The article is co-written by Jamey Wagner, Executive Creative Director, and Will Kladakis, Account Leader for Interbrand Cincinnati
Louisville Slugger® is the most recognized brand in baseball. Over 60 percent of Major League Baseball (MLB) players swing a Slugger, including Derek Jeter, Josh Hamilton and Evan Longoria in the American League and Buster Posey, Joey Votto and David Wright in the National League. But in recent years the brand found itself in quite the competitive battle with upstart, trendier brands like Marucci and DeMarini (as well as longtime rival Easton)—which were more appealing to younger consumers in high school and college. These elite players and coaches are not only core customers; they are tomorrow’s influencers to a new generation of baseball enthusiasts.
Louisville Slugger clearly needed to become relevant again to this valuable, younger audience. The challenge was to strike a balance between remaining a heritage brand and projecting a fresh, contemporary, and inspiring image and identity. Adding complexity, the iconic Louisville Slugger bat serves as both product and packaging, so any branding change would be a big deal to even casual fans in the sports community…let alone baseball die-hards.
Parent Hillerich & Bradsby Co. decided to evolve the Louisville Slugger logo—the first redesign in 33 years and only the second significant change in the logo since the 129-year-old, fifth-generation and family-owned company made its first bat in 1884—to demonstrate that the company, its products and culture are evolving with the times. For help, the company turned to Interbrand.
Located in Cincinnati, where America’s pastime has been woven into the city’s fabric since 1869, Interbrand was a fitting choice for the year-long assignment. The office fielded a passionate project team with a love for and unique expertise on baseball; staffers truly became a part of Slugger; in Louisville, on softball and baseball fields, with high school and college teams, and even attending meetings with the client’s key retail accounts.
After convening with key stakeholders at Louisville Slugger (including Kyle Schlegel, VP of Marketing for Hillerich & Bradsby), the design team was encouraged to develop the new identity using a blank canvas. After an inspirational first-round presentation and strategic consultation from Interbrand, the entire project team agreed that the re-branding effort should retain more of the distinctive Louisville Slugger assets. Interbrand vetted subsequent concepts with players from little league teams all the way up to the majors, by conducting qualitative testing at tournaments and in the clubhouses of the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs. Consumers, visitors to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, and players were asked which brand elements were important to retain and which could be jettisoned. The oval, part of the logo from the beginning, was considered essential, as was the font for the “gg” in Slugger, introduced in 1980. Less important was the “125,” which dated to 1916, especially once it was replaced by a “LS” inside a diamond.
The final design solution hit it out of the park; the new logo and secondary mark provide the Slugger brand with tools to launch new products, connect with new, younger players and create a brand story for the modern era. Specifically:
- • The new “Louisville Slugger” logo provides balance between iconic elements, preserving the legendary oval and authentic stamp of approval, “Made in the U.S.A., Louisville, KY.”
- • Additionally, Interbrand created a secondary mark within the logo that can be used in smaller/alternate applications; allows the brand to stretch to new products that are more image-based; and, most significantly, creates a visual shorthand for the brand that can be easily captured by cameras and recognized by sports fans in stadiums and in front of their TVs. This secondary mark also created a strong badge appeal that consumers young and old could proudly display on and off the diamond.
- • Interbrand also imagined/projected how the new identity would extend to other touchpoints; e.g., the iconic finger stall on the back of a pitcher’s or fielder’s glove, catching equipment, batting gloves, non-wood bats for college and youth players, as well as applications such as Louisville Slugger Field (home of the AAA Reds affiliate Louisville Bats), the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory logo, etc.
- • The overall program includes a color palette created for the brand that works for corporate applications, partner applications and product/promotional/merchandising applications.
The rollout of the new logo began on Opening Day and will continue through the season, with most new products hitting retail stores in late October. Along with the logo, Louisville Slugger is introducing its new wood bat, MLB PrimeTM, to the diamond. This innovative approach successfully melds craftsmanship and the latest technology, and boasts the hardest hitting surface in the game.
Louisville Slugger’s brand voice has evolved, making sure that the legendary moments happening in today’s game are front and center, while honoring the classic history of a truly iconic American brand. The redesigned logo and secondary mark provide Slugger with the tools to continue to celebrate what loyalists have loved for over 100 years about the brand, to innovate across all product categories, and to create a unique story that allows the next generation of fans to leave their mark on the game.
About the Authors
Jamey Wagner is Executive Creative Director at Interbrand Cincinnati. He serves a team leader for the Design department, partnering with Strategy, Account and Implementation to ensure that visual strategies meeting marketing objectives.
Will Kladakis is Account Leader at Interbrand Cincinnati.