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Nostalgia as inspiration

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

I just bought something ridiculously awesome.

I got myself a (drumroll, please…) Buffalo Bills Starter jacket from HOMAGE. This just might be the most significant status symbol from my elementary school class of 1989 – my Gucci, if you will. I understand this isn't the pinnacle of design for some people, but if I had this back in grade 5, I swear I would have been the swaggiest 11-year-old in the schoolyard. (Well, to be honest, probably not – I was too shy, and my parents couldn't afford a jacket like that. It just wasn't in the cards.)

There are a lot of articles written about nostalgia brands, but this isn’t one of them. Let me instead explain the significance of this jacket and how this may have launched my 20-year career in design.

As a kid, I was an introvert and would get lost in my imagination. I liked drawing, reading comics, playing with G.I. Joe and collecting trading cards. I loved sports aesthetics (I still do), and I would open the packs of cards, analyze the logos and look at the colour combinations in the different uniforms. I studied the form and structure of the piping of the armbands. I was, in fact, such a uniform nerd that I even studied the warmups of NBA teams. I remember enthusiastically pointing out changes to team uniforms to my dad, who didn't seem to care as much as I did. He met my observations with a dismissive, “Mmm-hmmm.”

Starter team jackets were the preferred garb of many of my fellow students at Bellwood P.S. We lived on the outskirts of Toronto, Canada, where there was no NFL and, at the time, no NBA team. Because of this, kids did not need to have a solid allegiance to any basketball or football franchise. There were Bengals, Bears, Lions and Rams coats, as well as Bulls and Lakers jackets. Kids thought they were cool. I also thought they were cool, but was looking at the font work on the back and how it complemented the logo. I didn't know it then, but I was becoming a student of brand building, guidelines and brand positioning.

Through sports merchandise, I understood brand architecture. Was the team a standalone brand, like the Hartford Whalers, or part of a family of brands with the same colourways, like Pittsburgh's Penguins, Steelers and Pirates?

I comprehended brand archetypes. There were the rebel brands like the Los Angeles Raiders, The Bad Boys (Detroit Pistons) and Broad Street Bullies (Philadelphia Flyers). There were ruler brands like the New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys. And then, for my 11-year-old self, there was the hero brand of the Buffalo Bills with their K-Gun Offence.

I learned about how complementary colours are a potent marketing tool. If used as part of your brand’s colour palette, they can convey different ideas about your company’s personality. Sports teams use complementary colours because they are visually stimulating.

Then there’s emotion. According to Harvard Professor Gerald Zaltman; a whopping 95% of our purchasing decisions are made in the subconscious mind. This means that brands that connect emotionally with their audience have a massive advantage over their competition.

Essentially, inspiration for branding can come from anywhere, and it may not always be what you think. This particular piece of inspiration will help me cheer on the Buffalo Bills. It also makes both my 11-year-old self and my nostalgic 44-year-old self immensely happy.

If you ever want to talk about branding, Buffalo Bills or 90's nostalgia, or contact me.

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