Shaping An Icon: Pioneering Willie Nelson’s 90th Birthday Brand

January 1, 2024
Posted in Case Study
January 1, 2024 Rob Rauffer

Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90

A case study on the development of a brand for an American icon.

Project: Willie Nelson’s 90th Birthday Concert (Blackbird Presents)

Goal: My aim was to create a brand and design system that could seamlessly adapt to every stage of the project’s journey, spanning from a live event to numerous broadcast productions, media releases, and merchandise.

It all started with a deep understanding of the subject matter and immersing oneself in the intricate details surrounding the event. Willie Nelson, who was about to celebrate his 90th birthday on April 29, was born and raised in the Lone Star State. For over four decades, he has made Luck, a small town with a fascinating history, his home, far away from the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown. The concert was set to take place at the famous Hollywood Bowl, a complete contrast to the ghostly atmosphere of Willie’s humble abode.

What’s interesting is that Luck was originally constructed as a movie set for the iconic film “Red Headed Stranger,” a movie that paid tribute to the Spaghetti Western genre, which greatly influenced Willie. Therefore, it only seemed fitting to create a brand that would connect Willie with these beloved films. And so, the image of a cowboy, accompanied by his loyal horse and guitar named Trigger, emerged, riding off into the sunset of a fictional town that bridged the gap between Luck and the Hollywood Bowl.

The main brand identity took shape with a striking black silhouette set against a rich, deep red background. Complementing this bold design were warm tan and vibrant orange earth tones used in the typography. The primary font, Bourbon, added a touch of western charm, while the supporting font, Museo Sans, embodied the modern and sophisticated Hollywood feel.

Finally, in order to cater to the diverse range of uses, I developed numerous lockups, layouts and supporting elements to accommodate the countless applications, ranging from marketing assets like websites, digital banners, print ads, billboards, and social graphics to stage design, gobos, building wraps, step & repeat, merchandise, packaging, and broadcast graphics. As a result, the brand and all its components have gained immense exposure, reaching millions of people and achieving global recognition.