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Logo 2.0: The Power and Pitfalls of Rebranding

Intellectual Property Magazine
September 2012

Matheson, Julia Anne , Cooke, Whitney Devin

Article

Authored by Julia Anne Matheson and Whitney Devin Cooke

By now you have heard that Twitter introduced its new "simplified Twitter bird," announcing "Twitter is the bird. The bird is Twitter".

In its press release, Twitter explained the change stating, "there's no longer a need for text, bubbled typefaces, or a lower case 't' to represent Twitter".1 Twitter's new logo reflects its desire to create a universal symbol for Twitter while maintaining its ties to the little blue bird that helped make Twitter a household name.

Initial reactions to Twitter's new logo have noted the subtlety of Twitter's alteration of the old blue bird (shown below left). As one media outlet noted, the new bird resembles Twitter's old logo, "but appears to be slimmer and is also titled upward".

Twitter's introduction of a new logo highlights both the benefits and potential pitfalls of rebranding. Twitter's logo succeeds in that it frees the Twitter brand from its bubble-letter beginnings and enables Twitter to reach new global markets. Twitter's logo further capitalises on key tenets of Twitter's company philosophy: 'freedom, hope, and limitless possibility'. The subtlety of Twitter's rebranding efforts is one of its strengths and helps to maintain the instant recognition of the blue bird.

Why do companies like Twitter choose to update a famous logo and ignore the old adage, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'? The risks associated with rebranding–loss of customer recognition and goodwill, among others–can come with great reward, when rebranding is done correctly. A trademark owner may decide the time has come to rebrand to facilitate entry into a new geographic market or to reach a new demographic. Rebranding by dropping typography may be necessary to ensure a logo's global appeal, a fact that Twitter and other companies like Starbucks, McDonald's, and Apple have used to their advantage. A company may choose to rebrand when its logo appears out-of-date, or out-of-touch with the company's identity, which can evolve over time, as cultural trends come and go. This evolution results from organisational or cultural shifts. Other reasons to update a logo are less positive, i.e., when a company needs to dissociate itself from the negative aura surrounding a previous brand.

The motivations behind rebranding and its potential rewards are best understood by example. In 2011, Starbucks unveiled a new logo, one that featured its iconic woodblock siren design, but without the concentric circles that were so widely imitated and the STARBUCKS COFFEE typography.2 The resulting design is strongly visual–more than a subtle departure from the old logo–but still tied to the logo that made Starbucks famous around the world.

The new logo immediately elicited a strong response from consumers, in particular loyal Starbucks customers who called for a return to the familiar concentric circle logo. Like Twitter's new logo, Starbucks' rebranding effort showed a desire to reach international markets, as well as a desire to show Starbucks' evolution into more than a coffee company.

Despite some initial criticism, the new logo is a success, for a number of reasons, including Starbucks' "stick-to-it-ive-ness" for its new logo. Starbucks made the change in favour of its new logo swift and complete. Seemingly overnight, Starbucks stores replaced the old logo with the new logo on everything: cups, napkins, paper bags, displays, etc. This immediate and complete change signalled to consumers that the new logo was here to stay, and that it represented a new chapter in the company's history. In addition, Starbucks coaxed hesitant loyal consumers who missed the old logo back into the store by maintaining its high standards of quality.

Walmart's 2008 redesign of its logo serves as another example of a successful recent rebranding effort. For the first time in forty years, the Walmart logo appeared without a separator, such as a hyphen or a star.

Having grown into one of the world's most successful retailers from its first store opening in Arkansas in 1962, Walmart decided in 2008 that it needed to extend its appeal to a broader audience and refresh its identity. Walmart launched its new logo in connection with the slogan, 'Save money. Live better', as part of a campaign designed to emphasise both the financial and emotional benefits of shopping at Walmart.3

The new logo served as the centrepiece of this campaign, which included an overhaul of the in-store Walmart experience, with new interiors and signage. The revitalised logo signals a kinder, friendlier Walmart. Walmart's alteration of its logo is subtle enough to maintain a connection to the old Walmart logo, but powerful enough to communicate a new identity for a company many consumers thought they already knew.

Companies considering a rebranding may find inspiration from success stories like Starbucks and Walmart, but still remain intimidated by the rebranding process. This intimidation is justified, given the significant costs and potential pitfalls of rebranding. A company must consider not just the costs but a number of variables before starting the process. As mentioned in the Starbucks example, rebranding can entail a complete overhaul of everything from business cards to napkins, from cups to store signage to websites. Companies must perform searches to confirm the availability of a new design, to avoid potential legal blunders later on.

