How the Blood Center of Central Texas Became We Are Blood (January 2017)
REBRANDING EXPERTS THE BUTLER BROS. EXPLAIN HOW THEY KEEP IDEAS FLOWING
Drivers on North Lamar Boulevard or Slaughter Lane may have recently noticed something new, and a little odd, while passing the Blood Center of Central Texas. The sign there, which previously featured the (not-at-all remarkable, merely serviceable, purely perfunctory) former name of the organization, now reads as a somewhat puzzling declarative sentence: “We Are Blood.” The brain trust behind this macabre rebranding are Adam and Marty Butler, aka The Butler Bros.
Sitting in their East Austin studio’s conference room recently, sipping cold cans of LaCroix sparkling water, the Butlers finish each other’s thoughts when discussing their 14-year-old company. “Having a business is like having a child,” says Adam, 43, who serves as the strategic chief. “When you’re 7, you’re reasonable, but you still have a lot to learn. We’re almost ready to drive,” quips Marty, 42, the creative chief. “Your brand builds and so do your practices and beliefs. And you get confident in your ways of doing business. That’s very much happened in the last three years.”
Before launching their studio, the brothers spent several years working at the GSD&M advertising agency—Adam as a senior writer and Marty as a senior art director. They started freelancing in a bedroom at Marty’s house in 2002 to make extra money. A year later, that collaboration turned into The Butler Bros. They now have 10 employees and an expanded portfolio with projects ranging from the rebranding of the Austin Children’s Museum into the Thinkery to producing a short animated film for the Clif Bar Family Foundation. They also recently launched former New York Times food journalist Mark Bittman’s podcast, Get Bitt, which grew out of a conversation Adam had with Bittman at a plant-based food conference in 2014. (Adam asked him if he’d ever want to do a podcast. Eighteen months later, The Butler Bros. positioned him as “the frankest food voice in America.”)
The brothers worked on the We Are Blood rebranding, which debuted in October, for more than six months. Like they do with every client, they began with a “blitz”—a one- to three-day session that taps the ingenuity in the room by running groups through several drills. We Are Blood’s blitz included phlebotomists, the nonprofit’s leadership team and board members, and a drill that involved a mock funeral for the brand. “A board member stood up and started to cry when he gave the eulogy,” Adam says. Through a blitz, a team sets its objectives for the work and comes up with a strategy. That is followed by research—which, in the blood center’s case, had team members donate blood.
After ideas get tested, poked and prodded, the best one survives. “Good ideas tend to have some inherent tension in them,” Marty says. “They probably make some people feel uncomfortable because they’re not immediately accepted. Because there’s probably something fresh there.” Fresh blood? That works for us.