In November, Facebook, Inc., changed its name to Meta Platforms, Inc., joining countless businesses that have rebranded. Their stories show that rebranding sometimes works—and sometimes fails miserably.
Names are important. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” (Proverbs 22:1) The verse is speaking of human reputations, but it can hold true for brands too.
Rebranding involves changing a name, logo, or even direction for an established brand. Bad publicity, a purpose shift, or an energizing refresh are some reasons that companies might rebrand.
But rebranding is risky: If consumers dislike the new brand or if it doesn’t catch on, a bad situation could get worse.
Here are two rebrandings that didn’t succeed:
Netflix >> Qwikster
Netflix announced in 2011 that it would split into two services. The online streaming branch would remain Netflix; the DVD rental division became Qwikster. But customers suddenly had to pay for two services instead of one. In no mood to accept the “qwirky” name, they lambasted it. Netflix dropped Qwikster within months.
Tribune Publishing >> Tronc >> Tribune Publishing
Founded in 1847, Tribune Publishing is a celebrated publisher of major newspapers including the Chicago Tribune. But in 2016, print advertising revenue was declining, and big chains were merging. To avoid being swallowed and to increase income, Tribune rebranded to Tronc Inc.—for “Tribune online content.” Folks mocked the silly-sounding moniker, and Tronc changed back to Tribune in 2018.
Most rebranding involves careful thought and broad market research. The following worked so well, few people remember the originals:
Brad’s Drink >> Pepsi
In 1893, North Carolina pharmacist Caleb Bradham created a bubbly new beverage. Borrowing part of his last name, he called it Brad’s Drink. But the name lacked pop. After five years, he rebranded to Pepsi-Cola. The made-up word pepsi came from dyspepsia, meaning “indigestion.” Ironic, since Bradham’s so-called “healthful” cola supposedly aided digestion.
Pete’s Super Submarines >> Subway
Pete’s Super Submarines was founded in 1965. The name recognized Peter Buck, who had loaned the restaurant’s 17-year-old founder, Fred DeLuca, $1,000 to launch his hoagie empire. But the name was confusing. People heard Pete’s Submarines as “Pizza Marines.” Buck and DeLuca chose to rebrand as Subway in 1968.
Open Kettle >> Dunkin’ Donuts >> Dunkin’
William Rosenberg started slinging doughnuts and coffee in 1948 at “Open Kettle.” Two years later, he rebranded as “Dunkin’ Donuts.” That alliterative name stuck until 2018 when executives dropped that seemingly all-important second word. Naming expert Laurel Sutton explains why droppin’ donuts worked: “Rebranding efforts succeed when the new brand is already in use.” She cites Kentucky Fried Chicken’s KFC rebrand triumph. As Dunkin’s ad points out, “Our friends call us Dunkin’.”
Blue Ribbon Sports >> Nike
Nike is one of the most recognized brands on Earth. But first, there was Blue Ribbon Sports. (Yawn.) Track athlete Phil Knight and coach Bill Bowerman began the company in the 1960s. In 1971, employee Jeff Johnson dreamt up a new name (literally!) and proposed Nike, after the Greek goddess of victory. Swoosh! That was a winning rebrand.
Why? Getting—and keeping—a good name is important, in relationships and even in business! Adaptability is also a valuable trait in both arenas.