely on instant recognition as users make decisions in fractions of a second about which content to engage with.

Unless Formula 1’s social media channels start to deliver a new approach to content, and one that embraces two-way communication with fans on, the rebrand will have failed.

Appealing to the fans

In leaking the images in the weeks building up to the launch, Formula 1 had an opportunity to engage its fans in the decision-making process.

By explaining its decision to rebrand and asking fans to either submit logos, or to vote on pre-approved designs, Liberty Media would have ensured that a certain amount of the fanbase was informed and bought in to the changes.

However, they have instead reinforced the feeling amongst many fans that they are much the same as the previous regime. There is a lack of transparency, which results in a lack of trust.

With a full season under their belts, the new owners must be both forthcoming and transparent in discussing how they will improve the spectacle and value for money of the sport in the years ahead. With both drives and teams being vocal about a lack of a clear vision, this matter is becoming increasingly important to address.

As a result, many fans and media outlets have reacted negatively to the rebrand, with social media flooded by fan-made attempts to produce a more pleasing logo that shows an evolution from what preceded it, rather than a complete departure.

The new logo may have generated considerably column inches, but modern communications is based on measuring the sentiment of coverage more than simply the amount generated.

What’s in a logo?

While some many feel that a logo is just a visual identifier for a brand, it is so much more than that. It represents the quality of the product that a business sells, informs public opinion of the brand, and sends a message to consumers about the way the organisation wishes to interact with them.

Such a retro logo either suggests that they are looking backwards or that the new owners lack originality and the daring to do something different. And by ignoring fans’ desire to engage in shaping the product that they wish to buy, the new logo could drive a further wedge between Liberty Media and the paying public at a time when F1 offers little value for money.

So what does this all mean? Well we’ll have to wait until next season to find out whether the ‘new’ Formula 1 is more than just a branding exercise.

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