10 Rebranding Failures and How Much They Cost

10 Rebranding Failures and How Much They Cost

Branding any company is a huge challenge, rebranding one of the world’s biggest companies is a project that many a design agency would love to take on. However, with massive projects comes massive risk, and at times, even the best of brand strategists get it wrong.

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In this post, I take a look at some of the biggest rebranding failures in recent memory. A lot of these designs happened and then somebody pressed [CMD]+[Z] (or [CTRL] + [Z] for all of you Windows users) and reversed the whole process. Thankfully things don’t just disappear into the abyss these days, even though a lot of these brands would prefer it if they did. For me, the following 10 companies completely messed up their rebrand.

BP

BP Rebrand Before and After

BP have had a torrid time of late. In the year 2000 they replaced a strong logo that had been with their company for 70 or so years and replaced it with their current logo design, the “Helios” – Greek name of the Greek sun god. The only element of the original logo that the new design retains is the colour palette. BP used to have a concise logo with a small footprint, when they changed, the footprint increased and the logo has lost it’s timeless appeal.

The Helios logo is meant to symbolise and represent the company’s green growth strategy by taking on the form of a sun. However, when it boils down to to it, there’s nothing green about drilling oil and it seems as though BP are trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. It would have been better to stay away from this sort of connotation altogether.

After the uproar over BP’s strange new logo choice had truly died down, the company caused global outrage with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. On April the 20th 2010, BP were responsible for what is considered the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill thrust BP back into the media spotlight for all of the wrong reasons, even prompting Greenpeace to challenge people to come up with “a new logo design” for BP, relating to the spill. Some of the results were highly creative, a selection is shown below;

Creative BP Oil Spill Logos

BP are one of the world’s largest companies and they probably won’t ever revert to their original brand identity. With the largest marine oil spill of all time associated with BP, they’ll be looking to reduce the fallout from the spill and make some positive PR moves as soon as possible.

Estimated Cost: The cost of the “Helios logo design” and it’s rollout was rumoured to be $211,000,000. The company spends up to $125 million annually on improving their brand and marketing. They’ll also need to inject a lot of cash into the cleanup operation of Deepwater Horizon.

Cardiff City

Cardiff City Rebrand Before and After
Oh Cardiff City “Bluebirds”, you make me laugh. When new owner Vincent Tan took over, he decided to change Cardiff City’s brand identity as much as possible.

The Premier League football team once known as the Bluebirds, always had blue kits and a blue logo, featuring a blue logo. When Mr Tan took over, he decided to change the kit from blue to red, along with replacing the blue bird on the logo to a red dragon. Fair enough, he was playing up to the Welsh flag, but it just didn’t make sense.

So the Bluebirds are now playing in red, with their kit logo being a red Welsh dragon. Are they now nicknamed the Red Dragons? No. To add to the confusion, Vincent Tan decided to let the team keep their original nickname and added a small blue bird to the bottom of their predominately red logo. Crazy times for Cardiff City.

Estimated Cost: Vincent Tan had to plough an estimated £100 million into the football team’s rebrand. Along with the monetary cost, the rebrand also cost Cardiff City the faith and trust of a selection of their newly confused fans.

Gap

Gap Rebrand Before and After

During the busy Christmas period of 2010, Gap launched a new logo design and rebranded their company to suit. They did so with no warning. The original Gap logo, a design that had served the brand for more than 20 years, disappeared from without warning and was replaced with the new logo – the word Gap in a bold font and a square, fading diagonally from light blue to dark blue. The change was no internet hiccup, it was permanent – or so it seemed.

A small buzz began to reverberate around the design community, quiet sniggering about the new Gap logo. Soon, the internet was alive with activity and it was clear that people didn’t like the new design. Gap responded positively, revealing that their new logo design was in fact the first stage of a crowd sourcing process that allowed them to reinvent the company (proving again why you shouldn’t crowd source your design projects.)

To cut a long story short, Gap performed possibly one of the fastest branding turnarounds of all time when they reverted to their original design, just six days after putting their new logo out into the public. There are many things that can be learned from Gap’s disaster and that article might just write itself in the near future.

