Visa Cash App RB Formula One Team has just revealed its livery design at a launch event in Las Vegas, but fans are still struggling to come to terms with a new name that's as confusing as it is difficult to say. Below, Kathryn Orr, strategy director at Designit, picks apart what went wrong with what could be the worst Formula One rebranding that we've seen to date.
ready for action in 2024 👊 pic.twitter.com/mADcwdNgI8February 9, 2024
Formula 1 (F1) as a brand has been in the fast lane over recent years, going from strength to strength. With the premiere of Formula 1: Drive to Survive (DTS) in 2019, the sport cracked the ever-elusive US audience, moving away from the “ringed fence” approach of the former CEO Bernie Ecclestone, opening the sport up away from its Eurocentric and elitist past. These moves paid dividends, with the group’s share price skyrocketing by as much as 110% since the premiere of DTS.
However, arguably, the ground for this success was set all the way back in 2017 with the sports, at the time, divisive, rebrand. Against this backdrop of how far a successful rebrand can carry you, we’ve just seen the polar opposite take place, this time with one of F1’s very own teams.
It’s worth noting that F1 is no stranger to team changes, nor is it a stranger to corporatist names; Benson and Hedges Total Jordan Peugeot, for example, bagged three podiums in 1997. So what went wrong when AlphaTauri, a team wallowing at the back of the grid, rebranded to Visa Cash App RB?
By all accounts, this rebrand stalled from the start, at least for the fans. One Twitter/X user summed up the general consensus, saying, ‘This genuinely has to be the most diabolical name change in sporting history. Imagine having to say, “I’m Yuki Tsunoda, and I drive for Visa Cash App RB Formula One Team.”’
But why? Why did this name rub fans the wrong way? Despite a wealth of corporatist names in its past, F1 fans are still sports fans and seek to connect with teams, not brands. Fans tolerate a certain level of corporate influence, but three brands in one title is a bit much – even for F1. This rebrand is what happens when there’s a disconnect between corporate interests and brand identity.
Fundamentally, it’s not a bad rebrand; it’s rather sterile, yes, but its key failure was ignoring the context rather than a technical failing of poor colour choices, ambiguous artwork, or illegible typeface. After all, no brand exists in isolation; it’s got to occupy a particular place in the public’s life.
The evolution of Visa Cash App RB F1 TeamMinardi > Toro Rosso > AlphaTauri > Visa Cash App RB pic.twitter.com/s0OXP2IAQHJanuary 24, 2024
Identifying the cause of death
Summed up in a sentence, the reason this failed was an ignorance of fans' wants and desires. Despite being a mouthful, the name itself is just one element of a brand. The surrounding elements, what they stand for, why they exist, and why fans should care, were all missing. There was nothing to appeal to the fans emotionally. Looking at their website and reading the press release, Visa and Red Bull speak only to the benefits of the partnership in terms of commercial opportunities.
Where is the hype video? Where is the team support and excitement that can be shared with fans? Where is the story that connects the sponsors and the sport? The reveal itself is oftentimes the deciding factor in landing a rebrand. It’s not enough to switch over URLs, and social handles, and put out a press release. Successful rebrands understand the power of advocacy, of fostering excitement and energy-building buy-in at launch. One of the drivers, Daniel Ricciardo, a man famed for his positivity and boundless energy, had an uncharacteristically muted response to the rebrand, which speaks louder than any fan could, simply posting five words, “New name, new colours, lezgobaybee."
Resuscitating the brand
Luckily, every F1 team has a brand reset built into its calendar. Every year, teams reveal their liveries for the coming season, unveiling the visual identity of the cars on the track. This is their moment for redemption, a chance for Visa Cash App RB, shortened to V-CARB (which is a lot better name, let’s be honest) internally at Red Bull, to right the wrongs of the name reveal and actually give the team an identity outside of three corporations frankensteined together.
To make the most of this second chance opportunity, they’d need to build some hype, explain why the brands are coming together not in the context of bank balances but in performance on the track, convey that they understand the gravitas of what this means for the team that gave five race winners and three world champions their start, and perhaps most importantly, show appreciation to the fans that support them every step of the way. Or we could see the team lineup renamed to Daniel “Verifi” Ricciardo and Yuki “Payworks” Tsunoda.
At this point, that wouldn’t surprise me. But I remain hopeful.