Skip to content

When rebranding goes wrong

Hannah Money Oct 27, 2022 11:00:00 AM
avoid rebranding fails

It is believed the average person is exposed to up to 10,000 adverts every day. While this might sound like a lot, marketers are taking full advantage of the ongoing digital age. With 90% of the population owning a smartphone we have become our own walking billboards.

Whether browsing social media, visiting news sites, or trying to buy something online, it’s only a matter of time before your screen is bombarded by ads.

Going, going, gone!

So much virtual traffic means companies are constantly fighting for our attention. They only have a few seconds to make an impact before we move on to the next thing.

It’s fair to say they’ve got a lot of competition, so they must pull out the stops to stand out against the rest. Whether we stay or scroll on has a lot to do with how successful their branding is.

What brand actually means

Marty Neumeier, nicknamed the father of branding, describes brand as:

"a customer’s gut feeling about a product, service or company. It ends up in their heads, in their hearts1."

For someone who has worked for Apple, HP, Adobe and Google we think there’s at least a page or two to take from his nine books on the subject.

Customers choose certain brands based on how they want to identify themselves. Someone buying an expensive watch from a well-known company is likely to want to be seen as trendy and living the kind of lifestyle that shows they can afford such a product. They have chosen this particular watch because they recognise the brand, and like what they see. The company has built a reputation, so customers trust them enough to want to part with their money. The same process can be applied to any brand.

After spending so long creating a brand that is recognisable, trusted, and desirable it seems bizarre that companies would want to change that. In some cases, a fresh lick of paint can go a long way to touch up their image but what happens when marketers go too far in trying to reinvent themselves?

Three rebranding fails

Mastercard

Mastercard before and after rebranding
Ref: Mastercard Logo design history - Inkbot22

Back in 2006, Mastercard decided it was time to give its logo a makeover. However, the $1.5 million investment didn’t give the company the fresh look they were hoping for and ended up only confusing customers and their identity.

In the redesign on the left, we see a lot of the aspects from the original version have been removed or recreated beyond recognition. It’s quite bold of them to assume that the two circles (now with an added third) and colours are enough to stay in customers’ minds. It might be the case that Mastercard wanted to simplify its look for something sleeker perhaps, but the results speak otherwise.

After enough backlash on the bad design, they finally settled on a logo that was more simple and followed the two circles that first made Mastercard an icon. Finally, in 2019 one adjustment; the wording was removed. Many companies believe staying relevant means a complete redesign of what originally made them stand out as an icon.

 

Xerox

Xerox before and after rebranding
Ref: Creative Alliance - a tale of two logos3

Sometimes overcomplicating a brand is just as bad. Xerox made a similarly poor investment in rebranding (this time $10 million!). While the change isn’t as drastic as the previous example, the added sphere icon reminds customers of a completely different company.

Rather than be recognised as a reliable source for selling print and digital documents we can’t help but compare the added sphere and x to the gaming company XBOX. It also doesn’t help that both organisations begin with an x! Unseeing the comparison becomes almost impossible once pointed out and makes understanding Xerox’s brand difficult.

What we think is essential to whether we desire or trust using a product or service. If a brand isn’t easily recognisable then customers won’t trust them as the values and key ideas that the company spent so long trying to build fail under the haze of rebranding.

HSBC

HSBC before and after rebranding
Ref: BBC - six epic translation fails4

HSBC took a crack at it too this time with their slogan. But rather than the humble message they were trying to create, “Assume nothing” became “do nothing” when translated into other languages. This change only damaged their reputation. A lazy bank doesn’t exactly sound like the place to trust looking after your hard-earned money.

It just goes to show that throwing funds at rebranding, another $10 million at that, doesn’t mean you will get instant results. Thankfully HSBC eventually decided on a much safer slogan, “together we thrive.” It’s straight to the point and this time without any embarrassing mistranslations.

Summary

From looking at these examples it is clear that brands try their best to build a reputation. If we no longer recognise these when companies try to change their image, then we don’t use them. Customers can no longer identify those values so don’t feel that they can benefit from investing in them. If there is too much unknown why gamble on something we’re not sure we can trust anymore?

Let’s return to some words of wisdom from brand guru Marty Neumeier:

"Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is1."

This means that if the customer can’t tell you what your brand means to them then it’s failed. Think of it like one giant puzzle. Each piece represents part of the brand, the overall image. Are there enough pieces for the customer to come to a decision and decide what that company means to them? If so, then why change something that is clearly working?

When it comes to rebranding companies are better off sticking with smaller changes or even better yet if it's not broken then don’t fix it!

References:

[1] Neumeier, Marty. What is Branding? A deep dive with Marty Neumeier. Interview by Chris Do. December 17, 2019. YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpZfNNYUZEc

[2] Savage, Kristin. History of the MasterCard Logo Design Evolution,.Inkbot Design. February 19, 2020: https://inkbotdesign.com/mastercard-logo-design-history/

[3] Heitman, David. A Tale of Two Logos. The Creative Alliance: https://www.thecreativealliance.com/branding/a-tale-of-two-logos/

[4] BBC. 6 epic translation fails: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2YYBmQsxxB9TFLbd9gKRwpn/six-epic-translation-fails