While PR is my game, rebranding and repositioning can often be a part of the services I provide. And while I don’t often deal with consumer rebranding, I’m admittedly fascinated when companies attempt a rebrand – and how consumers react to this rebrand. Often I find myself insulted by rebranding efforts. When Kentucky Fried Chicken attempted to have us forget their food is fried and generally unhealthy, they became “KFC” in 1991. Yes, they’ve added some grilled chicken to the menu but let’s be honest here, the rebrand was done to remove the word “fried” from the public consciousness. KFC’s president of U.S. operations admitted as much when the change was made.
Did it work for KFC? By most accounts, not really. The company partially reversed course four years later, restoring the name to several locations, and sales did not receive the anticipated boost. An Ad Age editorial took KFC further to task, pointing to the fact that it is one thing to change your name, but another if the name change infers that there was something inherently wrong with what the company was selling, and leaving customers to question what the brand now stood for.
Another recent three-letter acronym rebrand attempt is JC Penney, or as the sticker on my weekly newspaper delivery indicates, “JCP.” The acronym here is an attempt to run away from the brand association consumers have with the name, that of a bland, low-price bin of goods that probably held more appeal before the Walmarts and Targets of the world began selling clothing in earnest. By most accounts, this rebrand is an epic fail of massive proportions. In this case however, JCP has gone far beyond condensing its name to three letters. Led by Apple retail guru Ron Johnson, the plan was to use parts of the Apple Store model in JCP stores. If only button down shirts had the sizzle of iPads — a $427 million Q4:2012 loss and evidence that JCP’s repositioning has not only failed to resonate with new customers, but alienated and confused core customers leaves the company with a deep hole to climb out of.
Some organizations don’t even bother to shorten or “acronym-ize” their name during a rebrand, and instead simply change uppercase letters to lowercase. British broadcaster ITV recently rolled out a multi-million dollar rebrand anchored by a new lowercase logo, and the effort was quickly pilloried by their viewing audience. Here is a company that issued a press release to announce a new brand that includes a dazzling combination of “capital and lowercase letters” as well as putting part of its name in boldface! My god, your customers will hardly be able to recognize you anymore!
Probably my least favorite rebrand of all time is Radio Shack. First things first – there is no doubt Radio Shack needed to rebrand. Radio sounded out of touch and highly limiting to the products it wanted to sell. But to spend hundreds of millions of dollars at launch time to switch to “The Shack” was a head scratcher – especially since it was purportedly done to try and seem more hip and cool. If I surveyed teenagers on what words they associated with “Shack,” cutting edge technology would probably not make the list. More likely they’d associate the Shack as a place to go smoke after school or buy some batteries for a flashlight.
Rebranding as an exercise can be valuable, but many organizations stumble by not poring as much time and resources in the message backing up the new logo (the steak) as they do in the design and strategy for the logo (the sizzle). Additionally, organizations often focus on a rebrand path to reach new customers, without first assuring that existing customers will not be turned off in a rebranding effort.