Rebranding is a tricky business for any company, and yet in many cases change is inevitable if brands want to grow. If well done, it can lead to unprecedented success. Take, for example, Old Spice or Target.
But when a re-branding goes wrong, it can go very wrong.
Kraft Foods, for instance. Its decision to re-name its international division Mondelez has been met with criticism and even some scandal. Apparently, the name sounds like the Russian word for oral sex.
While Kraft doesn’t seem ready to back down on the name yet – it already bought the stock symbol MDLZ – there are plenty of other companies that have come to regret their adventures in re-branding.
While the Nissan Motor Company has used that name since the 1930s, it wasn't until 1981 that it called all of the cars it produced Nissan. Until then, its line of cars was called Datsun.
Nissan announced this week that it is bringing back the Datsun brand in developing markets like India, Indonesia, and Russia. Corporate Vice President Vincent Cobee told BusinessWeek that the new Datsun are entry-level cars aimed at 'up and coming' people who are 'optimistic about the future.'
In what is commonly referred to as the 'marketing blunder of the century' (the 20th century, that is), Coca-Cola tried to replace Coca-Cola Classic with a New Coke in April of 1985. At the time, Coke had been hurt by the Pepsi Challenge and thought it would be smart to reformulate for better taste. They thought wrong. Consumers went crazy.
Phil Mooney, archivist for the Coca Cola Company, says that there were protests led by the Society for the Preservation of the Real Thing and Old Cola Drinkers of America. One man in San Antonio even drove to a local bottler and bought $1,000 worth of Coca-Cola Classic to stockpile.
The Company returned to their classic formula, and original branding, in July 1985.
In 2009, Radio Shack launched a massive advertising campaign in which it re-branded itself as 'The Shack' in a sad attempt to seem hip.
'Why would anyone throw away decades of brand value (which actually shows up on the balance sheet as an intangible asset) just to try to be cool for a few minutes?' Rob Frankel of Method Inc. asked.
Radio Shack was especially criticised once it came out that nothing else -- not the company's actual offerings or internal brand identity -- would be changing.
In 1997, British Airways embarked on a rebranding of its entire fleet of planes, replacing the trademark Union flag on the tail fin with designs created by artists from all over the world.
Then chief executive, Bob Ayling, said at the time: 'Perhaps we need to lose some of our old-fashioned Britishness and take on board some of the new British traits.'
After many complaints from passengers and crew, the airline stopped painting the planes in 1999. And in 2001, shortly after Ayling was replaced by Rod Eddington, all of the tail fins were once again painted with the flag.
In complete opposition to Ayling, a spokesperson at the time of the change told the BBC that the Union flag 'reinforces a core goal of Britishness in a more modern and less formal way.'
When Kraft wanted to re-brand Vegemite in 2009, it held a contest to let consumers suggest and choose the new name. While it would seem that this strategy would mitigate any public outrage, it doesn't when you agree to rename the product iSnack 2.0.
As Nick Foley, managing director of the branding agency Landor Associates, told The Age, 'They are taking the 'i' that is associated with the iPod and 2.0, which is a term for the web. So what does any of that have to do with a food product?''
It was Australia's version of the New Coke debacle, and Kraft switched the name back to Vegemite within 5 days.
In a daring move, Overstock.com attempted to change its name to O.co in 2011. Rushing full speed ahead with the change, the company plastered the new moniker on its TV ad, website, and the Oakland Coliseum (which it sponsors).
The problem was that people were really confused by the change. Jonathan Johnson, Overstock's president, told AdAge that 'a good portion' of customers went to O.com where there is nothing, instead of O.co.
While the company has not retired the name O.co (it still adorns the Oakland Coliseum and is used internationally), it decided a few months later that it should be using Overstock.com in all advertising until the public is ready.
In 2010, Frito Lay launched new packaging for Sun Chips that was 100% compostable in an attempt to demonstrate the brand's 'greenness.'
Trouble is, the unusual molecular structure of the bag that made it more rigid also made it extraordinarily loud. USA Today noted that it people were comparing to everything from 'lawnmowers to jet engines.'
It was so loud that people actually stopped buying it; sales declined 11 per cent in the year the bag was on the market. A year and a half later, Frito Lay pulled the it from the shelf and went back to the lab to build a better compostable bag.
In late 2011, after the debacle with price increases, Netflix made another misstep when it proposed separating its DVD-by-mail service from its streaming service. The name for the new DVD-by-mail service, Qwikster.
Many customers left. One unhappy member said, 'With actions like this, it is only a matter of time before you become the next MySpace.'
The company abandoned its plans for the separate service just a month later.
In 2002, Royal Mail (the post office in the UK) tried to re-brand itself under the name Consignia. What does that even mean?
Executives at Royal Mail wanted to re-brand in order to convey that its business was more than mail. But instead they ended up with a name that the public thought was ridiculous.
'The Consignia name has become a stick for the media to beat the group with. It won't escape until the name becomes a relic of history,' said a source close to Royal Mail.
They phased the name out over the next two years.
MasterCard tried to introduce a new logo in 2006 and was met with a good deal of criticism. People weren't opposed to a new logo, they just thought this one looked really bad.
One person said, 'the problem comes from the centre circle… Too big, too brown, too blurry,' while others were more extreme ('absolutely horrible. ugly ugly ugly stuff… talk about mixed messaging')
MasterCard eventually went back to their old logo. Probably a good move since it is posted in almost every business around the world.
Pizza Hut considered changing its name to 'The Hut' for a brief moment in 2009. Fortunately, the public started ripping on it early enough that only a few stores were changed.
The company denies that it was ever going to change it's name, but there are photos of signs with 'The Hut' name so we know the truth.
Never afraid of the bizarre, Prince changed his name to a symbol in 1993. From then on he would be know as 'The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.'
While publicly Prince said the change was an artistic decision, in truth he changed it to get out of a $100 million record deal with Warner Brothers whom he claimed was stifling his creativity. The name change allowed him to record under a different label.
But don't worry, he's now ditched the symbol and you can call him Prince again.
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