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Branding Lessons from a License Plate

Posted: February 7, 2014, 3.30 p.m.
by Molly Moore. recently released a survey of America’s favorite license plate designs. The survey revealed Wyoming’s license plate, featuring its symbolic Bucking Bronc and Rider in front of the peaks of the blue Teton Range, the No. 1 favorite. The survey results made headlines in multiple media outlets, including FOX Business, USA Today, Washington Post and Time magazine. Time referred to the license plate as “fine art.” You may be asking yourself, “Why does anyone care about the metal tag on the back of a car?”

There are three lessons that can be learned about building a brand identity that are displayed through the results of America’s favorite license plates and its No. 1 choice.

1. Consistency is everything: The Bucking Bronc and Rider image is trademarked by the state of Wyoming, nicknamed the “Cowboy State.” The symbol is present on the state’s website and much of its promotional material. The University of Wyoming also adopted the horse and cowboy image on its logo and even has a live horse mascot, Cowboy Joe, present at many of the school’s athletic events.

You see, the Bucking Bronc and Rider is easily identified with Wyoming and is part of its brand identity. It is consistent, distinctive and an integral part of Wyoming’s brand.

Chris Mickey, media and public relations manager for the Wyoming Office of Tourism, said the image has become so iconic because of its “consistent and extensive use.”

2. A strong visual brand identity can up your odds of being remembered: The consistent use of a logo or symbol is one of the most essential factors to your brand image. There is, of course, more to a brand than the visual, but a consistent visual representation should be a part of your branding strategy.

Jacob Cass, visual brand and logo design expert and the founder of JUST™ Creative, said visual elements symbolize the brand.

“This visual element can play a large role in establishing an emotional connection with the product [or state],” Cass said. “Logos make recognizing brands easier, so a strong logo is certainly going to help gain recognition.”

Visual elements also help make a connection across multiple media channels. In the case of Wyoming, the Bucking Bronc and Rider creates a positive brand connection because it is a symbol of its rich history, people and recreation.

“Not only is it part of Wyoming’s brand image; it could be argued the Bucking Bronc and Rider is Wyoming’s brand image,” Mickey said.

3. A brand is more than a big idea: Nike’s “Just do it” slogan, Marlboro man, Pillsbury Dough Boy — and yes, Wyoming’s Bucking Bronc and Rider — are certainly big marketing ideas. However, these big ideas alone are not what make up the brand. Instead, these big ideas are broken into hundreds or thousands of smaller ideas to create a long-term brand identity that cuts across all media outlets and demographics.

Originally named the “Bucking Bronco” symbol, the silhouette Bucking Horse and Rider has been part of Wyoming’s brand since it was stenciled on the Wyoming Army National Guard’s equipment during World War I.

Since its origin in World War I, the big idea of the Bucking Bronc and Rider has formed a multitude of marketing ideas, and as a result, the image is now symbolic of the state as a whole, as well as many individual entities within its borders. Whether serving as a symbol for the University of Wyoming, Office of Tourism or the official state sport of rodeo, the Bucking Horse and Rider represents the identity of the state in many different aspects.

“The great thing about the Bucking Bronc and Rider logo is that it represents, in one simple image, what Wyoming is all about,” Mickey said. “The logo represents the deep-rooted cowboy culture and Wild West history that Wyoming is known for. We are very proud of our Bucking Horse and Rider logo here in Wyoming.”


  1. Post comment

    Great post, Molly. I found this piece on branding very interesting. Also, I agree with all of the comments listed above. I really like how Wyoming has embraced the use of the “Bucking Bronc and Rider” symbol across the state. In Alabama, we have many symbols that we use as brand identities. Two of our main universities, Auburn University and the University of Alabama, both have different mascots. Either school’s mascot could be viewed as a representation of our state. Our state flower, the camellia, is a recognizable symbol of our state, as well as our state bird, the Yellowhammer. I think it is very interesting that the state of Wyoming can be identified by one symbol, which holds so much more meaning and history than most would realize.

  2. Post comment

    It is interesting to see a different take on branding. When most people think of branding they think of consumer products and advertising, at least I do. I haven’t really thought of a state as having its own brand. Stefanie Dunlap’s piece on the Texas brand touches on that as well. Awesome perspective, raised my interest in state branding. This piece makes me think a little deeper about Alabama and its brand. It was really interesting to think that branding for a state can go as far down the line as license plates. I’ve never thought of that as a branding strategy but it makes perfect sense!

  3. Post comment

    These three points are essential to branding success. In addition, I think a unique brand idea is vital to a successful brand. A brand that stands out and can be identified easily is a brand that will be successful. It must stand out so it is not confused with other brands. Also, I think it is appropriate to note that a successful brand is not just attributed to a good visual or slogan. A successful brand is also influenced by a company’s employees and how they present themselves.

  4. Post comment

    Jacob Cass took his interesting and unique branding and changed it in to something forgettable. When I think of his branding, I can only remember his previous one because the new identity is the same as many other companies.


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