Sales & Marketing

The five best, and five worst, rebrands of recent times

13 min read

27 May 2015

Former editor

In light of Wonga’s new branding and “soft approach”, Real Business brings you examples of when company rebranding has been a success, and when it was probably better leaving it as was.

Short-term finance provider Wonga has had it pretty hard over the last few years. As the poster child for the quick cash market, it had been blasted by the media, consumers and regulators over its “misleading” borrowing rates.

Once heralded as the next big British business success story under the leadership of enigmatic co-founder Errol Damelin, it recently reported a pre-tax loss of £37.3m for 2014.

In an effort to try and regain its lofty perch, Wonga’s management team decided upon both a fresh logo and different approach to advertising. Gone were its notorious old-aged pensioner puppets and “slider tool” for setting borrowing amounts, and in their place a soft approach showing how its services are being used by “hard-working dinner ladies and mums”.

Only time will tell as to whether its, probably expensive, change in marketing tack will work. But it is hard to argue that something had to change. It’s new direction didn’t get off to the best start though when it was realised that the new kit of Newcastle United, a club Wonga sponsors, was launched with the company’s old logo because of a lack of alignment in design schedules.

Five of the best:

Burberry

There was a time when Burberry’s iconic cheque pattern became synonymous with the football stands of Britain. Decked out in both real and fake Burberry caps and scarves, football hooligans were nearly responsible for driving a British heritage brand out of business.

Fast-forward a decade and the hiring of transformative CEO and new global design director, reinforcement of the brand’s heritage origin and use of popular models such as Emma Watson, Kate Moss and now David Beckham’s son Romeo has seen it rebound in spectacular fashion.

While there was not distinct change in logo or colour scheme, Burberry embraced digital marketing though a partnership with Google and an acoustic music project with considerable success.

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Airbnb

While Airbnb wasn’t exactly in need of a rebrand, it hired a London-based creative agency to provide a universally recognised brand synonymous with travel, hospitality and sharing. As all good rebrands do, this got people talking and a considerable amount of column inches filled.

Airbnb’s new “Belo” logo was the subject of many Photoshop alterations shared on social media, but is “something anyone can draw” and is allowing the apartment rental site to go about worldwide marketing with the same approach.

In an interview with new Airbnb UK country manager James McClure in March, he told Real Business: “The fact that it is still being talked about nine months later shows the mileage we’ve got from it. Thinking about where it’s had large benefits, when you’re expanding internationally in places such as Asia, where we have a big focus, having an iconic name and logo certainly helps. We’re happy with what it represents and have enjoyed the various discussions on what it may or may not look like.”

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Apple

This one is looking a little further back, but it would be hard to imagine Apple being as successful as it is today if it had stuck with early iterations of its logo. Like many before and after it, Apple realised simplicity was key – coming up with a visual that would be memorable and recognisable throughout the world.

While still not quite on the same level as McDonald’s, Nike or Coca-Cola in terms of worldwide awareness of a logo, the Apple branding complements the sleek and engineered appearance of its products well.

Removing colour gave Apple a more modern and sophisticated look, whilst also getting rid of any wording meant it was free to become whatever business it wanted, selling whatever products it felt the public were in need of.

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Fitness First

Costing over £200m, the rebranding of gym chain Fitness First involved a new logo, website and user experience following feedback from customers. Getting rid of its traditional blue and white brand colours, red was chosen to portray “energy and strength”.

Having been snapped up by private equity firm Oaktree Capital Management in 2012, management decided on a freshen up to “redefine the category and help return the business to profit”.

The new logo and feel of the business has undoubtedly smartened up its appearance and, under a new ambitious CEO, it has rebounded from nearly entering administration and is bringing in a record amount of new members.

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Lynx

For any child growing up in the 1990s, Lynx became the smell of the changing room. Known as Axe outside of the UK, its recent rebrand was about making the brand more grown up and part of a male’s grooming programme.

