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June 14, 2024

Unraveling the Top 10 Rebranding Fails (And What You Can Learn From Them)

Gouri Sasidharan

Unraveling the Top 10 Rebranding Fails (And What You Can Learn From Them)

December 15, 2023
June 14, 2024
Gouri Sasidharan


Rebranding is a double-edged sword. When you execute seamlessly, it steers the brand to a fresh era of relevance. However, when mismanaged, it can lead to a disaster affecting your loyal customers and tarnishing your brand's reputation built over time.

In this blog, we dissect the top 10 rebranding fails, where they fell, and what lessons you can take away as a marketer to not repeat the same mistakes. 

1. X (Formerly known as Twitter)

Well, this one doesn’t need an intro! It was one of the trending topics in 2023. Twitter, or X (bird exits the scene), known for its spectacular branding for years, went  through a spontaneous rebranding after Elon Musk took over. 

Twitter (now X) before and after logo
Source: Adobe Stock

In the run to catch up with modernity and relevance, they strayed away from the brand  identity. The new name “X” doesn’t represent anything that the platform does.  Many of the users had negative responses to this sudden transition. 

What to learn?

  • Maintain consistency: A well-planned rebranding would look into every single touchpoint and detail including the user interface and color palette. X could have done a better job of maintaining the brand identity which Twitter did for a long time.
  • User engagement: With the hasty announcement made by Elon Musk, all the users could find was the change in the wording from ‘Tweets’ to ‘Posts’ and ‘Retweets’ to ‘Reposts’ making no changes in the UI/UX of the platform. However, the brand ignored user sentiments built over time by taking a major chunk of their relevance with the platform.

What not to learn?

  • Following trends blindly: You don’t have to forever keep changing the face of your brand to catch up with the trends. Sometimes the outcomes can be generic and forgettable.
  • Aesthetics over visuals: Your customers have a perception of your brand that makes them loyal customers. A visually appealing logo or a name doesn't guarantee success if it doesn't effectively communicate the brand's value proposition, especially an existing one. 
  • Rushing the process: Rebranding is a complex process and requires careful planning and execution. But before that, you need to analyze whether your brand needs a makeover and if it applies to the current market. Here, X lost between $4 billion and $20 billion after rebranding which Twitter had made over the years because of its rage. 

Also read: How X Missed the Spot on Rebranding: And How You Can Do Better

2. Max

It’s confusing which ‘Max’ we are specifying here. This points out the lack of uniqueness of  the brand name. HBO Max, earlier this year, announced that they are

changing their name to Max after a lot of planning and research to resonate with audiences of all groups. But doubts are whether shortening the brand name was ever relevant to the audience as most of them grew up watching the iconic TV shows on HBO.  

Max - before and after logo
Source: Variety

What to learn?

  • Conciseness and recall: Max is a shorter name that is easy to remember and pronounce. Shorter names can help with the branding of various platforms.
  • Focus on core identity: Even though the name has changed, the brand stuck to its primary offering, that is, the streaming service aspect which is the main USP.
  • Gradual transition: The brand made sure that the users get adjusted to the new reality by announcing rebranding through marketing campaigns and making platform adjustments, one step at a time.

What not to learn?

  • Losing brand differentiation: Being unique from the rest of the brands is crucial. Here, HBO Max can create confusion with other “Max” brands such as Max Fashion, Australian Max Beer, and Max Hamburgers.
  • Interfering the comfort of the audience: If HBO Max has cultivated a strong identity with specific viewer segments, a drastic name change could alienate them. 

Also read: 40 Rebrand Announcement Examples That Can Inspire Your Rebrand in 2023

3. Uber

Launched in 2009, Uber decided to rebrand to reflect the company’s evolution. But they underwent rebranding twice in three years. In the first attempt, the new logo and design choices received mixed reviews. Some users found it confusing and the change didn't resonate well with everyone. Again, in 2018, after listening to thousands of 

feedback from various riders and drivers, they tried to reposition themselves as a more accessible and transportation-friendly platform. They also brought back the infamous “U” and kept the word mark instead of a symbol. 

Uber's icon revolution

What to learn?

  • Clear purpose: A rebranding effort should align with the brand's values and mission. While Uber aimed for a broader image, some argued the message lacked enough focus.
  • Take feedback from the community: Involving key stakeholders like drivers and riders in the rebranding process can provide valuable insights and foster buy-in. Primarily, Uber focused on external perception before realizing where they slipped.

