You’re in the supermarket, searching for one of your favourites, scanning the rows of shelves with increasing impatience. You finally find it and realise, with horror, that it’s been rebranded. You crinkle your nose in disdain. You liked it the old way, it’s ugly now. Perhaps you’re being a little bit dramatic, but you just don’t care.
People hate change, particularly with creature comforts like their favourite brands. Sometimes these changes are cosmetic (re-branding) and sometimes they cut deeper, a core change to a company or product’s purpose and identity (reinvention). Rebranding happens for a number of reasons: a brand is failing, has lost relevance or, less cynically, is going through a natural evolution to facilitate the growth of the brand.
Likewise, a product reinvention can be a positive innovation or a reactive scrambling for relevance. One represents the altering of the image of a product, the other represents a fundamental change.
Iterative rebranding is the most common: a company changing elements of their brand, like the logo or tagline - without fundamentally changing the identity of their brand. This a natural reaction, as very few logos are completely timeless - updates are needed to keeps brands looking modern. Sometimes rebranding is vital, like the Belgian chocolate company that changed their name from ISIS chocolate to Libeert for obvious reasons.
Some rebrands are very necessary
As we know though, people aren’t fond of change, so updates to popular brands can often result in backlash. Instagram’s rebranding, which simplified their iconic polaroid image to facilitate brand extension of their other apps (Boomerang, Hyperlapse and Layout). You may not have heard of these apps - this update brings them into the fold. People quickly got used to this logo though, adapting and forgetting quickly. AirBnB’s rebrand, which was suspiciously similar to existing brand logos, carries an important lesson that everyone should do their homework before rebranding.
As for rebranding for the purpose of remaining relevant is our favourite, but slightly bizarre, example is the diamond industry. After continuing drastic drops in sales (as a result of declining marriage rates) the industry was faced with reinventing the market that was almost single handedly created by the De Beers “A Diamond is Forever” campaign. The result was an attempt to appeal to millennials with a new tagline ‘Real is Rare’ and ads that depict unconventional, young relationships where marriage isn’t necessarily on the cards but a lasting commitment is. The ads feel like an Instagram post made flesh, a blurry image of what a ‘millennial’ is, with couples dramatically running through the woods, chasing chickens and saying things like “it will be wild, it will be kind and it will be real” - hey, we’ve all been there...
More drastic rebranding can act as a strategic decision to facilitate the growth of a brand. Diageo, formerly known as Guinness, rebranded in order to avoid confusion when extending their product line. This also allows each of their drinks to have their own unique identity and target market, with their parent brand remaining decidedly detached.
Drastic rebranding can also be a reaction to scandal or an ailing reputation - Ashley Madison’s parent company, Avid Life Media, changed their name to Ruby Corporation after the dating website, which facilitated affairs, was hacked and all its customer data released. The website also changed its tagline from “Life is short. Have an affair.” to the more innocuous “Find Your Moment.” It’s doubtful that’s enough to repair the irreparable damage done to its reputation though.
Closer to home, Eircom rebranded last year to simply Eir, spending millions on a complete brand overhaul to allow them to expand into different areas. However, many found this to be an empty exercise. After all, changing the face of a company doesn’t address the underlying issues people have with it. British Petroleum’s rebrand to BP, an attempt to distance themselves from their oil spill disaster in the gulf of Mexico, was met with much derision.
The Guinness parent brand was renamed Diageo to avoid confusion
This is where reinvention comes in - a fundamental changing, or evolution, of identity. Products need consistent reinvention over the years to avoid becoming stale or irrelevant. Apple used to be pinnacle of this - not only were they constantly reinventing their own products, they borrowed/stole ideas from others in the industry and repackaged them into products that were decidedly more attractive to consumers. The iPad single handedly kickstarted the tablet market, which had been dead in the water before that.
Nintendo reinvented the home video game console market with Wii, completely reinventing the complicated interface of typical controllers with accessible and intuitive motion controls (and at the same time managed to coax a generation of gamers off the couch). While they haven’t been able to sustain this momentum, their incoming console Switch, wants to reinvent again by offering a console you can play on your TV or take on the go.
Another great example of reinvention in The National Geographic Society who, after realising their sales were dropping due to being perceived as an old person brand, expanded their reach to TV programming (making shows targeted towards a younger audience) and put increased focus on social media, particularly Instagram (a platform that makes a perfect home for their beautiful photos). At the same time, unnecessary reinvention can be a mistake - take the “New Coke” disaster as an example.
Rebranding and reinvention both serve their own, sometimes overlapping, purposes. Both serve to modernise through different channels with the same goal - make the company or product more appealing to consumers. Their success varies wildly and it would be wise to learn from their mistakes and successes. After all, while people may dislike change, as designers can’t we make this as pleasant as possible for them?