Things are pretty crazy right now.
The OKC Thunder have amassed a treasure trove of future assets that surely have Sam Hinkie drooling in his Denver Broncos office (I didn’t know that either). The Process has moved southward, rebranding itself as Riding the Storm (shouts out r/Thunder).
Speaking of, I’m super glad that I conveniently mentioned rebranding in this story I’m writing, because it creates a wonderful segue into the topic of this article: rebranding.
It’s long been desired that the Thunder rebrand the team, and with good reason. It’s the worst logo in the league, paired with just mediocre jerseys. If the Thunder are turning a new leaf, shipping out major talents, and franchise founder Russell Westbrook, then lets extend that sense of new beginnings to the team’s branding.
Zach Lowe, basketball god, once wrote about the Thunder branding (which is the same now as it was then):
Like, what is this? Thunder higher-ups hoped fans would think of two things when they heard the name — storms and rampaging bison — but they didn’t want to commit visually in either direction. A stormy logo might marginalize the bison, a key symbol for local Native Americans, and the staid Thunder thought it would be silly to have mature adults wear jerseys with animals on them...
Straddling the fence resulted in this vanilla mishmash. ‘It might be the best D-League logo ever made,’ says Tom O’Grady, who served as the NBA’s first creative director before leaving to found Gameplan Creative, a Chicago-based branding consultancy. Team officials say the shield hints at a leader charging into battle, and that the upward rising ‘bolts,’ which don’t look like bolts at all, symbolize a young franchise growing up.
No team has worse art, top to bottom, and Nike will push for an overhaul once it replaces Adidas as the league’s apparel partner in 2017...
Bad news: Oklahoma City seems locked into the shield motif and likely won’t replace it with a bison — or anything else.
The logo looks like clip art.
And why is the team not leaning harder into the harder double-entendre? Thunder clearly refers to the sound of bison running, and it clearly refers to typical Oklahoma weather? How can the team partner with the Cherokee Nation and pay homage to native peoples (the city uni is a GREAT start). What about the oil?
How can the Thunder flip the script and honor all of these Oklahoman standards, and quit sporting a wildly, wildly generic branding scheme.
I am not a professional designer, but some people are, and they are the ones who should answer these questions.
The Thunder logo has been mocked since its introduction, which is fine. I mostly think it’s fine because the Thunder consistently trotted out a winner. The Thunder fanbase is incredibly spoiled. Yes, there’s not a championship banner hanging from the rafters, but multiple Hall of Famers have rolled through OKC in it’s short tenure as an NBA city. (KD, Russ, Harden, PG, Melo, now CP3) The Thunder hosted a Finals and almost derailed the Warriors dynasty before it really started. (You and I were there for Game 6.)
Now the Thunder most likely will not be trotting out a winner. Hope is a beautiful thing, and I’m already nostalgic about the early days as a Thunder fan. Watching KD, Russ, Harden, Ibaka grow as players and become friends on and off the court was amazing. But the rebuild will definitely take time. The Thunder are entering a new era. One of the reasons organizations typically rebrand because they want to mark a new era. This summer/next year is the time in my opinion.
OKC needs to find a design group that’s passionate about the brand, preferably from OKC or lives in OKC currently and is just really good. I don’t know the amount of people that fit those three characteristics, but I know of one. Scott Allen Hill.
Hodges left me with a name, and I went for it.
I reached out to Scott Hill on Instagram because it’s 2019. We moved to email because it’s more professional and I asked him too many questions via Instagram DM. Scott is a design and branding expert, working with clients such as MTV, Pabst, the NBA, and lots of universities. He’s ran his own branding studios for the last decade, and has a killer portfolio. Look at his stuff on his website and follow him on Instagram.
The key? He’s an Okie, born and bred. And a Thunder fan. There’s no one who is more qualified to answer the rebranding question than Scott.
Here’s what he told me. My questions are bolded, his responses are blocked.
What is your general opinion and perception of the branding? How does it fail or succeed?
General feeling is that it is safe/default. This isn’t a call for it to be “edgy” or “weird” at all. Professional sports has to cast a wide net and be extremely inclusive so I understand that it has to be widely palatable. However, within that context and audience, you can do amazing things with design that go beyond a logo. There are ways to engage with your community, your heritage, and local creatives in ways that the Thunder just aren’t right now.
Were you the brand director for the Thunder, are there changes you would make?
When jokes/critiques are made about the Thunder brand, it almost always centers around the logo and then the uniforms are a close second. Right out of the gate, the “shield” logo is bad. It just is. It lacks a lot of fundamental things that logos require: Solid reducibility to a 1-color, ability to visually scale, and any sort of iconic quality that could stand the test of time. Brands should be timeless or at close as possible. When a brand is done right, it should never change. That doesn’t mean the window dressing around it doesn’t change. That’s campaign and campaign flexes with the times, but the central brand should be solid and that’s missing right now.
Does the team need a rebrand?
“Need” is a strong word to me. But I do see it as an opportunity missed if nothing happens. I’m a big proponent of responsible rebrands and brand evolutions. Like it or not, there is a little heritage that has been built around the Thunder brand over the last decade and that should be respected out of respect for the fans and their investment in the team. There are things that can be carried on and others that should absolutely be left behind. I think there are steps that have been positive from a design standpoint like the OKC wordmark on the statement uniforms. That’s a really smart and simple graphic device that has an iconic quality that could be rallied around. I think that’s something to build on.
With the current state of the roster and the sentiment around the team, I think there will be a small lull in excitement but the fanbase will bridge it fine I would assume. But that lull presents an opportunity to supplement with some exciting things that aren’t directly roster related. To bypass that opportunity would be a shame.
Scott, outside of tickling the toes of design theory and teaching me things I never knew, offered me an intelligent and informed take on the issue. He and Hodges both mention that now (or soon) is the time to do it, precisely because it denotes a new era, or it supplements the lack of excitement because of this new era beginning.
Personally, I’m for the rebrand and lucky for me, I’ve nothing to add to these fellas.
All that being said, here are my favorite rebrands floating out there.
What do you think? Rebrand or nah?