Brand Loyalty: Maximizing School Spirit Through Branding & Graphics
On any given Friday evening in the winter, deep in the woods of Rochester, Massachusetts, the overhead lights of the gymnasium at Old Colony Regional Vocational High School go dark. A spotlight switches on and flashes over the hardwood as a howl cries out from over the public address system.
Mirroring the famous pregame introduction of the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls, public address announcer Brandon Mendez flips on the microphone and begins to introduce the starting lineup for the Old Colony boys varsity basketball team with a gravelly influxion to his voice. And before the lights turn back on, there’s one final howl that blasts over the speakers, letting everyone in the gym — including the visiting team — that they’ve entered Cougar territory and are in the “CWO,” or the “Cougar World Order.”“The ‘Cougar World Order,’” Matthew Trahan, Old Colony’s boys’ basketball coach and athletic director, pointed out with a chuckle. “It’s fun. It comes from the whole WCW/WWF (World Championship Wrestling/World Wrestling Federation) Invasion storyline. I see it as a way to have fun and put your stamp on things. We’ve used that cWo as our mantra, in a way, that the kids have bought into with a sort of ‘us against the world’ mentality.
Trahan, entering his 17th year as the Old Colony’s athletic director in 2020, grew up as a fan of wrestling and wanted to create a similar branding that would foster school spirit and pride within the athletic department. What originally started as a fun way for the coaching staff to connect with its student-athletes turned into a full-fledged movement among those associated with the Cougars.
“Our kids are so tech-savvy. We have one conversation with the kids about it and suddenly they go home and are creating memes, putting my face on the body of [WWE owner] Vince McMahon walking down the entrance ramp,” Trahan said. “It’s something the kids never forget and helps our alumni stay connected.”
And following every win from various Old Colony programs through the years, the CWO movement was there to celebrate it on social media platforms — sharing player spotlights, features, and write-ups from the local news outlets with the additional #cWo hashtag. To further bolster the movement, Trahan even bought an authentic championship wrestling belt to be shared by teammates from programs that win conference championships, vocational tournaments, and advance deep into the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) state tournaments.
“When that belt gets broken out, we see the smiles on our student’s faces go ear-to-ear. The players are allowed to wear it around school and bring a sense of school pride,” Trahan said. “As much as we want to show our students that we have a fun side as well, but it also helps from a branding perspective.”
Being in a league with schools that have upwards of 1,500 students, while Old Colony has roughly 550, means that creating a home-field advantage through re-branding the Cougars as the CWO mantra has helped in evening the playing field to a degree. The atmosphere of the “Cougars Den”, the apropos nickname for Old Colony’s athletic facilities, led by the student body is a big part of that home-field advantage. In a tiny space, most games — the big games, especially — are standing room only. A packed gym full of rowdy home fans wasn’t always the norm for the Cougars.
“It wasn’t always that way,” Trahan noted. “But by showcasing the starting lineups and featuring our cheerleaders and baton twirlers at halftime and during stoppages, it’s brought everything full circle.”
And while the interaction with the student body certainly adds to that exciting atmosphere, Old Colony also turns to companies like Big Signs for support in outfitting its facilities with the right branding.
In the Cougars gymnasium, Big Signs has provided Old Colony with conference championship banners and sectional final appearances that hang along the walls and below the rafters. And with the Cougars’ football field neatly carved out of a forest, the walkway approaching its athletic fields will be lined with Old Colony school banners that will accompany future light posts along the walkway — creating a college campus feel that perfectly fits the fall outdoor atmosphere on game days.
There will be additional branding opportunities down the road as the vocational school will be upgrading its baseball and softball fields with reseeding the infield, adding new surfaces and replacing the backstops, in addition to lighting for its football field.
When it comes to branding, many schools know its best billboards, so to speak, are its student-athletes — and Old Colony is no exception. As a vocational school, the athletics department enlisted the help of students involved in the school’s graphics art program to redesign the Cougars logo to help Old Colony stand out amongst a sea of other schools that utilize the same mascot.
“There’s a ton of Cougars out there, we know that,” Trahan said. “But we focused on making ourselves unique and known [through our logo design]. We’ve done our jobs to separate ourselves from the rest.”
The logo is fashioned after the Boston College “BC” but with the Cougars’ “O” overlapping with the “C,” and was made a focal point — not just on the athletic fields and gymnasium, but also throughout the school.
“We see the logo all over the school. It’s close to [our students’] hearts and easily identifiable,” the Cougars’ AD said. “It’s been fun to take what started as a joke about wrestling and see it grow. It’s a fun thing. We’re all human beings, and everyone coaches a certain way, but you want the kids to see the lighter side of things and take pride in that.”