A Rebranding Crawl
March 23, 2017
Bond Moroch's Ryan Evans revisits the New Orleans Baby Cakes's controversial name change.
Immediately after the New Orleans AAA Minor League Baseball team formerly known as the Zephyrs announced a complete rebranding and name change to the Baby Cakes in November 2016, Bond Moroch Partner Jordan Friedman blogged “A Lesson in Renaming Failure” addressing the controversial move and calling for a swift return to the drawing board instead of the team digging it’s spikes in, which is what is currently happening. Four months have gone by, giving both fans and the general public alike an ample amount of time to decide if their initial reaction of rage was misplaced or if they’re still cringing.
Since the announcement, The New Orleans Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) hosted an event for those interested in learning about the rebranding. Being that brand strategy is a cornerstone of Bond Moroch’s capabilities, I could not pass up a chance to hear the team’s Senior Vice President & General Manager Cookie Rojas share details about the concept development, branding, marketing and communications strategies behind the implementation and promotion of the new name and look.
As Jordan stated, “we spend a lot of time thinking about brands,” so I attended to get insight from Rojas himself with the questions Jordan’s blog post asked in mind.
Does it capture the core essence of what makes something unique?
Team ownership knew prior to this past season it would rebrand as a result of dwindling attendance and return in recent seasons, so something had to be done to grab the attention of New Orleanians. Rojas stated the team wanted to tap into the uniqueness of New Orleans culture and that the rebranding captured the essence as he understands it.
In explaining the process of choosing the new team name, which involved a deep research dive by the branding firm hired and team (think upwards of 4,000 name options), Rojas mentioned that when he first moved to New Orleans, people called him “baby” in greetings or asking how was he was doing – waitresses, new friends, etc. Then, as Mardi Gras season rolled around, king cakes were regularly being shared by team staff. He mentioned these impromptu gatherings felt like family or community events and, of course, there were plastic babies inside of these pastries.
When the list of finalists for potential names was revealed to the decision makers, Baby Cakes was included and Rojas immediately knew this was the name he wanted. Incorporating both the baby and king cakes into something new and different, and flipping the traditional sense of what New Orleanians think was the idea.
I believe Baby Cakes is unique in that it is playing off a tradition, but tradition is something New Orleanians in particular do not like to stray from. This is different from inevitable change.
From a naming standpoint, the unique tradition of the king cake is tangentially touched upon. The branding and logos, in fact, do capture the essence of what makes the king cake unique.
Is it appropriate to the audiences it’s meant to reach, or to the geography?
As far as the audience, I believe so. Minor League Baseball is known for being inherently family-focused and babies are a way to immediately tie those together. This is evident in the support Rojas’ team has given in its community relations, sales and partnership strategies as the team has created partnerships with businesses and organizations that tie directly back to the name and improvement of the city. For example, the team had a large presence at 4th Annual King Cake Festival, a celebration benefiting babies and children at Ochsner.
Geographically appropriate? Yes and no. The branding and logos are spot on as far as tradition, but the name is engineered and feels forced.
Rojas addressed why the team just wasn’t renamed King Cakes and he responded that the final name stuck in people’s heads and had them discussing the change. He felt it created a new energy.
In addition, search engine optimization (SEO) played a key role in the decision. He mentioned when searching the term ‘king cakes’, you immediately get results highlighting various versions of the pastry, but when searching ‘Baby Cakes’, it is all about the baseball team.
Does it inspire passion, engagement, and loyalty?
The name change and rebranding inspired both negative and positive passion and engagement. Rojas stated that the positive just takes a little bit longer and people are starting to come around.
However, it did just what the team wanted to do, inspire passion – period - which gets people engaged in discussion. The ownership wanted something that made New Orleanians think and discuss the team and it is hard to escape this debate now.
As far as loyalty, Thursday, April 6, is Opening Night for the Baby Cakes and I have no doubt what Rojas and company set out to do will attract more fans than any game in recent seasons on this specific night. The negative and positive buzz, combined with special attractions at the opener are enough to grab attention for the debut.
The real question is if the rebranding effort itself is the catalyst that the Greater New Orleans community regularly responds to by filling the stadium from Friday, April 7 and beyond.
Does it make you want to buy it?
The logos are exponentially more attractive than the name and I believe did capture the core essence of what makes the king cake and Mardi Gras tradition unique. They are also more colorful and lively than what the Zephyrs had produced.
Greater New Orleans has responded to the merchandise since the rebrand was announced before Christmas and with ample time to buy gear for the Mardi Gras season. According to Rojas, in just five weeks, merchandise sales outpaced what the Zephyrs merchandise had sold in a combined two seasons. Currently, online and in-store sales at the stadium are even and 70% of what’s purchased online is from within 50 miles of the ballpark.
Ticket sales are also up compared to previous years and supported by what Rojas described as a strong group sales effort. Whether merchandise and ticket sales beyond the primary sales push and the Mardi Gras season see continued growth will be interesting to watch.
What I am most likely to buy as a result of this rebrand and push for new energy is the expanded usage of the stadium by the new ownership, which plans additional festivals, concerts and prep sporting events. 16,000-plus fans attended the first large scale concert at the “Shrine on Airline” in spring 2016 and I feel this has always been a venue that deserved more events beyond Minor League Baseball games.
So, is Baby Cakes the ultimate Minor League Baseball team name? It depends on who you are and how you look at it. The ownership and branding firm certainly think so, but for locals that will take time to see if they come around.
Are New Orleanians more loyal to their unique traditions or their baseball team?
Ryan Evans is a Managing Supervisor at Bond Moroch.