Every company is defined by a few things: its name, logo, and brand identity. Successfully executing a change in any of those three areas can change the face of a company, whether freshening up the brand or signaling a new direction. Fail at that task, however, and you will likely have a public relations nightmare on your hands.
Rebranding is notoriously difficult, especially with businesses that have an established identity and history. In recent years, many companies have completely botched rebranding attempts.
We’ve collected the 11 worst rebranding disasters in recent memory. If there’s one lesson, it’s that a rebranding isn’t to be taken lightly. It requires overhauling a company’s goals, message, and culture — not just the logo.
The SciFi Channel’s “text-friendly” new name is a slang word for syphilis.
The SciFi Channel, a TV channel that broadcasts science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, and horror programming, rebranded to the SyFy Channel in 2009. The company’s main justification was two-fold: It couldn’t own the trademark on SciFi, and it wanted to go with something that was more “cutting edge.”
To pick the name, it asked tech-savvy 18- to 34-year-olds (its predominant demographic) for feedback, who told them that SyFy was how someone would text the name.
The company bought in, but it was ill-advised. It turns out “syfy” is a slang term for the STD syphilis. The new name association was ridiculed, and many longtime fans decried the name change.
Pepsi spends $US1.2 billion on this rebrand, with the logo alone costing $US1 million. We can’t figure out why.
Pepsi has never been a stranger to brand redesigns, having undergone one nearly once a decade over its 100-plus-year history. In 2008, Pepsi unveiled the latest redesign, which saw the company rotating its iconic circular logo and adjusting the tilt of the white stripe. The entire rebranding effort cost the company a whopping $US1.2 billion over three years.
It’s not exactly a revolutionary change, so where the price tag comes from we’re not sure.
The white stripe is supposed to vary across each Pepsi product, getting wider or thinner depending on the product. The stripes are supposed to look like smiles, but it’s hard to see and most customers didn’t notice.
For a company that’s competing with one of the most iconic American brands around (Coca-Cola), it can be forgiven for trying something new, but this rebrand comes across as a giant waste of time and money.
London goes “modern” with its logo for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Everyone thinks it’s just ugly.
For the unveiling of the 2012 Olympics logo, London officials were looking to go for something modern and fresh. According to the official website, the logo was meant to be “simple, distinct, bold, and buzzing with energy.”
Unfortunately, most people didn’t agree. The Atlantic called it “a slapdash mess in acid colours.” An unofficial public poll by the BBC found that 80% of those surveyed gave the logo the lowest ranking possible.
Its garish character wasn’t the only issue. It was also impossible to decipher what it meant. Iranians claimed it looked like the word “Zion,” while bloggers suggested the logo looked like Lisa Simpson was performing a sexual act.
All in all, not a great day for Great Britain.
RadioShack tries way too hard to be hip with “The Shack.”
It took RadioShack a while to get the memo, but sometime around 2009, it realised that radios weren’t exactly cutting-edge technology. Instead of embracing its history, the company attempted to go hip by ditching “radio” in favour of “The Shack.”
Unsurprisingly, it was widely ridiculed. Engadget’s Joshua Topolsky pointed to the automatic horror-movie connotation: “They wanted us to immediately picture a remote place where very, very bad things happen.”
In an interview with Business Insider in 2011, branding guru Rob Frankel questioned the company’s motives. “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?” asked Frankel.
Capital One revamps its logo with a swoosh that is equally dated.
In an effort to rebrand to a newer, younger demographic in 2008, Capital One added a “swoosh” to its logo. It was about a decade too late.
Perhaps Capital One execs wanted to capture the Nike crowd, but as Alice Bergin of award-winning brand agency Method, Inc told Business Insider, “it’s been done a million times before.”
“They wanted to have more of a consumer-facing feel, but this is too obvious,” said Bergin.
Andersen Consulting picks up a new name that sounds like corporate jargon.
In 2000, Andersen Consulting broke all ties with Arthur Andersen, the company’s namesake, after a nasty dispute over money. As part of an arbitration between the company and Andersen, the consulting company agreed to change its name.