Estimated Cost: The Gap rebrand was estimated to have cost them $100 million, not the price tag you’d expect for something that could’ve been cobbled together using WordArt.

Holiday Inn

Holiday Inn Rebrand Before and After

When a company rebrands, you would expect the new image to be fresh looking and forward thinking, however, they’re two concepts that the Holiday Inn brand managed to overlook altogether.

While the new logo design isn’t bad by a long stretch, it’s not fantastic either. They appear to have given their brand identity a little polish nada bit of a spring clean rather than a complete overhaul. On top of that, considering the rebrand is only five years old, it’s already starting to look a little dated.

Research leads me to believe that the identity was developed by an inhouse team and only time will tell if they’ve made the right move for the international hotel chain.

Estimated Cost: The rebrand of the Holiday Inn hotel chain was dubbed “the $1 billion rebrand”, all in all, a lot of money to spend on such a generic solution.

Kraft

Kraft Rebrand Before and After

Kraft are one of the biggest food and drinks companies in the world. When they revealed their new brand identity in 2009, the design community went crazy and eventually, the food giant relented and six months later, pretty much reverted to their original concept.

So what was so bad about their new choice of logo? Well firstly, they’re using Tekton as one of their fonts. A font used only in the same breath as Comic Sans and Papyrus. A dreadful decision. And the rest of the logo? It’s just so bland and generic for such a renowned company, it’s pathetic. The original logo was like a smack in the face with one of their plastic cheese squares. It said “BOOM! WE ARE KRAFT” whereas the new logo says “We’re a food and drinks giant without any true identity, we’re quite bland and very generic, we’re Kraft, ish.”

Five months after releasing the generic logo shown above, Kraft went ahead and flipped the star to the left and changed the smile from red to blue, losing it’s nod to the original Kraft logo in the process. They then split the company in two, forming a new company called Mondelez, a story for a different article altogether, and the Kraft Foods Group who adopted an refreshed logo of the initial Kraft brand.

All in all Kraft didn’t appear to put all that much thought into their rebrand and marketing efforts and appeared to be “winging it.” Not good practice from one of the largest companies in the world. The star burst logo was entirely lost in the split, so at least one good thing came from all of the confusion.

Estimated Cost: Sapient Nitro are the agency behind Kraft’s rebrand, however, no facts and figures are available.

Microsoft

Microsoft Rebrand Before and After

Microsoft are known the world over. Manufacturing and developing products such as Windows, Xbox and Bing, they appear to be losing a lot of ground on their competitors. The amount of Apple users is on the rise, Xbox One messed up their launch campaign to Playstation 4 and Bing will never ever be a serious threat to Google.

Windows 8 brought the “Metro” look to Windows machines. The Windows operating system and Windows phone are built around the Metro style, interactive tiles and bright colours. When Windows 8 launched, Microsoft rolled out a new branding campaign, with Bing becoming the latest Microsoft product to be brought in line.

Other Microsoft Brands

My issue with the Microsoft rebrand is not the result they ended up with, more the result they could have ended up with. To be fair to Microsoft, the identity they’ve created is very sleek looking and the whole range sits very well together. However, there were better options available.

Anybody that was paying attention to the design community around the time of the Microsoft relaunch will be familiar with the work of Andrew Kim, a young designer who put together an extensive rebranding project of Microsoft’s products and services. Mr Kim’s Microsoft proposal actually went live before Microsoft rebranded. You’ve got to think that his proposal caused shock waves in the Microsoft office and eventually, Microsoft hired him. They should have bought his proposal in the process!

Estimated Cost: The Microsoft rebrand was so expansive and took place over such a long period of time, with multiple conflicting reports on the financials, that it’s impossible to calculate the cost of the project.

Pepsi

Pepsi Rebrand Before and After

Pepsi are a brand that are always going to struggle with their identity. I’ve already looked into the Coke vs Pepsi debate in another post but to summarise, Pepsi’s branding will never come close to the timeless Coca Cola identity.

