Marketing & Branding

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

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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

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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.

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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.

IMAGE CREDIT TO THE PARKS AND RECREATION FACEBOOK PAGE AND LOW-RESOLUTION SCREEN SHOTS FROM NBC’S PARKS AND RECREATION EPISODE “THE SMALLEST PARK.” ALL IMAGES ARE COPYRIGHT NBCUNIVERSAL MEDIA, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.