Talk about disasters. This year saw a number of well-known brands attempting to “rebrand” themselves and ending up with results that, unfortunately, give branding—and rebranding—a bad name.
2012 set a new standard for brand stupidity.
The disasters outlined below are not examples of real rebranding. They are attempts to update the company’s image, which is called “refreshing.” Design for vanity’s sake.
This post discusses the horribly flawed logo refreshes and provides some insights into the fragmented and incomplete brand strategies behind them.
So which companies failed the worst?
The most absurd attempt to update a brand identity in 2012 was made by Gap. After only eight days of public ridicule, Gap reversed its soft rollout and went back to its original iconic logo.
GAP has clearly lost its way.
No vision. No sense of self. How else can you explain this mishap? So embarrassing.
Second: JC Penney
The situation can’t be good when you announce your third “rebranding” project in three years. You know the situation’s even worse when Forbes Magazine calls your latest effort an “epic failure.” Yikes.
Why does JC Penney feel it needs to keep reinventing itself?
This is what happens when your entire strategy and market position is built on lowest price. When your promise to consumers is the lowest price, you literally have nowhere to go but down.
Furthermore, once you’ve positioned yourself as the bargain brand, you can’t expect to reposition yourself still as a bargain brand but with newer, higher prices. You’ve broken your promise, and your customers won’t stand for it. And they’ll show you by taking their business elsewhere. (I’m not sure what the most recent statistics are, but earlier this year I read that JCP’s sales dropped nearly 20%.)
Oh Arby’s. Poor, poor Arby’s.
In October 2012, Arby’s unveiled one of the most depressing examples of a logo update I’ve ever seen. First, it used an outdated typeface. Second, it chose a weak lowercase “a” for the name. (Will the macho male ever be able to relate to this new soft lettering? Only time will tell.) Third, its redesigned apostrophe is confusing at best. And finally, its 3-D rendering of the 10-gallon hat is abysmal. Does the 3-D effect serve any purpose whatsoever? Was it designed on whimsy?
This logo was so poorly executed that Armin Vit from the esteemed branding blog, Brand New joined in the public beat-down, saying, “The new logo retains the hat shape, along with some unfortunate 3D extrusion, but replaces the typography with some flavorless, sans serif with a lowercase “a” and the sharpest, biggest (and is that shiniest?) apostrophe that no logo ever needed.”
Are these minor details? Perhaps to most people, yes. But to someone like me who thinks about branding every day, I see this as a company more concerned with looking cool than it is with delivering tasty hot sangwiches. I believe it begs the question, if Arby’s leaders are not concerned with the minor details of its highly public image, would this lack of concern translate to the not-so-public details of preparing its food? Maybe. Maybe not.
Sorry, but I don’t like betting on maybes.
Runner Up: Microsoft
Microsoft also recently changed its identity in 2012, from its good ol’ faithful of 25 years, to four squares. Yes, four squares.
If we’re redefining a brand, what do four squares convey about what Microsoft stands for as a brand? I don’t know either. I suppose if each square were meant to represent one of its products, then it would make sense. But Microsoft has five major products, so it’s obviously not the products these squares are meant to represent. I have more to say on the hapless strategic efforts behind this rebrand in a post I wrote earlier this year.
I suspect some designers would insist the new logo is “nice and clean,” but I think it’s just all-around weak. Sure, the colour palette is more playful than the original, but the typeface—with its light grey colouring and thin style—is quite vanilla. Any impact it once had with the bold lettering is now a distant memory.
Second Runner Up: Wendy’s
Wendy’s went from the logo that has served the company for 30 years to a more contemporary look. For the first time since 1983, the Ohio-based fast-food company unveiled this new updated logo.
The Associated Press release stated, “In a move intended to signal its ongoing transformation into a higher-end hamburger chain, instead of the boxy, old-fashioned lettering against a red-and-yellow backdrop, the pared down new look features the chain’s name in a casual red font against a clean white backdrop.”
While I understand that it needed to update its outdated image (and the new logo is definitely an upgrade), I don’t understand the “higher-end” aspect of this refresh effort. How does Wendy’s cute portrait accompanied by this typeface imply “higher-end?” Doesn’t it come across as something targeting youngsters?
I also don’t understand why the word “hamburgers” is missing. Without this key descriptor, Wendy’s could be a toy store or a clothing store just as much as it is a burger joint.
Rebranding isn’t done on a whim, nor is it simply a cosmetic facelift.
Real rebranding is highly strategic, intelligently conceived, complete, and interconnected. It answers very specific questions to guide and position a company.
It upsets me that these companies are not being better taken care of by those who promise them new brands. But it really upsets me that the leaders of these companies aren’t taking better care of their brands. They are walking into agencies without a clearly articulated vision, mission, or position, and asking for a new identity. All the agencies are left with are meaningless creative briefs to try and make a company look more cool or edgy.
The bottom line is the madness needs to stop. If it doesn’t, good companies will never become—or remain—great, and millions of dollars will continue to be wasted.