The company are no stranger to logo designs, having changed their logo multiple times over the course of their company history. In 2008, Pepsi released the latest iteration of their logo, rotating the circular icon and incorporating a “cheeky smile” into the design. They accompanied this with a revolting looking typeface, leaving this designer with a less than sweet taste in his mouth.

“The white stripe on the new logo varies across Pepsi products, getting wider or thinner depending on product. The design team that spearheaded the campaign explains that they’re supposed to be “smiles,” but we don’t really see it.” – Forbes Magazine

Estimated Cost: The cost of rebranding the entire Pepsi company is said to be $1.2 billion over 3 years with the logo mark for Pepsi alone coming in at $1 million.

Royal Mail

Royal Mail Rebrand Before and After

In January 2001, Royal Mail (the UK’s biggest mail carrier) announced a new company name and brand: Consignia. What does it even mean? And surely they could have chosen a better logo design? Mike Verdin of BBC News called the new name “A duffer. A howling waste of money.”

Consign;
1. To give over to the care of another; entrust.
2. To turn over permanently to another’s charge or to a lasting condition; commit irrevocably: “Their desponding imaginations had already consigned him to a watery grave” (William Hickling Prescott).
3. To deliver (merchandise, for example) for custody or sale.
4. To set apart, as for a special use or purpose; assign.

In theory, the name fits the description of the company perfectly. In practice however, people didn’t like it. It was too long, too fussy and it hardly rolls off the tongue. There are articles online titled things like “Consignia: Nine Letters That Spelled Fiasco” which give an in depth look into the name and what a shambles the rebrand was.

Shortly after one year with the name, the head honchos reverted back to Royal Mail and mostly everything was forgiven, Consignia was forgotten about, except in design blogs where they are still bringing it up over 10 years later.

Estimated Cost: The Consignia name cost £1.5 million to launch in January 2001. A little over a year later, it cost the company £1 million to rebrand themselves again as Royal Mail.

Syfy

Syfy Rebrand Before and After

The SciFi Channel, now known as the SyFy Channel, is a satellite TV channel that broadcasts science fiction, drama, supernatural, fantasy, reality, paranormal, wrestling, and horror programming. In 2009, the SciFi Channel was rebranded as Syfy, a move met with outrage from viewers around the world.

By changing the name to Syfy, which remains phonetically identical, the new brand broadens perceptions and embraces a wider and more diverse range of imagination-based entertainment including fantasy, paranormal, reality, mystery, action and adventure, as well as science fiction. It also positions the brand for future growth by creating an ownable trademark that can travel easily with consumers across new media and non-linear digital platforms, new international channels and extend into new business ventures. – Syfy Press Release

By emphasising how the name Syfy is the same as SciFi, they’ve shot themselves in the foot. At the end of the day, what they’re trying to say is “We’re the same…but different!” A lot of people will have been comfortable with the name SciFi, finding solace in being a “sci-fi nerd.” Consider that target market alienated (no pun intended.)

All in all, this was a fairly shoddy move, and the new visuals look dreadful when compared to the fantastically simplistic Saturn logo design.

Tropicana

Tropicana Rebrand Before and After

PepsiCo aren’t renowned for their fantastic branding efforts. Earlier in this post we talked about PepsiCo’s failure with the Pepsi brand. Now, we’re going to look at one of the other brands they own, Tropicana.

At the same time as PepsiCo were failing at rebranding the black fizzy drink, they were also looking at adjusting and rebranding the other companies they have, including Mountain Dew and Tropicana. The Mountain Dew rebrand didn’t end up looking as bad as the rest and has escaped the clutches of this post, the Tropicana rebrand however, is a different story altogether.

While I felt the rebrand looked a lot cleaner, it lost it’s identity somewhat. The orange was gone, it turned into a visual reflection of the liquid inside the container. If they were going to do that, they could’ve gone with a plastic window? The upper arched curved Tropicana typeface is gone and overall, the packaging just looks rather bland and generic.

The sales figures came out to reveal sales of the Tropicana Pure Premium line had plummeted by a whopping 20% . On the revelation of the figures, PepsiCo reversed their decision to rebrand and reverted the carton design to what they had originally.

