Turning rebranding failures into teachable moments

Cecily Kellogg

Let’s face it, rebranding is a big risk. It’s a risk that companies take for one of several reasons — either they are moving in a bold new direction (Verizon quite successfully cut its umbilicus to Ma Bell as it moved into the 21st century), or they are trying to shed a negative association with their former identity (Blackwater Security not so successfully rebranded itself as Xe and then again as Academi after scandals over civilian deaths in Iraq).

Often another’s rebranding failure can be a learning experience for us. Knowing how and why a rebranding effort failed can help us avoid some potentially disastrous pitfalls. Here, we’ll take a look at some rebranding missteps and what we can learn from them.

The London Olympics, 2012 —What the heck is THAT?


Image courtesy of underconsideration

Each Olympiad is in itself a rebranding of a classic concept. The logo that will adorn all things Olympic for that year must be unique and eye-catching, while still incorporating the classic five interlocking rings that have symbolized the modern games. When the logo for the 30th Olympiad hosted by London in 2012 was unveiled, it was met with less than stellar reviews. Design firm Wolff Olins created the logo at a reported cost of $800,000, but critics gave it less than posh reviews, saying it was confusing, even ugly, and represented neither London nor the Olympic spirit. The “jigsaw puzzle” or “Lisa Simpson” logo, as it came to be known, was certainly bold, but was ultimately a fail.

What can we learn from this example? There are many factors that go into successful rebranding, and a bold recognizable logo is certainly one; however, it is not the only one. Successful logos embrace the spirit of the entity they represent. So if you’re looking to rebrand, consider what the image you choose says about your company. Does it emphasize your reliability, your ingenuity, your ability to integrate diverse elements? Clarity is essential, especially in business, and a confused viewer is less likely to be a new customer.

Nova and SyFy—Language matters

NBC Universal Logos

Image courtesy of wikia

Plan on doing business internationally? In the Internet age, it’s almost essential. So be sure your brand translates favorably. In the Space Age, stellar names for cars were very popular. Ford had its Galaxie, Plymouth had its Satellite, and Chevy had its Nova. And Nova was a great name — in English. Unfortunately, attempting to market the brand south of the border didn’t go do well, because in Spanish “No va” means “Doesn’t go.” Ouch. Another language misstep was the SyFy Channel’s catchy and type-friendly logo. Unfortunately, in many countries, “SyFy” is an abbreviation of syphilis. Not the association anyone one wants to have with their brand. So when choosing a brand identity, do a little research and be sure it translates favorably in the markets where it is most likely to be seen.

New Coke—If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it


Image courtesy of Coca-Cola Company

Sometimes we’re tempted to tinker with success. Coca-Cola tried it in 1985, when they tweaked their time-tested formula and released New Coke. Almost immediately it was clear this was a major error. Soda drinkers, it turned out, liked their Coke the way it was. Later efforts to rebrand the New Coke as Coke II also tanked, and Coca-Cola Classic (a return to the old formula) was the only cure for plummeting sales. The rebranding fail was good news, however, for Pepsi. What can we learn? The old saying about not fixing something that isn’t broken seems to hold true. If your only reason for rebranding is to tinker with the look of an established product, you might want to think twice.

There are many more rebranding failures and cautionary tales out there. When considering a rebranding campaign, take the time to look not only at the big successes, but also at the epic fails. As any inventor can tell you, failure can be a powerful teacher.

The author

Cecily Kellogg
Cecily Kellogg

Cecily Kellogg became an accidental designer when she worked at a short-handed non-profit and although she now prefers designing with words, the lessons she learned from doing graphic design make her work in content development more well-rounded. She writes about the intersection of family, technology, and social media for Babble Tech and runs her own web content business. She is also known for her raw tone and humor on various social media platforms including her own blog, Uppercase Woman. Cecily lives in the Philadelphia area, is happily married, is mom to a fierce and amazing daughter, and has occasionally been called a bad ass.


Related articles

Branding mistakes made by the Premier League logo

Branding mistakes made by the Premier League logo

Starting in the 2016/17 season, the legendary English Premier League will drop its sponsor, Barclays, from its branding. The league has also taken as an opportunity to completely transform their logo. There are many good reasons to redesign your logo. The most common are to realign a mark with a company development, or to actively change the public’s…

Why and how we redesigned the 99designs blog

Why and how we redesigned the 99designs blog

As a part of our larger rebranding project, 99designs recently did a complete overhaul of our blog’s look and feel. And because we’re a design company, writing about design-related topics, we figured we should probably talk a little bit about why (and how) we did what we did. The 3 reasons why we redesigned our…

Current Design Contests

Designers, check out these contests so you can start building your career.