Contributed by Ron Marcus, Marketing Cheerleader at ZUZA
Nike. Starbucks. McDonalds. Apple. Coke. All have logos that are instantly recognizable, classic, iconic – and for the most part, consistent over many years of use. Sure, some have undergone refinement over time – Apple’s logo used to contain a spectrum of colors in horizontal stripes and now it is a simple shiny silver. Perhaps the simplest and cleanest example of an enduring logo is the Nike swoosh, unchanged since the first Nike sneaker hit the road in 1972. Could you imagine Nike without the swoosh?
What if Nike decided to rebrand itself, abandoning the swoosh for something entirely different? How do you think consumers would react? How would it affect Nike’s image and its sales? To answer this, let’s look at a few other iconic brands which decided it was time for a major change.
Here’s what happened when one of the biggest brands in orange juice decided it was time for a rebrand. PepsiCo went to Arnell Group (the same design agency that redid the Pepsi logo in 2009 – more on which below) to re-imagine Tropicana. The design agency got rid of Tropicana’s unique and well-known “straw poked in a real orange” and replaced it with…a picture of a glass of orange juice. Have a look:
photo credit: justinlai via Flickr
What had been a stand-out brand with stand-out imagery suddenly looked like just another store-generic brand, lost among the competing brands surrounding it. PepsiCo was immediately barraged with consumer complaints and negative social media commentary, and sales of the brand went down 20% in just over a month. That was enough to persuade Pepsi to revert to its original Tropicana branding.
While the Pepsi logo had evolved over the decades, it had maintained its circular “yin-yang” logo mark since the 1950s, with red on the top, blue on the bottom, and a white wave in the middle. This mark had been instantly identifiable as “Pepsi” for generations.
In 2009, PepsiCo released a new interpretation of its logo, designed by Arnell Group, the same folks that designed the short-lived Tropicana rebrand. The new Pepsi logo maintained the red, white and blue color scheme, but shifted and distorted the white wave into something that looks more like a kidney, though the intent might have been to simulate a smile in some way. You be the judge:
photo credit: Furlong Design: “Pepsi New Logo Redesign – Was It Worth It?”
The design agency was paid an estimated $1 million for its five months of work on the logo and rebrand. Changing all of PepsiCo’s trucks, vending machines, signage and POP materials probably cost another several hundred million dollars.
The justification for the design is expressed in a very abstract way in the brand book submitted by Arnell Group entitled “Breathtaking,” which you can read here. (Does it make sense to you?)
Did the rebrand help Pepsi’s sales, particularly against its arch rival Coke? No. Coke and Diet Coke have retained first and second place respectively, with Pepsi stuck in third.
Interestingly, the Coca-Cola logo has remained unchanged since 1891, and Coke has remained the market leader. Perhaps Pepsi would have done well to emulate this brand consistency strategy. To see how Pepsi has let its brand stray over the years, check out this entertaining retrospective from Business Insider, “How Pepsi Went From Coke’s Greatest Rival To An Also-Ran In The Cola Wars.”
GAP, the iconic clothing retailer founded in 1969 that had gone from being a one-store purveyor of Levi’s and records in San Francisco to become the worldwide king of khaki (and many other fashions) one day in 2010 decided that its instantly recognizable logo (some twenty years old), with three serif letters in white spelling “GAP” inside a solid blue box, had run its course. With very little warning, the logo was changed to a simple Helvetica “Gap” with a tiny blue square behind the “p”:
The new logo was met immediately with a massive consumer backlash in social media. Nobody liked the change from a classic clothing icon to something so plain and uninspired that it looked like an image from a Microsoft Word clipart gallery. GAP quickly reverted to its old logo, quieting the masses and restoring its place among beloved, enduring logo marks – but not without a short-term hit to its credibility
In 2000, BP updated its logo and tagline, at a cost of over $200 million, to show the world that it was not just an oil company, but also a company concerned about the environment. It hired big gun brand agencies Ogilvy and Landor to do it. They came up with the tagline, “Beyond Petroleum” to position BP as a “green” company interested in alternatives to oil (and also as a clever play on the initials “BP”).
Unfortunately, it was simply green-washing of a company that had remained truly an oil company (and one of the largest on the planet at that).
Little did BP know back in 2000 how much its new green flower would come back to bite it in 2010, when its offshore drilling platform Deepwater Horizon would leak an estimated hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. That event instantly destroyed 10 years of rebranding, not to mention its devastating effects on the ecosystem and on people’s lives. GreenpeaceUK seized the opportunity to shame BP with a campaign inviting people to redesign BP’s flower logo in response to the disaster. As you can imagine, the results weren’t flattering to BP. You can view some of the entries here.
All of which underscores the fundamental branding principle that your actions must match your branding, or else all credibility and trust will be lost
What can we learn from all of this?
It all comes down to one basic question: when is it necessary to rebrand?
The basic answer is: when your brand no longer matches and supports what your company stands for.
But you have to be very careful with rebranding, especially if you’ve built up a lot of brand equity in your current brand, meaning, your consumers have a strong emotional connection to your current brand and what it has stood for. When you rebrand, you run the risk of alienating those consumers, unless you can demonstrate that the rebrand represents a change that will benefit those consumers.
In the case of Tropicana, Pepsi Cola and GAP, the rebrands represented nothing more than a changed logo, not a changed company or product offering. Consumers are sophisticated these days. They see right through such rebrands as nothing more than a new coat of paint. And whenever something or someone changes for no apparent reason, credibility and trust are shaken. You’re basically sending your consumers the message, “If you thought you knew us, guess again.”
In the case of BP, its attempts to reinvent its public image actually worked – for a while. The company seemed to be putting its money where it new logo was, publicly acknowledging the connection of fossil fuels to global warming, investing in developing alternative sources of energy, and even making its headquarters more environmentally friendly. But fundamentally, the company hadn’t changed, employing the same oil exploration practices which ultimately led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Consumers are also more sophisticated these days when it comes to graphic design. The latest software available on consumer PCs and Macs gives consumers design capabilities that were only available to expert graphic designers a few years ago. Consumers expect good design. Sadly, the rebrands of Tropicana, Pepsi and GAP did not represent good design. That it cost millions of dollars to execute such redesigns makes them all the more shocking – and disappointing
Bottom line: your logo is NOT your brand.
How many times have we all heard this? Yet, so many companies seem to think the logo is everything – and so many design firms are happy to reinforce this notion, as it represents big business for them. Here’s the truth: your brand is the sum-total of all the experiences your customers and prospects have with your company, products and services. The logo is only a marker. It lets consumers know when your company is present – and nothing more. Your logo is a brand only in the sense that customers can relate their experiences to it. As soon as you change your logo, you break the link between customers’ past experiences with your brand and your logo. This is a fundamental disconnect. To which we say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Meaning, if your brand hasn’t changed, neither should your logo. This is so fundamental that it’s a wonder big companies who spend big dollars on rebranding don’t seem to understand this
Is your company considering a rebrand? If so, ask the tough question: why? If you aren’t changing what your company stands for, if your customers like what you stand for now, and if they associate your current logo with what your company stands for, then why rebrand? Why waste the time, money and the priceless brand equity you’ve built up over time? You’d be much better served creating some really effective marketing campaigns leveraging the strength of your current brand.
Here’s to the Marketing Champion in all of us. See you in the next post.