You would have thought we would have learned our lesson from that damn New Coke fiasco.
Yet, failed attempts at rebranding continue. One of the boldest experiments in marketing, rebranding has never been a scarier proposition as it is today. Hence, the hashtag #epicfail. Years of reputations and relationships can now come to a crashing halt within seconds of a rebranding mistake via the often unforgiving world of social media.
iMedia Connection decided to take a look at a handful of the worst rebrandings of the past few years -- not to make a mockery of them, but to see what all marketers can learn from other brands' biggest mistakes.
Overstock.com becomes O.co (2011)
In June 2011, internet retailer Overstock.com completed its transition to the name O.co. Only three months later, the company returned to Overstock.com -- but not before spending millions of dollars on a six-year naming rights deal with the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
A decade of brand equity was not enough to get customers to greet this particular rebranding warmly. Customers swarmed the company with questions regarding the name change. They accused the company of moving far too quickly in terms of changing the name of a brand that customers were still getting to know. Some marketing executives went so far as to question the use of the beloved letter O, which had long been associated with Queen Oprah herself. Overstock.com president Jonathon Johnson buckled under the pressure weeks later and admitted that the company had been too aggressive with its initial rebranding strategy.
Although O.co can still be used as a shortcut to reach the deal-finding website, the still-planned switch to O.co doesn't seem to be taking hold as much as the brand's internal team might have hoped. At the beginning of March, the O.co Travel portion of the Overstock.com website was closed. The O.co Cars, O.biz B2B, and O.info sections remain on the site -- for now, at least.
RadioShack becomes The Shack (2009)
Sometime between the iPod and the iPad, RadioShack decided to get all hip on us. In August 2009, the iconic electronics retailer swiftly dropped the "Radio" from its name and chose to be known forevermore as "The Shack."
Come to find out that the word the company's marketing execs were sure was their greatest liability (i.e., radio) was instead one of their greatest assets. Of course, this realization came a bit too late. The 92-year-old electronics store had already spent nearly all of its $200-million-dollar budget in 2009 on new television and digital ads to proclaim to the world that "The Shack" was here to stay. While the change was made initially to attract savvy shoppers in search of a wider range of electronic products, the retailer quickly discovered that it's never fun to play with an iconic American legacy brand or its loyal customer base.
Although "The Shack" ads now find themselves at the bottom of some digital dump somewhere, the term is far from dead. Brand copy referring to "The Shack" remains evident within RadioShack.com these days. Yet, the brand itself continues to find itself dealing with a long list of business challenges; the decision to focus on sales of popular (yet lower profit margin) items, such as tablet computers and smartphones, to help offset declining sales of consumer electronics is still hurting earnings in the long run.
Pizza Hut becomes The Hut (2009)
In 2009, hearsay became news when the public got wind of Pizza Hut's plans to forever be known as "The Hut." Attributing the change to the need to better fit within 2009's texting generation, Pizza Hut officials spent many weeks claiming that this brand name change was never set in stone.
"Pizza Hut is not changing its name," said Brian Niccol, CMO of Pizza Hut, in a 2009 press release. "We are proud of our name and heritage and will continue to be Pizza Hut. We do use 'The Hut' in some of our marketing efforts. To the loyal fans of Pizza Hut and pizza lovers around the world, we're happy to tell you that nothing is changing, we're still Pizza Hut, America's Favorite Pizza."
The college junior who likes his pizza at 3 a.m. rarely reads press releases from marketing heads. And in turn, the damage was already done. Yet the days of the "Hut" still sneak into the marketing plans of Pizza Hut in 2013. This past January, Pizza Hut made news with its "Hut Hut Hut" campaign, which helped introduce the new pizza sliders menu item during the must-watch Super Bowl.
Tropicana's new packaging (2009)
Who would have thought an orange would stir up so much controversy? Yet it did in 2009, when PepsiCo partnered with design and branding company The Arnell Group to launch a new look for the iconic beverage company. Yet their innocent intentions to simply repackage the Tropicana offerings became dangerously close to a rebranding disaster. Mothers with babies and men with girlfriends left their grocery store aisles perplexed and downright shaken by the change in the look of their orange juice -- and a public outcry ensued.
(Source: Reprise Media)
Sales fell nearly 20 percent. The repackaging was compared to changing the Mona Lisa. The universe shifted -- or so it seemed for those few weeks before PepsiCo executives retreated back to the original logo.
These days, the brand treads lightly. Moves to new bottle sizes and certain containers are made with caution -- with many still trying to get that bad taste out of their mouths.
Dr Pepper Ten (2011)
OK. I get it. The picture of a hot guy holding a cold diet anything is a tad odd. But in 2011, the No. 3 soft drink company Dr Pepper, was called a sexist when it attempted to bash the stereotype of diet soda. Sure, its intentions were good. It was looking to create and promote a better-tasting alternative for men who disliked the image and taste of diet soda.
Boldly declaring that its new 10-calorie soft drink, Dr Pepper Ten, was "not for women," the beverage maker essentially pissed off a majority of its female customers. One television ad went so far as to promote a faux action movie in which men jumped off cliffs while proclaiming that women should stick with their girly diet sodas.
So yes, the marketing surrounding the Ten platform did not get off to a great start. But here's to Dr Pepper Snapple Group for not giving up on the entire Ten concept. The company actually learned from its misstep. Rather than one of the worst rebrands of all time, this is the story of a rebrand that saved a terrible launch.
Earlier this year, the group rolled out 10-calorie versions of five of its biggest soda brands: 7Up Ten, A&W Ten, Sunkist Ten, Canada Dry Ten, and RC Ten, in addition to its existing Dr Pepper Ten.
And guess what? The new 10-calorie sodas are being marketed to both men and women rather successfully. Being cited as one of the company's biggest-ever national ad campaigns, the ads for the new drinks will target both sexes and play off the theme of "Get Both." and learning to compromise via their shared love for the 10 calorie beverages.
Tricia Despres is a freelance writer.
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