What not to learn?

  • Fast and furious: To match up with the current picture, you need to take time to study the market and decide whether rebranding is necessary at the moment to grow your brand.
  • Overlooking user feedback and sentiment: It can lead to a loss of trust. User experience and perception are essential, and companies should weigh the impact of rebranding on their existing user base.

Also read: Beyond Labels and Logos: Exploring the Psychology of Branding in the Consumer Goods Industry

4. MasterCard

MasterCard's failure to rebrand illustrates how a change of logo is important to the users in brand recognition. Imagine taking out one of your ATM cards from the wallet and you cannot suddenly recall the logo? Here, MasterCard dropped its word mark, leaving only color blobs. While simplicity was the goal, some argued that the brand lost its distinctive touch. 

MasterCard before and after logo
Source: Admind

What to learn?

  • Easy brand recognition: Evolution should not compromise uniqueness. The iconic interlocking circles logo held significant visual power and brand association. A new logo should resonate at a similar level.
  • Consider global impact: Disregarding the potential impact of a significant visual change can leave consumers across the globe confused. 

What not to learn?

  • Ignoring relationships: Consumers associate specific meanings with logos. A new design that contradicts these associations can be illogical and ineffective.
  • Failing to explain the transition: Communicating the reasons behind the rebranding and the future direction of the brand helps minimize chaos and maintain customer trust.

Also read: The Stress-free Small Business Rebranding Checklist

5. Airbnb

Airbnb's new logo faced criticism for its resemblance to certain anatomical features.

Airbnb current logo

The controversy forced the company to address the issue and defend their design by releasing the pictorial detailing of their logo called “Belo”. It comprises of 4 concepts - People, Places, Love, and Airbnb form the current logo of the brand.

Elements consisting the Airbnb logo

To add to the controversy, the logo had a resemblance to the logo of a start-up called Automation Anywhere which later, along with the former, released a joint statement saying that the logos were purely coincidental and there’s no copyright violation involved. 

What to learn?

  • Run a beta test: Thoroughly vetting a logo for potential cultural or controversial associations is crucial. Understanding different perspectives can help a brand avoid unintended discussions.
  • Highlighting core values: With this logo, Airbnb's focus on community, belonging, and global connection resonated with their core audience. The Bélo symbol and "Belong Anywhere" tagline effectively captured these values.

What not to learn?

  • Ignorance of opinion: Dismissing criticism and feedback on sensitive topics can lead to controversy. Acknowledging and addressing concerns shows commitment to social issues.

6. Gap

The world-renowned clothing retailer decided to revamp their classic blue box logo to signal a modern shift for two reasons: to grow customer engagement and to boost sales after the 2008 recession. However, the response from customers was swift and brutal, with many expressing their disapproval on social media. They even shared their dislike of the logo looking like a tech brand’s logo rather than a retail brand’s. Within 6 days of changing the logo, the brand had to revert to the old logo.

Source: The Branding Journal

What to learn?

  • Consistency is key: Any rebranding should reflect growth rather than a complete departure. By using a consistent logo, visual style, and messaging across all platforms you can create a strong and recognizable brand identity throughout.
  • Keep it simple: A clear and easily understood brand message avoids confusion and helps to build trust with consumers.

What not to learn?

  • Overworking on logo: It can lose sight of core values. Gap is all about casual and comfort clothing. Moving away from those values can put inclusivity at stake and disappoint loyal customers.
  • Impulsive decisions: In the age of social media, feedback is instant and widespread. Brands must actively listen to their audience and be willing to pivot if the response is overwhelmingly negative. If Gap had done this earlier, they wouldn't have lost around $100 million on rebranding (ouch).

7. Tropicana

Tropicana’s package always reminded us of the pleasingly fun and colorful visuals. But falling into the same pit, the brand redesigned its orange juice packaging, replacing the familiar image of juicy orange with a more abstract design, leaving consumers in dismay. The expected outcome was the opposite, yeah, there was a squeeze on sales.

Tropicana before and after
Tropicana rebranding

Also read: 10 Foundational Elements of Packaging Design - Artwork Flow

What to learn?

  • Visuals play an important role: A brand's packaging is often the first point of contact with consumers. Drastic changes can disrupt brand recognition. Total adjustments may be more effective in maintaining customer loyalty in this case.
  • Transparency and honesty: Consumers value authenticity and being informed about what they're consuming. Transparent packaging that reveals fruit content builds trust and avoids misleading impressions. Overall, the packaging should tell you the backstory in a single glance.

