The good, the bad and the ugly of corporate re-brands

Maddie Gulliver - 23rd January 2024

Join us as we unpick the bold and the brave is corporate rebrands. From WHSmith’s attempt to localise with “WHS” to British Petroleum’s bold shift to “Beyond Petroleum,” we, as specialists, have dissected the motives behind these transformations, sharing our unique perspective on their impact. Offering insights into the strategic decisions that shape brand identities.

WHSmith

WHSmith logo comparison

You may have seen WHSmith’s recent rebrand where it decided to test the waters by placing “WHS” on 10 of its storefronts. A temporary move to “localise their offer and highlight key product categories”.  Several people took to social media to point out that the new abbreviated logo bore an uncanny resemblance to the NHS logo, and we don’t disagree.

When you abbreviate your brand name, particularly to an acronym, you run the risk of losing part of the brands identity. For WHSmith, a heritage brand since 1792, it felt like sacrificing a piece of its rich history in the name of modernisation. Ironically, it’s the brand’s heritage that we all know and love about the centuries old brand.

Despite the logo design not being as well received as they might have hoped, it did achieve one thing – it did get people talking and, after all, who wants their rebrand to go unnoticed?

BP

BP Logo Comparison

In 2001, whilst experiencing some negative publicity, British Petroleum revealed a vibrant green sunburst logo and rebranded itself as BP, cleverly standing for “Beyond Petroleum”.

A strategic move aimed to re-position the energy giant as a champion of sustainability and innovation, signalling a departure from its traditional association with fossil fuels despite the conflicting reality of the industry they operate in.

This change in visual identity allowed BP to reposition itself, enabling the organisation to communicate differently about its actions and processes. Now, when BP advertises and discusses topics such as sustainable fuels and new developments, it doesn’t feel completely disconnected. As long as their actions match their words of course!

Twitter/X

Twitter Logo Comparison

After the acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk, the social networking platform underwent a significant transformation discarding its iconic blue bird emblem in favour of Elon’s favourite letter, “X”.

The aftermath of this revealed consequential shifts, including a notable 13% decline in daily active users and a substantial surge in negative app reviews, raising concerns among industry analysts about potential risks and the impact on Twitter’s long-established branding.

The newly appointed X CEO revealed “X is the future state of unlimited interactivity – centred in audio, video, messaging, payments/banking – creating a global marketplace for ideas, goods, services, and opportunities”.

From blogging to banking, as marketers, this shift raises questions about audience receptiveness and the adaptability of existing marketing strategies. Highlighting the need for a thoughtful approach while innovating a brand. If you’re going to learn anything from Mr Musk, it’s that strategic foresight and understanding a brand’s core are essential for a successful transformation.

Leeds United FC

Leeds logo comparison

Let’s cast ourselves back to 2018, when Leeds United FC undertook a club badge revamp. Despite a meticulous six-month design process involving input from over 10,000 individuals linked to the club, the new logo generated swathes of negative feedback within just 24 hours.

This fan response was rooted in a genuine attachment to the club’s heritage and traditions. Many supporters felt the new design lacked familiar elements with sentimental value. Football clubs can be strange businesses, but they are the most obvious examples of ‘customers’ having a strong emotional bond with a brand. Mess with a club’s heritage in a way the fans aren’t on board with and you’re creating a recipe for disaster

Thorough pre-project research is vital, emphasising a collaborative approach to craft an identity resonating with the brand’s history while embracing aspirations for a new era. On the surface, Leeds United FC did everything right. From their pre project research to listening to the fan feedback and re-accessing the crest, sometimes it can just be a delicate balancing act.

Eurostar

Eurostar Logo Comparison

Jumping into the Eurostar rebrand. The catalyst? A grand merger with Thalys, a French-Belgian train company with a robust heritage. The mission? To double passenger numbers to a whopping 30 million annually by 2030.

As a logo itself, Eurostar’s recent redesign looks pretty good. However, viewing it in the broader context of the complete brand overhaul reveals a strategic masterpiece. The train operator has cleverly employed the star as a graphic device throughout the new brand, coupled with a whimsical vintage illustration style. This dynamic approach adds a fresh new perspective to train travel, shifting its perception from a mere alternative to flying to a trendier and more appealing option instead.

This strategic shift aims to engage Eurostar’s current market and attract a broader, more eco-conscious audience. Blending traditional appeal with evolving consumer preferences. This approach is expected to significantly contribute to Eurostar’s ambitious growth targets by 2030.

Nationwide

Nationwide Logo Comparison

In Nationwide’s recent rebrand and as its first major overhaul in 36 years, of course, we couldn’t leave them off the list. With its brand-new look, the financial stalwart navigates the delicate balance between tradition and contemporary allure, crafting a brand that remains a cornerstone while embracing a modern identity. 

The subtle transformation of the iconic village icon into a simplified rising sun and the shift in colour to a nuanced darker blue with accent colour was a strategic manoeuvre in itself. In a world where Monzo and peers take the spotlight, Nationwide confidently strides alongside, embracing modernity while tipping its hat to its rich history.  

Nationwide now emerges as a bank finely attuned to the evolving needs of its diverse clientele while honouring its status as an old-school brick-and-mortar institution. For their customers, this demonstrates that as a bank they are embracing the modernity but still hold the same values. A strategic pivot that signals Nationwide’s readiness to navigate the evolving banking landscape, retaining its core identity for both traditional and modern consumers. 

In the intricate arena of rebranding, what can brand and marketing experts learn from the brands that have been there, done it and got the t-shirt?

  • Risk and Reward in Rebranding: It’s a journey filled with potential ups and downs. Careful planning and execution can lead to remarkable success.
  • Merging Innovation with Heritage: Embracing new ideas while honouring your brand’s legacy is key. This approach resonates with both new and longstanding customers.
  • Understanding Your Audience: Knowing how your audience might respond is crucial. Their perception can greatly influence your rebranding’s success.
  • Strategic Thinking is Essential: Aligning your brand with your company’s broader goals ensures lasting success and relevance.
  • Authenticity Matters: Your rebrand should reflect true changes within your company, beyond just a new look.

Whether you’re dreaming up a bold new direction for your brand, tweaking your current identity, or just curious about the art of rebranding, a little guidance can go a long way. Have a browse through our case studies below to see how a re-brand is done right and let’s explore how we can work together to craft a brand narrative that truly connects with your audience.

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