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3 rebranding lessons from Caitlyn Jenner

3 rebranding lessons from Caitlyn Jenner David Zaleski

Yes, we're going there.

You may not look at the Caitlyn Jenner situation and think of anything but a man transitioning into a woman. But even if you haven't paid attention to the story, you've no doubt heard about it. It's completely unavoidable. In fact, Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn Jenner will probably be the most viral story of 2015. As an added bonus, it serves as a unique template for successful rebranding.

Image sources here and here.

Marketers may not think they have much to learn from this situation, but you may be surprised. Read on for a few simple lessons that brands can take away from America's most popular story.

Revealing your motives is everything

Jenner did rebranding right (whether it was conscious or not) starting with an honest 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer in April 2015. In it, she came out as a trans woman and admitted that she had been struggling with gender dysphoria since childhood. She revealed the problems in her marriage to Kris Jenner and the events leading up to her decision to go public with the transition.

It was a shocking and very raw discussion that dove deep into very personal territory. No one can deny that it took an admirable amount of bravery to speak out on this issue, both for herself and behalf of the entire transgender community. More than 20.7 million viewers watched the interview making it one of the most viral stories of 2015.


The first lesson for brands is simple: rebranding is more than changing your look; it's about revealing your motives behind the change. Consumers care much more about your motivation than the action of rebranding itself. Remember 1985's New Coke?

Image source here.

Coca-Cola had no reason to rebrand and was universally loved when it decided one day to change its entire formula. It now goes down in history as one of the biggest rebranding failures of all time. One big reason it was not successful (besides the apparent lackluster taste) was because the public didn't know why it had changed. Coca-Cola gave no information to the public about why it had revamped its formula.

In reality, Coca-Cola changed the taste to compete with Pepsi and become a sweeter soda. Blind taste tests proved that consumers preferred more sugar. While we'll never know, New Coke probably would have found more success if they had just marketed to the public the truth: we thought you wanted a sweeter soft drink.

Revealing your motives is key to generate public acceptance. Successful rebranding's require honesty, and in todays environment it's very hard for a large brand to hid the obvious facts behind a big move.

Whether she knew it at the time or not, Jenner's revealing and emotional interview was one of the smartest decisions she made to take the next step and be embraced by the public. The transgender community still faces misunderstandings and disrespect, and her honest revelation of her motives, drivers, and feelings were vital for easing the public into this change and helping everyone understand it. Brands can take this as a big rebranding lesson if they want their reinvented image to be accepted by consumers.

Relaunch with a bang

On June 1, Vanity Fair published the cover of an in-depth cover story featuring Jenner's new name and look: Caitlyn Jenner.

Image source here.

It instantly became one of the most viral images on internet. It was her first public debut and an unprecedented bold PR move by the former Olympian. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Buzz Bissinger wrote the story, and the photos were shot by the acclaimed Annie Leibovitz.

While the cover photo was busy breaking the internet, Jenner launched her own Twitter account, reaching 1 million followers in four hours -- shattering President Obama's record for the fasting-grossing Twitter following. Her first tweet has been re-tweeted more than 270,000 times.

Exactly why she decided to go so public with her new image in such an elaborate fashion we still don't know. However, what is clear is that this bold move ignited a viral fire and introduced the new Jenner brand in an exciting way. Having listened to her reveal her motives in the April 20/20 interview, this new image wasn't something people were just expecting: they were anticipating. The public was on the edge of its seat to eventually catch a glimpse of the new transformed Jenner. When she launched her new look in such a strong and unapologetic way it sent shock waves throughout the social media world.

Brands shouldn't expect that their changes will necessarily go this viral, but the worst thing a rebranding can do is hold back and be timid when it launches. Consumers can sense apprehension and doubt. If a brand doesn't feel like it's proud of its new look, feel, or direction people will be able tell. That's never good when you're trying to relaunch and gain traction for a new image. The thematic manner in which Jenner relaunched herself holds many great lessons for the marketing community: spare no expense and focus on generating excitement.

Unapologetically own your rebranding and the public will follow

Since the Diane Sawyer interview, Vanity Fair shoot and Twitter account launch, E! has announced an eight-part documentary series chronicling Jenner's transition. She has not been shy about this move and has allowed unprecedented personal access into all stages of this undertaking. As a reality star and former Olympic gold medalist, it's no surprise that the media wants to cover this story. However, it was Jenner's choice to be so open and to grant the public such a private look into her personal transition. Since all the virality, she's been owning the new image and ignoring the hatters.

The support for Jenner has been overwhelming on social media. In just a few days, Jenner transformed herself from a reality show punch line to an icon for transgender equality and mainstream recognition.

Brands can learn a lot from this situation because all rebranding's -- personal or corporate -- come down to one thing: public acceptance. From the Tropicana repackaging debacle of 2009, to Radio Shack's horrendous attempt to be hip with "The Shack," rebranding disasters occur when there is a perfect storm of initial dishonesty (or the perception of dishonesty) a lame public rollout and an ultimate retraction or apology.

Jenner, while undergoing a personal change, took basic and relevant steps that marketers shouldn't ignore. By revealing your honest rebranding motives to the public, launching with huge fanfare, and boldly standing by your new image, any marketer can accomplish a successful rebranding and avoid the fate of so many past failed attempts. This situation -- regardless of how you feel about it -- is a microcosm of how to do it right.

David Zaleski is media production manager at iMedia Communications.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

David Zaleski is the Media Production Supervisor for iMedia Communications, Inc. and Comexposium USA. He graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a BA in Film & Television Production, specializing in editing, animation, and...

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