Hartwell Studio Works

Sports Branding Blog

Deep thoughts from the studio on all things sports, creative, and some other stuff in-between.

Differentiation and the 1975 Tequila Sunrise Houston Astros


With the Houston Astros' first World Series title, I was reminded of a fascinating column by Uni Watch's Paul Lukas detailing the untold story of the Astros' famous tequila sunrise rainbow uniforms. It’s a great read, and I highly recommend you check it out. 

When the famous rainbow unis were unveiled for the 1975 season, they were ground-breaking, trend-setting, and heretical all at the same time. What were the Astros thinking?


1975: One of these uniforms is not like the other.

Getting into the story, I was struck by how the uniform's story lines up with today's sports branding process, particularly the need to understand the “Why” of a branding project, and how that "Why" drives the need for differentiation.

The "Why" of a branding project defines the problem to be solved. The severity of the "Why" dictates the level of change a brand's identity needs.

The "Why" for the Astros' convention-busting uniform was simple: they had a terrible team, they were on the verge of bankruptcy, and the owner wanted to "put a new face on everything." A pretty severe need, indeed.

The first impulse of the uniform design team was to be conservative and put the 'Stros in pinstripes, or a more traditional look, like the Tigers or Cardinals.

But with an organization on the brink of going out of business, they needed something that would get and hold the attention of their fans. Instead of elegant pinstripes, hello thick horizontal bands of vibrant color. Hello, differentiation.

Differentiation is important because to be different is to be noticed, to invite fans to get more involved with who you are and why you matter.

The rainbow uniforms did just that. Some fans hated them, some fans loved them. But nobody could ignore them.

The result? After the unveiling, the Astros radio and TV ad sponsorships sold out faster than they ever had before. The new GM recognized the colorful uniforms were an important marketing element for getting fans to embrace the struggling team. The Astros avoided bankruptcy and lived to play another day.

The Astros' rainbow uniform is a great example of how differentiation is not about being different for the sake of being different, but being different to solve business problems and win more fans.

John Hartwell