It’s hard to pinpoint the start and end of Lynx’s rebrand, as it all began with its well-known adverts suggesting it was successful in attracting women. In a similar move to the one being taken by US brand Old Spice, Lynx has realised the older male demographic is a bit more lucrative.

The new Lynx black range has created a more grown-up set of products. Creative agency Elmwood came up with a new Lynx/Axe logotype, which features a break in the X “as a nod to men’s DNA”.

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And a weird one:

Google

Only Google could call changing one pixel in its logo a rebrand – but “rebrand” it did in 2014. For only the third time in a decade, a small change was made in the pursuit of perfection.

Every decision made by Google is done so with the bottom line in mind, so it is safe to assume that this was thought about long and hard and will have the desired effect.

In fact, once switching the shade of blue used on advertising links in Gmail and Google search earned the business an additional $200m a year in revenue.

Read on to find out the worst rebranding exercises.


Five of the worst:

Cardiff City Football Club

When you’ve been around for over 100 years and have had the same nickname, colour scheme and comparable badge design, going for a change across the board is sure to ruffle some feathers.

However, when Thai businessman Vincent Tan bought into the club back in 2010, he decided it was in the club’s best interest to have an image that would attract more Asian fans.

From the blue of the Bluebirds to the red of the Dragons, the rebranding was wildly unpopular with loyal fans and the club was forced to retreat and bring back the blue of yesteryear.

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Gap

Except in exceptional circumstances, when a company the public has come to know and love introduces a new logo they will want you to notice it and come to the conclusion that it is better.

In Christmas of 2010 Gap introduced a new logo with no warning that first went unnoticed. When the public did pick up on it, feedback was not good.

Only six days after the new logo had been unveiled, and a considerable amount spent, Gap did a u-turn and bought back its original.

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MasterCard

Another brand and logo that has become instantly recognisable the world over due to its appearance on credit and debit cards, someone in the marketing team obviously felt they weren’t busy enough.

Trading in the value of a memorable logo, a new and rather more complicated one was introduced.

After being told by customer and the public that the company had got it all wrong, MasterCard, like many others before it, back-pedalled and brought back the old logo. The new one, perhaps to justify the price paid for it, was only used in business communications.

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Royal Mail

When Royal Mail moved from state ownership to private control in 2001, the powers that be decided a rebrand was in order to. The process involved an entirely new name, Consignia.

What was once an iconic name and logo was changed overnight, and rather predictably the majority responded with distain.

Realising that they’d made the wrong move, management changed the company’s name back to Royal Mail a year later. With the postal service having been floated on the stock market in 2013, in a move that was believed to have undervalued its worth, maybe we can look forward to another ill-fated branding change in the coming years.

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TNT

Separating out into two companies in 2011, TNT’s Post division was rebranded to Whistl – a “much more human, friendly and consumer facing” appearance.

The company had plans to up staff numbers from 3,000 then to 20,000 by 2019 on the back of the new name and look – but not all has gone to plan.

In early May of 2015, Whistl suspended door-to-door devilries in three cities and announced it was consulting 2,000 workers in redundancy. It was then revealed that its potential private equity backer, LDC, was not prepared to fund expansion plans.

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And a weird one:

London 2012 Olympics


This wasn’t a rebrand, as no brand had existed before, but is a classic example of creating something the public just didn’t like.

Costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, the pink, blue, green and orange logo (something should have told them they were going wrong with that combination) was unveiled in 2007.

Cue an internet backlash fuelled by some clever Photoshop work suggesting what the logo really looked like. The Guardian come to the conclusion: “The problem with all this is that the new logo is fundamentally patronising. Would-be adults in charge of events like the London 2012 Olympics should put childish things, language and ‘brand savvy’ logos aside. No child is impressed by parents who try to dress like infants in, for example, all-day pyjama outfits and baseball caps, or who try to speak in the latest, and supposedly fashionable, jargon.”