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"Who Dat" Branding

Robert Chilver

We talk a lot about branding in this business. Marketing strategies, public relations campaigns and a strong web presence all play their part in transforming a new or relatively small name into a well-known, well-followed brand. The process can often take some time as companies try to get their foot in the industry door, then build momentum from there.

But there have been a few examples of brands taking off from the get go. Websites like Google and Facebook became household names quickly after creation. In other instances, a company or organization can have a “rebirth” due to a specific event. Toys like Transformers and G.I. Joes, for example, were popular 20 years ago and then burst back onto the scene thanks to recent Hollywood movies.

A trip to New Orleans this past weekend helped me see another example of a brand being left for dead, only to be reborn and become  the focal point of a city and its people.

The New Orleans Saints were long considered one of the laughing stocks of football. Between 1993 and 2005, the team managed just two winning seasons. Fans didn’t show up at games and the ones that did were famous for wearing bags over their heads in embarrassment. Hurricane Katrina hit in the summer of 2005. The city was in ruins. Instead of hosting football games, the damaged Louisiana Superdome was transformed into a shelter for the thousands upon thousands who were left homeless. The Saints split their home games between nearby college stadiums and finished a dismal 3-13.

But over that offseason, the Saints became the symbol of New Orleans’ rebirth. In came a new coach, Sean Payton, and a new quarterback, Drew Brees. Crews worked tirelessly to get the Superdome back in shape and by the start of the 2006 season. Soon it became clear that the city was using the Saints as a way to forget about the disaster and just enjoy the moment, if only for a few hours

That season, the Saints, backed by a renewed fan excitement, advanced all the way to the NFC Championship game, falling just a game short of the Super Bowl. The team was officially back on the map and the Saints’ brand quickly grew both locally and nationally. They were the feel good story of the sports industry - a team exemplifying a city’s perseverance through tough times.

And finally, in 2009, the story concluded with a perfect happy ending. Behind coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees, two brave souls who came to town during the worst of times, the New Orleans Saints upset the Indianapolis Colts to win the Super Bowl.

The nation was pulling for them in that game. While Peyton Manning and the Colts were considered the better team, the underdog Saints epitomized the resilient attitude that helped the city recover from Katrina. During my trip this weekend, I quickly learned that even almost nine months later, the Saints are still very much the biggest brand in New Orleans.

I didn’t go more than a couple minutes without being reminded of this. Saints flags were more prominent than state or national flags. Gift shops displayed Saints memorabilia up front and the regular New Orleans items in back. The Saints’ famous “Who Dat” chant could be heard ringing through the streets. “Who Dat! Who Dat! Who Dat Think They Gonna Beat Them Saints?!” yelled everyone from the street performers to bands and locals to tourists. And remember, all this was with the Saints on bye this past Sunday.

It just goes to show you that branding is all about giving people a reason to fall in love with your story, your product. The New Orleans Saints would not be where they are today if not for Hurricane Katrina. It took a disaster for the rest of the nation to pay attention to their story.

Your company has a riveting story too. It’s just a matter of getting that message to the rest of the world. That’s just good branding.