Branding A National Institution

The GAA Rebrand Ten Years On

The #10YearChallenge has taken the internet by storm, so we’re doing it our way.

Instead of dodgy hairdos and questionable outfit choices, we’re opening the vault to some past work. In 2009, WONDR founder Dermot O’Shea and Creative Director, Oisín Hurst, were key parts of the team that rebranded the GAA.

The GAA was founded in 1884 in an effort to preserve and cultivate our national games. Rebranding was also an exercise in preservation, to establish a brand identity that would meet the changing needs of modern Ireland. Ten years on, their work has remained culturally relevant, whilst retaining the deep heritage and storytelling of the GAA and has become an icon of branding.

 

The GAA is one of the last remaining true institutions in Ireland, what was it like working on such a behemoth?

Dermot: It was remarkable, everyone in the GAA and everyone on the project team felt the weight of expectation to deliver the right outcome. We were working with a brand with rich heritage, so the story was a special one. GAA has a deep history and is culturally engrained in our country. We all really, really cared as a project team and we all trusted one another to do the right thing.

We learned a lot about storytelling as a way to sell in the use of the branding. Talking to people in a real way and not highfalutin marketing speak. That still stands to us today when working with brands and clients.

Dermot O’Shea WONDR
Founder

What challenges did the GAA face and why did they need to rebrand?

Oisín: With everyone from major commercial sponsors to local level GAA kids’ clubs using different versions of the branding there was ambiguity around the identity. Nowhere was the name ‘GAA’ prominent in any of the old branding and the institution was losing ownership of the Championships to corporate sponsors. They needed something that could be owned by the people — from HQ to grass roots clubs, so anyone involved in the GAA could say, “This is us”. We were really conscious of our responsibility to the GAA and to the local clubs to get this right.

 

No pressure then…..! How did it feel to be tasked to work on such an iconic brand?

Dermot: I didn’t see it as just a brand identity project. It was about the deep heritage of our nation and telling the story of our people. Something to tell your family about, that will be here long after we’re gone. If you do it wrong you will always be disappointed in yourself. We had a great trusting relationship with the client team which gave us the confidence to succeed.

Oisín: It’s a huge responsibility because if you do it right it will never have to be done again. If you do it badly though — well, that can do a lot of damage. You have commercial responsibility to make sure it works well at sponsorship level but also give back something that people can connect to and take ownership of. Ultimately, we understood the heritage and the place for the GAA and were able to make it work.

It was a huge research project, can you tell us about that?

Dermot: The project spanned three years and we reached out to the whole global GAA community, with over 8,000 people interviewed. From the Taoiseach to the grass cutter. Youth workshops were set up all over the country. Sports stars and GAA legends were also consulted. It was so big, our research made the Six One news. How often does that happen on a normal project?

Oisín: Our audit of the brand evolved into an exhibition which ended up being housed in a dedicated hall in Croke Park. Our visual summary board had every artefact of GAA we could find. It was an array of brands connected to the GAA but not united. From championship to club level everyone had a different approach. We had to unify the brand.

It’s a huge responsibility because if you do it right it will never have to be done again. If you do it badly though — well that can do a lot of damage.

Oisín Hurst WONDR
Creative Director

Can you talk us through the logo and what each part represents?

Oisín: There are two parts, the brandmark and the heritage crest. The primary brandmark is the GAA name, uniquely crafted, drawing cultural resonance from Ireland’s calligraphic past.

The name was uniquely styled, drawing strength from our ancient heritage while being refined to represent youth and games.

Oisín Hurst WONDR
Creative Director