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November 26, 2015

The Best and Worst Examples of Rebranding: What to Emulate and Avoid

Rebranding happens everywhere and the open market is the greatest spotlight to witness its adaption. Sometimes it generates acclaim and applause. Other times it raises consumer pitchforks. We’ll look at both sides of the story.

It happens every holiday season. The ugly sweater that’s a few sizes too large and some shades lighter than called for. The act of re-gifting has long been shunned as shameless, though many who do it find it necessary for their reasons, some shameful, others blissful. This is the polar opposite of apps, which, try as you might, cannot be wrapped with different linings. As much as it stings to find out that you’ve been re-gifted, the toll is only distributed on an individual or family level. Rebranding takes re-gifting and mass deploys it through the open market on a corporate scale. At that magnitude, the reasons bear neither shame nor bliss, but rather weighs in on strategy. Here are some strategies that propelled their companies to the top, and some that plunged it into laughingstock.

For convenience purposes, we’ll be looking at only the top three successes and failures in rebranding.

The success stories

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Apple

Let’s face it: It’s very seldom that something will blossom into mass popularity and develop into the latest trend overnight. It was more fathomable with people entering celebrity status in that fashion but in the pre-millennium corporate labyrinth and tech market, it was a steep hill to climb for Apple. The company wasn’t always cool the way people who sport the latest iPhones, iPads, and Macs would think of it nowadays. And it certainly wasn’t the epitome of all tech inspirations. In fact, for over a decade, Apple languished in the midst of IBM, HP, and Dell dominance until Steve Jobs took back the reins in 1996. It was then that Apple’s renaissance began to kick into gear. Jobs re-signed with a critical advertising agency and launched the campaign that inspired many to “Think Different.” The goal of this campaign was to bring in hordes of new customers while making sure the existing customer pool didn’t leak. Apple employed their marketing strategy by subtly instilling the flame of rebellion in people in their present so that it could roar ablaze in this future. As we can see today, this strategy paid off tremendously and arguably made Apple what it is today.

Starbucks

As a person, a facelift makes you look younger and prettier. As a website, a facelift gives viewers a different sense of its purpose and function. It’s not often that a conglomerate, especially one with such a revenue, prominence, and reputation as Starbucks, gets a facelift. Pondering in your mind what makes a conglomerate, one of the first things that probably comes to mind is its logo. It’s one of the few limited associations you can visually make with it. Changing it would be like undergoing corporate plastic surgery. Even professional sports teams are reluctant to do it frequently. Yet in 2011, Starbucks updated an iconic logo 19 years in the making. Why would it do such a thing? Stalling sales during the recession, being the frequent target of anti-globalization campaigners and market-cannibalization were all back sores that were patched up by the new logo. It wasn’t the first time. Since its 1971 launch icon, it has upgraded three times, including the latest 2011 installment. But don’t worry, it’s just the icon that’s changed, not the substance, so when Freddy Krueger comes knocking, Starbucks coffee is still your best friend.

Lego

Founded in 1891, Lego didn’t develop its now highly reputed iconic building blocks until 1947. Just as literature and technology change with the times, so do toys and what children consider to be their primary sources of entertainment. At one point in time, Lego blocks were cutting edge toys that weren’t just highly regarded on store shelves, but were revered by the hands that worked them at home. With the emergence of electronics came toys that were much more appealing, and Lego had to exercise a lot of brainpower to stay alive. Then came the digital age. Many thought that if motorized toy trucks didn’t kill off Lego, video game consoles and other forms of TV entertainment would surely smother the senior toy franchise. Well for all you haters out there, Lego stands as firm as its toy blocks today. How does it do it? Lego has become a corporate nomad, consistently branching into new categories, constantly updating its brand, keeping its product themes relevant with pop culture, and making partnerships with other brands. This is rebranding to the extreme.

Flops to remember

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Tropicana

When you think of orange juice, what’s the first label that comes to mind? I’ll be damned if it isn’t Tropicana. And what’s the immediate imagery that slides into focus when we think of Tropicana? Good ol’ Mr. Orange impaled by a red-white striped straw. Now who would do anything to distort the balance of that delicate classic? Tropicana itself. The juice giant replaced its traditional logo with … what seems like a glass of orange juice. The firm wanted to go in a new direction by changing the classic image that’s frothed in thirsty minds for decades to a more fulfilling prospect. Their goal was to make the brand more “down to earth.” The only thing that went “down to earth” was its stocks. Following the rebranding procedure, Tropicana lost $137 million in its two months of operations, with sales plummeting 20 percent. The rebranding took from customers not only a longstanding familiarity with a product, but the nostalgic essence that grew with it all those years. This ultimately led to product disassociation, rejection, and outright alienation. Some previous consumers would simply walk past the product because they didn’t recognize it. Shaken by their mistakes, Tropicana eventually resorted its original logo. The lesson learned? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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Gap

In the holiday season of 2010, Gap launched a new logo to represent the upcoming rebranding of the rest of the company. But that’s not what drew so many exclamation points and snickers. Just as the countdown to Christmas was hastening and holiday shopping bustled, the existing Gap logo suddenly vanished into thin air to be replaced by a substitute far too imperfect to swallow. Buzz about the new logo soon spread like wildfire on the Web and dissatisfaction did not trail by much. This move proved to be a tactical flaw — and a costly one. For Gap, what ended up happening after taking down a familiar logo of 20 years for just six days was $100 million down the drain.

Syfy

This rebranding  should’ve been recognized as disastrous upon concept. Why the hell would you decide to overturn a household television name — Sci-Fi — into something so sinisterly corny that it should be declared not just an abomination to TV, but to all who associate themselves with science fiction?

“By changing the name to Syfy, which remains phonetically identical, the new brand broadens perceptions and embraces a wider and more diverse range of imagination-based entertainment including fantasy, paranormal, reality, mystery, action and adventure, as well as science fiction. It also positions the brand for future growth by creating an ownable trademark that can travel easily with consumers across new media and non-linear digital platforms, new international channels and extend into new business ventures.” – Syfy Press Release

Broaden perceptions. Embrace a wider and more diverse range of imagination-based entertainments. An ownable trademark that can travel easily with consumers. Where’s the proof? Seriously, if the strategists were trying to be dope, they succeeded by being high at the time they rebranded their channel. Maybe I might start raking in more views by rebranding my gentle dog Mike into the notorious woofer Myke. Yeah, that was corny. Just got a taste of your own medicine, Syfy. Although it has stuck with the logo it switched to, the losses were still formidable, and people still complain, laugh, or both at its failed attempt to be sl”y” to this day.

Reconsider before rebranding

Rebranding is a tricky strategic maneuver and hence a risky business investment. Sometimes the lack of a discernable safety net can lead to disaster while other times it can lift you to heights beyond expectations. How you rebrand a product or logo can be very similar to re-gifting, its degree depending how many minds are strung together, the goals of the operation, and the market situation at the time being. That being said, rebranding is a double-edged blade that can be always wielded to your advantage if you learn the balance between safety and aggression.

If you have a product or logo up already in the market, take the time to learn from what made some rebranding strategies the wildest success and others the most humiliating failures. Remember, it’s never black or white, but touching on the extremes should prepare you for what might come.


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Li Huang is a contributor at Fueled, a premiere app development agency based in New York City.

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