• Transform magazine
  • July 18, 2024

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The Verdict: Decathlon

Transform Q2 The Verdict

Taken from the Q2 edition of Transform magazine, peers in the brand design industry give their opinion on Wolff Olins' rebrand of Decathlon.

About the work

French sports company Decathlon underwent a transformation to reflect its new global ambitions. The project sought to introduce the organisation’s new purpose: ‘to move people through the wonders of sport’. 

Led by brand consultancy Wolff Olins, Decathlon relaunched with a new brand strategy, design, internal culture and brand experience across the sport company’s touchpoints. 

All these elements aimed to answer the question at the heart of the rebrand: what role does sports play in our lives? Moving away from ideals of winning and perfection, the rebrand proposed that athletics are meant to induce wonders of play and sport for all, not just pros. 

With this in mind, Wolff Olins designed a new brand icon, L’Orbit, with the same iconic Decathlon blue. The icon is placed on products for all levels of athletes, further emphasising the idea of sport for all. Along with this is a collection of new iconography and a bespoke typeface, Decathlon Sans, for an expressive yet technical feel. 

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The project also includes a short film by Wolff Olins’ sister company, AMV BBDO, which highlights the essence of play. Directed by Hector Dockrill, the film features both original and found footage that celebrates global athletics through both young beginners and hall of famers. This was then dispersed across TV, digital and social media channels after its official release in Paris on 12 March. 

Celine Del Genes, global chief customer officer at Decathlon, says, “We understand that the role of sports to people worldwide is evolving, and our new brand directly reflects this changing dynamic. It unites all of Decathlon’s customer initiatives and elevates how we go to market in a fresh and playful way.”

Emma Barratt, global executive creative director at Wolff Olins, adds, “Decathlon has always been for everybody; a sportsmaker, misunderstood as a retailer. A democratising influence in sport, fast becoming a leader in circularity. But above all, its aim to simply bring fun, joy and wonder to people of all levels and abilities. We have honoured this with the new brand and identity, which is an open invitation for all to move in their own way.”

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Peer review

Sophie Roux and Claude Gottlieb, founders, BrandSilver

For us French, Decathlon is an iconic brand to which we are very attached. We all go to ‘Décat’!

With this rebranding, Wolff Olins is giving the brand more dynamism through the colour and the monogram. The new blue adds a very welcome, bold note. The monogram, The Orbit, in the graphic style of the 1990s-2000s, seems a little vintage to us. The historical typography seems at odds with the new monogram, as if there were two different graphic intentions. It would have been interesting to develop the typography by making it lighter and giving it as much dynamism as the monogram. Probably a political decision...

We can't wait to try out the new shop layout. Looking at the mock-ups, the anthracite-toned design seems to us to be more geared towards urban or indoor sports than outdoor sports.

Overall, the new identity will give the brand greater salience in its outdoor signage and on social networks.

Wolff Olins’s work marks an evolution, rather than a revolution, for a brand that will be 50 years old in 2026 and that continues to embody the spirit of sport for all.

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Matt Owens, chief design and innovation officer and partner, Athletics

Wolff Olins’ brand reboot of Decathlon is an intelligent yet sensible identity for the French sports retailer. Optimism and inclusivity at scale are what drive Decathlon’s success across their 1751 stores in 69 countries. With French DNA and international reach, Decathlon was merely a wordmark for decades. What was needed was more brand recall and a system in the form of words and motion that clarifies who they are and why they matter for anyone who loves sport.

Wolff Olins’ solution is more, understandably, practical than courageous. This is not the 2012 London Olympics. The world is more complex now and Decathlon’s brand needs are as well. When one works to reflect mountains, waves, motion, the planet, recyclability, buybacks and beyond, simplicity and flexibility rule the day. The Decathlon brand system is designed to work under these complexities and, most simply, provide a visual symbol that employees can identify and get behind, moving from knowing Decathlon to having some affinity and loyalty to the brand. Wolff Olins has successfully given Decathlon the brand tools to reflect sport with inclusivity and optimism at a global scale.

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Mo Saad, head of design and creative impact, Brand Lounge

To say Decathlon was ever top-of-mind would be me trying to convince you really hard that I was ever into sports. But it also means the brand’s positioning as the third largest sports company was too obscure. This is why I found the new purpose-driven positioning to be quite authentic and human and overall aligned with today’s customer mindset looking for health, wellbeing and mindfulness. But I sadly didn’t find ‘wonder’.

Part of me was hoping for a bolder, more magical visual identity especially when it came to the logo. Instead, we got a new symbol for Asics. However, some argue that adherence to familiar industry aesthetics can ensure consumer resonance.

Beyond the logo, we know the essence of branding lies in a holistic customer experience. I love the playful typography and I appreciate the ‘moving’ iconography for a digital-first world. I’m eager to see how the new identity translates into retail strategy without affecting the brand’s price friendliness. Overall, a brand well done for the Wolff Olins team.

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Julie Faktor, ECD, Yonder Creative

Decathlon customers might notice something’s different, but they mightn’t be able to put their finger on what it is. And for a company with a 48-year heritage and an immaculately preserved brand, that’s a good thing. To update a brand without reinventing it requires a deft hand. It requires a restraint that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves, and Wolff Olins should be congratulated. 

Just by exhaling the wordmark they’ve contemporised it and made it easier to read, without any loss of brand recognition. The updated blue also gives the brand an energy that is felt before it’s noticed. These changes are small, but they have a subtle power that’s accumulative. The brand, now in constant motion, is in keeping with Decathlon’s purpose to ‘move people’ and it’s largely enabled by the addition of the Orbit logo, which is again familiar. Whether you read it as a mountain or a wave, its resemblance to the wordmark ligature is striking.

For brand evolutions as successful as Decathlon’s, it’s only in looking back that we see just how far they’ve come.

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This article was taken from Transform magazine Q2, 2024. You can subscribe to the print edition here.