What not to learn?

  • Misleading packaging design: Obscuring the actual fruit content with generic imagery can damage trust and brand perception. Always stay true to your product or service.
  • Selling a different message: Tropicana's misstep underscores the importance of understanding the emotional resonance a brand has with its audience. After all, you are selling your product to the audience. Their opinion matters.

8. Pepsi 

Pepsi has a huge history of logo variations. In 2008, the brand invested heavily in a new logo, but the design faced criticism for its perceived similarity to President Obama's campaign logo and resembling close to their previous logo. However, the company continued to use both old and new logos.

Pepsi before and after logo
Source: Brand Fabrik

What to learn?

  • Use of a distinct logo: A logo should be unique and avoid unintended associations. The brand could have run with a single distinct logo without confusing the audience.
  • Maintaining brand elements is crucial: Retaining the iconic blue color and globe logo ensured continuity and brand recognition, preventing complete disregard of loyal customers.

What not to learn?

  • Overcomplicated designs can backfire: Introducing too many variations in packaging and logo elements confuses and dilutes the brand's visual identity.
  • Making drastic changes: Implementing an extensive rebrand without enough testing and consumer research proved to be a gamble, leading to mixed reactions and potential damage to the brand image.
  • Indecisiveness: Uncertainty regarding the use of old and new branding elements can baffle consumers. A clear and consistent approach is vital to maintaining a cohesive brand image.

9. Ben’s Original by Mars

Mars, the brains behind the OG M&M’s, also has a line of non-confectionery food products such as Uncle Ben’s, which sells rice and other food products that faced backlash in the wake of racial justice movements in 2020. After being in business for over 70 years, Uncle Ben’s had to be changed to Ben’s Original along with dropping the image of a Black man in a bow tie. However, the new brand lacked the distinct identity of its predecessor.

Ben's original before and after
Source: CMO

What to learn?

  • Addressing racial injustice: Ben’s Original has been in the business for over 70 years. While it took this long, dropping the racist imagery was a good move. 
  • Preserving brand recognition: Despite the changes, the brand did not forget to preserve their elements such as the orange background and blue font. 

What not to learn?

  •  Quick makeover: In the hustle to rectify errors and wipe off the poor reputation in the public, do not forget to take time to analyze the rest of the issues and devise plans smartly that don't stray away from your current branding. 
  • Neglecting social issues and emotional connection of consumers: Rebranding alone doesn't address systemic issues within the company. Prioritizing internal diversity and inclusion efforts is crucial. You should also communicate the motive behind the rebranding with your existing customers to keep them in the long run.

Also read: Company rebranding with Artwork Flow 

10. Aunt Jemima by PepsiCo

Again, amidst calls for racial sensitivity, Quaker Oats decided to retire one of their child brands for breakfast products, Aunt Jemima. Later, after the replacement, now known by Pearl Milling Company was taken over by PepsiCo. The company announced Pearl Milling Company will commit to empowering and uplifting Black girls and women in the coming weeks.  

Aunt Jemima before and after
Source: AdAge

What to learn?

  • Recognizing and confronting racial stereotypes: The Aunt Jemima character perpetuated the "mammy" stereotype, a racist caricature of Black women. Removing the image was essential for addressing racial injustice.
  • Taking steps towards inclusivity: Replacing Aunt Jemima with the Pearl Milling Company name symbolized a move towards a more inclusive brand identity.

What not to learn?

  • Action overdue: The brand faced criticism for years before taking action, highlighting the importance of prompt response to concerns regarding racist imagery. Hastily replacing a brand without thorough market research and cultural sensitivity can lead to a loss of identity. Brands should expect potential backlash and have a well-reasoned response in such cases.

How can you not make the same rebranding mistake

Rebranding is an intricate dance between evolution and preservation. These rebranding fails serve as cautionary tales, highlighting the need for strategic planning, a deep understanding of customer sentiment, and a commitment to maintaining brand integrity. 

After making a rebranding mistake, it can be difficult to bounce back from it. To make your rebranding process stress-free, we have got the best solution for you.

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  • Don’t want to stray away from your brand guidelines? Check.
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  • Want to focus on the bigger picture by resizing creatives for different mediums in one go?

Book a demo with Artwork Flow to see it for yourself!

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