The company can’t be faulted for ditching a historic brand-name, but the new name its leaders chose was about as nonsensical as it gets — Accenture. Time’s editors called it “one of the worst rebrandings in corporate history.”
According to Frankel, it sounds like the quintessential, meaningless, “big corporation” name. “It tells the customer nothing” she said.
And that is a bad sign.
Blackwater tries to erase its past, fails, and tries to erase it again.
Get caught killing innocent Iraqi civilians and you too might want to execute a corporate name change. That was the thought when notorious private security firm Blackwater Worldwide rebranded to Xe, a name that was meant to evoke exactly nothing.
It may have been successful on that front, but the meaninglessness of the name simply caused most people to continue to refer to the company as Blackwater, which lead the company to try a second rebrand just three years later.
The new name, Academi, was chosen to reflect “the changes we made in the company,” its president, Ted Wright, told The Washington Post.
The new name is supposed to evoke the idea of a “Platonic Academy,” the Ancient Greek ideal of a philosophical institution where ideas are debated, because what else says distinguished thinkers like a private army.
Tropicana learns the golden rule: Don’t mess with a classic.
Around the same time that PepsiCo was putting the finishing touches on the redesign of its flagship Pepsi brand, it was also tinkering with Tropicana, perhaps the most recognisable orange-juice brand around.
In 2009, PepsiCo rolled out its new carton designs for Tropicana, ditching the iconic orange-with-a-straw, in favour of a cleaner, more type-heavy design.
The reaction was not kind. PepsiCo was bombarded with emails, phone calls, and social media posts blasting the new carton. According to the New York Times, customers described the new design as “ugly,” “stupid,” and reminiscent of “a generic store brand.”
The reaction bore out in the numbers. Sales of the Tropicana Pure Premium line plummeted by 20%. PepsiCo quickly reverted back to the old design.
Comcast tries a slick, new name to make customers forget about its poor service. It doesn’t work.
Also named in Time’s Top 10 Worst Corporate Name Changes, Comcast’s decision to rename itself “Xfinity” in 11 of its U.S. markets was met with confusion by nearly everyone, including us at the time.
As Dan Frommer wrote for Business Insider, “Xfinity? Seriously? What does that mean?“
Comcast hoped the new name would help customers forget its high prices and poor customer service, but when Comcast is just about the only option in town either way, no amount of rebranding is going to change customers’ opinions.
The Gap tries to freshen its brand, but instead makes its loyal customers irate.
During the Christmas season in 2010, Gap decided to roll out a complete rebrand with no warning. Gap’s iconic logo was replaced with a new one, featuring “Gap” in a different font with a light blue square fading diagonally to dark.
The backlash was intense. Thousands of tweets and Facebook statuses derided the logo, and a parody Twitter account and Gap logo generator went viral.
The company quickly responded in what was one of the fastest branding turnarounds ever. Six days after releasing its new logo, the company reverted.
“Ok,” the company wrote on its Facebook page. “We’ve heard loud and clear that you don’t like the new logo. We’ve learned a lot from the feedback.”
Two lessons: Don’t spring a drastic redesign on an unsuspecting public, and listen to your customers.
Netflix tries to separate its streaming and mail service brands. It’s an utter disaster.
There are perhaps few worse ways to announce a massive rebrand than in a public apology from your CEO. At a time when Netflix should have been flying high, due to the exploding popularity of its streaming service, CEO Reed Hastings was apologizing to customers for the way that the company handled the separation of its core-DVD business and new streaming service.
Instead of learning from past mistakes, Hastings doubled down, announcing that the DVD business would become a new company called Qwikster. The reaction was immediate and negative. Thousands of people blasted Hastings’ move in the comments section of the blog post.
While the product itself was doomed from the start, the branding compounded the damage. No one knew what “Qwikster” was supposed to mean or how to spell it. Add in an association with both convenience stores (like the Kwik-E-Mart) and defunct tech companies like Napster and Friendster, and you can start to see where this went wrong.
Customers ultimately felt betrayed and confused by the new product. A month after Qwikster was announced, Netflix killed the venture and folded the DVD-rental service back into the company.
Additional reporting by Bianca Male.