Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

A Crash Course in Branding with NBC’s ‘Parks and Recreation’

Even if Tom Haverford from NBC’s Parks and Recreation doesn’t know much about using promotional products, it turns out that he actually knows a thing or two about branding.

In a recent episode of the series, Tom and fellow coworker Jerry were put to the task of rebranding the parks department. Jerry wants to keep the task small; Tom wants to shoot for the moon; and then two end up with a perfect solution. Let’s follow their rebranding process and see what you can adapt to your own brand!

Too Little

nbc parks and recreation jerry

This is the face of a man that loves Comic Sans…

When first given the project of rebranding, all that Jerry wants to do is pick a new font (Comic Sans MS, blah!) and call it a day. He insists that it will suitable enough to fit under the umbrella of “rebranding.”

Maybe Jerry thinks that’s good enough for Pawnee’s Parks department, but it’s not good enough for your brand. I admit that choosing the right font is a part of branding, but it’s only one of many, many parts.

Takeaway: Don’t distill branding to a font. A font is only the beginning.

Too Much

parks and recreation tom

Come on, guys! Everyone wants a park ranger reality show!

Tom, on the other hand, believes that the sky is the limit when it comes to rebranding. He proposes new uniforms, new signage, a reality TV show, and an overhaul of city buildings. He also wants to borrow directly from popular culture and other brands: he wants to use the Sopranos font for the Parks department logo and redesign the community center to look like an Apple store.

While Tom’s heart is in the right place, he isn’t taking reality into account. The city of Pawnee went broke two seasons ago, so the Parks department doesn’t have the funding for new uniforms and signage. Also, rebranding yourself to mirror another brand will cause confusion and complaints from your clients.

Takeaway: Dramatic changes can be (and sometimes are) necessary, but don’t fix something that isn’t broken. Remember the uproar over the Gap logo change? Or what about Netflix trying to spin off its DVD mail service just to lose 800,000 customers and then double back? Additionally, copying other brands will just land you in a world of legal trouble.

Just Right

Tom is just about to give up on the whole endeavor until he has lunch with Jerry, and Jerry shows him his badge from the seventies. This inspires Tom to propose temporarily reverting the Parks department logo to the one from the seventies. They’ll also print limited posters, hats, t-shirts, key chains, and other promotional products to coincide with the launch.

He explains that people love limited edition items and that the seventies logo will bring back nostalgic feelings from when adult citizens used to play in the parks. Overall, this shouldn’t just raise some money, but it will show renewed interest in Pawnee’s parks.

nbc parks and recreation donna tom jerry

The Parks and Rec department show off their limited edition gear!

Takeaway: If you’re an established brand like the Pawnee department of Parks and Recreation, a subtle change will not grab people’s attention, and a huge overhaul will only put off current users. Find a balance. Maybe a little nostalgia is in order. Perhaps it’s time to find a mascot. You can try tapping into different resources and employees and see if there are other ways to expand your brand.

We’ve seen the mistakes that other companies have made while trying to rebrand themselves. So if you’re looking at rebranding, make sure that you use these takeaways to create a smoother process.

Are you also a sucker for nostalgia? Any other tips for companies looking to rebrand themselves?



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  1. amy

    I loved this episode, Mandy. It was definitely one of my favorites 🙂 I think Tom’s idea for bringing people back to the park and their childhood by using the retro font was spot-on! There’s nothing better than remembering a happy memory from your childhood and then being able to recreate it as an adult. And that’s exactly what the Parks Department can do. “Remember playing kickball after school? Well guess what? You can still play kickball in one of our parks today!” Such a great message, makes me all warm and happy inside.

    Awesome post once again, Mandy!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      This was one of my favorite episodes, too! I’ll admit, I was nervous that Jerry was going to lead the department astray with Comic Sans and that Tom was going to make an Apple store in Pawnee, but I’m glad that they settled on something that was infinitely better!

      Though, ugh, I do not want to be reminded of kickball. That was the worst thing to play in gym. But if we want to talk foursquare…I’m all over that. 🙂

  2. Rachel

    Hooray, Parks and Rec! This was a great episode, and definitely a useful example of branding, too. Plus, I always feel bad for poor Jerry, so it was nice to see him contribute to something good by way of his old 70s badge. 🙂 And it seems Jerry and Tom make a fairly good team, actually — combining someone who wants to do “too little” with someone looking to do “too much” does create a happy medium!

    Great rundown, Mandy, thanks! 🙂

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      I always feel bad for Jerry, too. It’s hard to be the office scapegoat! But it’s nice that he was able to contribute something better than Comic Sans to final project. I’m glad that both he and Tom were able to find a happy medium without too much resistance. I’d say for real life application, you’d at least need a third person with a more realistic approach to rebranding.

  3. Alex Brodsky

    Rebranding certainly takes just the right touch! And the nostalgia of Jerry (or Gary as we’d later find out) and Tom’s idea is certainly a big thing right now (re: Joe’s post about cassette tapes).

    I love this show and I’m so happy that I get to read about it on this blog so often.

    Great post!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Thanks, Alex! In my opinion, everything is made better with copious amounts of Parks and Recreation.

      I’m glad that Tom and Jerry managed to make it work – especially via nostalgia. Even the NBC Facebook page for Parks and Rec is embracing the throwback: they were using the 70s logo as their main picture for a few weeks!

  4. Cybernetic SAM

    Awesome post! I love that Tom finally had an awesome idea on this episode, usually it is go big or go home and it is always over the top. This was one episode when they spent a moment shedding light on the importance of branding one’s self. It’s great!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      It’s about time that Tom succeeded at something. After the collapse of Entertainment 7Twenty, he really needed a win.

      And for a show about a government entity, Parks and Rec has been really spot-on with business takeaways this season!

  5. Jill Tooley

    EXCELLENT post! Parks & Rec is a great show and this episode kicked ass. I love that they’ve used so many promotional products this season (even though Tom didn’t fully understand how to use them when he was working for Entertainment 7Twenty).

    You’re absolutely right about finding the perfect balance between a “Jerry” and a “Tom.” It’s wonderful to be ambitious, but Tom doesn’t realize that not all of his ideas are going to take off the same way they have for other brands. Jerry, on the other hand, is almost too realistic with his visions. But together, they were able to come up with the perfect idea for the rebrand. Yay, teamwork! 🙂

    As soon as I saw the new “retro” merch, I squealed. I love the look they’ve come up with and can’t wait until they release it in their store!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      I know! It’s like the writers of Parks and Rec got together and were like, “Let’s put lots of promo products into this season. It’ll make our buddies at QLP super stoked.” But between Entertainment 7Twenty, Leslie’s campaign, and now the rebrand, there has been a lot of swag thrown around this season!

      If anything, this shows that rebranding is definitely NOT a one person effort. In other to be successful you need a dedicated team with varying views.

      I can’t wait to get my hands on some of the retro merch. But we’ll see if I don’t cave in and buy the Li’l Sebastian plushie first. 🙂

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