Estimated Cost: While there are no exact costs for the actual redesign and rebranding of Tropicana, it is estimated the move cost Tropicana around $137 million in sales between January 1st and February 22nd.

You might agree or disagree with the companies I’ve featured here, but what can we learn from all of this? Firstly – your strategy and approach to rebranding needs to be well thought out and planned meticulously. No just doing it for the sake of doing it. And secondly – even the biggest companies get things wrong. So in future, if something doesn’t go quite right for you, just think to yourself “well, at least I didn’t spend millions in the process” (unless you did, then panic.)

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So that’s it. 10 massive companies that rebranded to no avail, some ran with it anyway, others learned from their mistakes and backtracked. You can learn a lot through studying a rebrand. What do you think about these rebranding efforts? Sound off civilly below.

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30 Responses

  1. Great article Tony. I still can’t believe the gap logo, I personally think it is the worst rebrand in history. The previous logo was so iconic, why change it? Either the Directors just wanted to get the meeting over and done with as soon as possible, or a very persuasive designer (with obviously more talent persuading than designing) decided to wing it and take the cash (not the right way to go about design at all).

      1. Patricia

        Hi Tony, How did you get to $100 million? I assume that includes more than design cost. Can’t imagine laird received anywhere near that figure.

        1. Tony Hardy

          Hi Patricia. It was widely reported that Vincent Tan spent £100 million on the club when he came in. It definitely did include more than the rebrand! Thanks for your comment.

  2. Reader X

    I think you got half right.

    Gap was a disaster, but we all know that one. Tropicana was clearly a blunder. Pepsi was a mildly confused rebrand. Microsoft was middling, at best. I can understand Royal Mail wanting to get away from outdated brand (royalty is terribly anachronistic), but the new brand didn’t take well with the older, nostalgic crowd who use postal mail.

    On the other hand, Syfy was a brilliant move to create a unique and protectable name. Kraft stopped looking like an 1800s crate stamp and created something more in-line with modern times. Holiday Inn made a modest improvement with their incremental shift was away from an uninspired logo to a cleaner version of an uninspired logo. Cardiff had the right idea to drop the silly bluebird shield and go with a more aggressive red dragon, but did not follow through with a nickname change.

    And BP? Man, that tired old 1920s logo really needed to retire. Their helios logo was brilliant. I think it’s ridiculous to attack it simply because an oil spill caused activists to poke fun at the brand. Those same activists could very easily have done silly things with the old logo. BP should NOT revert back to their pre-WWI logo. Their new logo looks great and carries good symbolism for how the brand wishes to project itself.

    1. Thanks for reading and thanks for the comments.

      Consignia was a total failure. I agree Royal Mail need to get away from what they’ve got. I’m not convinced they’ll ever manage it though.

      Syfy, I totally disagree. Yes they can protect it, but, it’s also slang for syphilis, and who wants that? And, what was actually wrong with The SciFi Channel, which is totally protectable? Kraft, again, disagree. That was a total disaster. Why go with something generic and long winded that doesn’t stand up to modern tests very well? Much preferred the “crate stamp.”

      Holiday Inn was really just “meh.” They sort of rebranded, sort of didn’t. I’d like to have seen more of an improvement than what they got. Cardiff, well, the bluebird never bothered me, but, it should’ve been an “all or nothing” rebrand.

      BP…I don’t think their new logo looks great at all. I think it’s overly fussy, too big a footprint and to be honest, it doesn’t symbolise all that much. Sun and nature? That’s not what the oil industry is renowned for is it really? Activists find a way to do something to anything, and sure the old logo could’ve came under fire too. However, I think the old logo was more of a statement. Bold and in your face. They’re not messing around with it. And they’ll never change back, so you’ll win this one!

      Thanks again for your comment!

  3. stren

    Half right is correct ,ReaderX. If you don’t understand the subtitles of BP, Holiday Inn, Tropicana or SYFY you probably don’t know what modern branding is or recognize the name Landor. Best to spend a few more years working with real clients making real things, then share your opinion.

