Companies invest a lot of money into their brands. They’re their identity and often the only way they can be differentiated from their competition. Supermarkets all sell the same products, but more often than not, you can distinguish between them by looking at the layout and decor of the store inside. You also associate some with selling higher-end products and others with having lower prices, this is thanks to their brand positioning.
Cola-Cola and Pepsi both sell very similar products. Without their brands, it would be difficult to know whose product you were buying.
Many people associate themselves with a particular brand, remaining loyal to them for years. We can see this with Apple, one of just a handful of companies in the world that has been able to convince its customers to line up outside its store for days just to buy its latest release.
Since brands are such valuable and important assets, any rebranding exercises need to be considered very carefully. They risk damaging the relationships with customers and alienating large swathes of the market.
But there are great examples of companies pulling off excellent rebranding exercises, and plenty more examples of some rebranding failures. Here are some of each.
Bad: New Coke
The 1980s saw the height of the cola wars, an all-out battle between Cola-Cola and Pepsi as they fought for market share.
During this time, Pepsi focused its advertising on the younger market, featuring artists like Michael Jackson in its commercials. In contrast, Cola-Cola positioned itself as a wholesome, classic brand and tried to associate itself with holidays like Christmas and other special occasions.
However, in 1985, it completely changed strategy by releasing a new formula for its drink. It had extensively tested the new recipe and found that customers preferred the new taste to the original. Except, when “New Coke” launched consumers complained in the thousands, proclaiming they detested the new drink and demanding the company switch back to the old recipe.
The problem was that the company had abandoned its traditional branding and ignored the emotional connections its customers had with the product. Within three months of launch, Cola-Cola announced that “Coca-Cola Classic” would be returning to shelves.
Even today, as the company introduces new products like Coke Life and Signature Mixers, it daren’t touch the original red-labelled drink.
Good: I’M IN
PokerStars is one of the world’s biggest online poker sites, operating in many regions around the world. However, the online poker scene and the iGaming industry as a whole are crowded, so it’s important for companies like PokerStars to find a way to stand out from competitors.
In 2020, it launched its I’M IN campaign as part of a brand refresh. Before the changes, PokerStars conducted extensive research with its customers to better understand what was important to them and how to create a more inclusive brand.
It found that its players were people that loved adventure and entertainment and that they came to PokerStars as it is a trusted environment and offers a strong community feel. The team behind the brand refresh created the I’M IN campaign to capture this, using phrases like “shuffle up and deal” and creating new TV ads that have been airing in several countries.
The brand refresh works because it has been undertaken by listening to customers and by not straying too far away from the core strengths of what went before it.
Good: Pizza Hut
Pizza Hut is a brand that’s known all over the world. Its name tells you everything you need to know: it’s a restaurant that serves pizza. The company opened its first restaurant back in 1958.
Since then, it has re-branded itself several times, with several different logos. In the last 20 years, the company has actually had six different rebrands. However, on more than one occasion, it has looked to the past instead of the future when creating a logo.
In 2019, the company dusted off the logo it used for 32 years between 1967 and 1999 in an attempt to “celebrate its heritage”. It means the company is ditching the curvy styling that it’s been using since 1999, in favour of straight edges.
Pizza Hut hopes that by embracing its successful past it will be able to return to being the dominant player in the pizza market after it was overtaken by Dominos in 2018.
Everyone knows Gap – the company has been selling affordable fashion to consumers around the world since 1969. It now owns many other brands, including Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Hill City, but its Gap brand is the most recognised.
In reference to their ubiquity, the TV show Friends even referenced the company. In one episode, when Joey realises he and Ross are wearing the same shirt, he exclaims “stupid Gap on every corner”.
However, in 2010, the company changed its logo from its iconic blue square with “GAP” written inside, to black lettering with a small blue square in the top right of the “p”.
The logo lasted one week. Many criticised it for being “too corporate” and being completely unfitting for the casual fashion company.