  4. Very interesting and informative post. Here i would like to share few more logo prices.
    The Pepsi logo of 2008, cost $1,000,000
    The BBC logo, designed in 1997, cost $1,800,00
    The BP’s redesigned logo of 2008 cost $211,000,000

    Nike spent only $35 for its logo in 1971
    Twitter paid only $15 for its original design
    Google did not pay a single cent for its original logo in 1998
    Neither did Coca Cola

  5. Really interesting comments on all of these case studies so thanks for putting all of this together. I would agree on the obvious Consignia and Gap shambles. The one I disagree with is the holiday inn, I thought that the positive typography, the simplicity of the mark and the more friendly green palette worked really well. The emotional response that I get from this is what I imagine the company are trying to achieve.

    1. Hi David, thank you very much for commenting. It’s good to hear contrasting points of view. Different things appeal to different people! Maybe the Holiday Inn rebrand wasn’t all that bad! They’re still the best of the “budget hotel” lot too.

  6. Rob

    More than half of these look like absolutely amazing rebrands! BP, Holiday Inn, Microsoft. Without seeing the brand foundation and what they were trying to achieve it’d be hard for me to say they are fantastic. But I don’t think you can call something a failure because you don’t like it. That isn’t what design is about at all.

    1. Hi Rob, I agree that I can’t call something a failure because I don’t like it, but I don’t think that’s what I’m doing here? Consignia – failure, it just didn’t work. Gap – failure, it just didn’t work.

      BP’s looks good, but it was quickly appropriated and turned into a marketing campaign for Greenpeace. Holiday Inn, personally I don’t like, but like I say “only time will tell if it’s a failure.” Microsoft, I regret including as my opinion on this piece has shifted.

      You make a valid point in stating that it’s not opinion based and without seeing the foundation and the statistics, something can’t be deemed a failure. Thanks for a great comment.

  7. jess

    Thanks for a great article! I am currently working on a re-brand for a client and when I thought it was all going pear shape this gave me a real moral boost 😉 Thanks for taking the time to provide us with all this great info! 🙂

  8. Mike

    Some of these on your list is a bit of a stretch. Cardiff, BP, Microsoft, Holiday Inn, even Pepsi. I think they are fresh and modern and fit in at the appropriate time.

    1. Tony Hardy

      Personally, I’m not sure a brand should be “fitting in at the time.” Shouldn’t it be timeless rather than “on trend”?

  9. Roman, rob

    The United Airlines was a major disaster of a well known brand. Whether one thought the company was a great airline all the way down to a horrible employer, everyone knew the brand and you could count on the air carrier to fly you where you needed to go. They marketed the best route system, best frequent flyer program and the best perks to it’s most frequent flyer. All which went away upon merging (really a buyout) with Continental Airlines. While profits are up, due to fuel and the consolidation/merger of major air carriers, United is still struggling to move forward and really complete the merger of 2010. The company livery, corporate style and marketing is hardly recognizable and not relative to United and it’s most loyal customers. I think it’s time to reverse and bring the airline back to it’s glory years. I think they were cursed upon changing the brand.

    1. Tony Hardy

      Hi Rob,

      This is a great comment, thank you very much! I never knew that about United Airlines. Would love to hear more about it.

      Tony

  10. k

    Actually I think BP’s logo redesign was excellent. Before the spill, I had no idea they were just an oil company — I really though of them as something more green.

    Don’t blame the logo for Deepwater Horizon.

    1. Tony Hardy

      Of course you can’t blame a logo for Deepwater Horizon, that would be senseless. It’s just an unfortunate coincidence the rebrand and Deepwater happened around the same time.

  11. Gio

    British Airways was another one which spent a lot on a rebrand and then quickly reverted to what it had before – and what it still has today.

    btw you use “it’s” when a lot of the time you should be using “its”.

    1. Tony Hardy

      Ah the good old English language and the apostrophe rule. Its and it’s! Tut tut. We’ll get someone to comb through it and get it put right 🙂 Thanks. I never noticed the British Airways rebrand – what happened there?

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