Rebranding does come with the risk of loss of recognition for a logo, particularly if the new logo is not sufficiently tied to the old logo. Some consumers may "vote with their feet" and walk away from a company when an old logo is cast aside in favour of a new one. Customers' alienation may be expected—after all, they, unlike the company, may not be tired of the old logo.

The spectre of unsuccessful rebranding serves as another deterrent. Two examples of the negative effects of rebranding are particularly illustrative: Gap and PepsiCo.

In 2008, PepsiCo announced that it would be spending $1.2bn over the course of three years to make sweeping changes to its brands, to revamp "every aspect of the band proposition of our key [soft drink] brands", including "[h]ow they look, how they're packaged, how they will be merchandised on the shelves, and how they connect with consumers".4 Pepsi's new logo included a red and blue design with a white band in the middle, designed to resemble a "smile".

The new logo received a tepid response, with many critics noting the fact that the price tag for the new logo was not reflected in the quality of the finished product. Other criticism pointed to the lack of resemblance between the new logo and Pepsi's earlier logos, noting how frequently Pepsi has changed its logo since the company's founding in 1898 (particularly when compared to its main competitor, Coca-Cola).

In 2010, Gap's attempt to update its famous white lettering inside a navy blue box was widely criticised by graphic designers, Gap customers, and the general public.

Instead of updating its logo by removing typography or accentuating one of its features (ala Twitter and Starbucks), Gap changed its logo dramatically, losing its classic white font in favour of the more common Helvetica and relegating its blue box to an exponent of the revamped Gap word mark.

Immediately after Gap announced its new logo, websites were launched to poke fun at it, websites that garnered thousands of "likes" on Facebook. Within one week, Gap ditched its new logo. One article's title highlighted the general disdain that grew out of the logo's launch: "The Science of Fail: Why the New Gap Logo Made Our Brains Angry".5

Gap not only failed to sustain a visual connection with its old logo, but likewise failed to communicate its intentions regarding the new logo. This failure was heightened by the speculation and harsh criticism found on social-media platforms like Facebook following Gap's announcement. Gap attempted to turn its failed redesign into a positive by using Facebook to solicit new designs, posting on its Facebook page, "We know this logo created a lot of buzz and we're thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding! So much so we're asking you to share your designs . . . We love our version, but we'd like to see other ideas. Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project".6

A logo redesign can be a non-event, when done well. A key aspect of any rebranding effort is the launch. If a company commits itself to its new logo and signals that it is here to stay, consumer attrition may be avoided (assuming that product quality remains the same, of course). In this regard, a comparison between the rebranding efforts of Starbucks and Gap is instructional. Starbucks demonstrated a complete commitment to its new logo while Gap tepidly introduced a new logo without taking the social-media response into account. While Starbucks' new logo remains in its stores to this day, Gap abandoned its proposed redesign within one week.

In addition to strategically planning the launch of the brand redesign, a company should consider the message the new logo is meant to convey. A redesign that communicates a new message or seeks a new demographic can reinvent and reenergise a brand that consumers thought they already knew. If a company carefully considers the costs and potential losses associated with rebranding, and avoids the potential pitfalls discussed above, rebranding can provide a new beginning, and an opportunity to reach new customers and new markets, to increase market share, and to target a new demographic. Through rebranding, a company can recommit itself to its core values and ensure that it stays relevant. What makes a logo, like Twitter's bird, endure is not the design per se, but the narrative story of the brand it represents. If rebranding efforts continue that narrative, the result can be a refreshed and repurposed logo that can really take off.

Endnotes 
1 http://blog.twitter.com/2012/06/taking-flight-twitterbird.html.

2 Steven Heller, "A Makeover for the Starbucks Mermaid", The New York Times, Jan. 8, 2011.

3 Press Release, "WalMart Refreshes Stores' Logo", available at http://www.walmartstores.com/pressroom/news/8411.aspx.

4 Natalie Zmuda, "PepsiCo Launches Massive Overhaul", Advertising Age, Oct. 14, 2008.

5 Tara Kelly, "The Science of Fail: Why the New Gap Logo Made Our Brains Angry", Time Newsfeed, available at http://newsfeed.time.com/2010/10/22/the-science-of-fail-why-the-new-gap-logo-made-our-brains-angry/.

6 Blake Ellis, "New Gap Logo Ignites Firestorm", CNNMoney.com, available at http://money.cnn.com/2010/10/08/news/companies/gap_logo/index.htm.

Originally printed in Intellectual Property Magazine (www.intellectualpropertymagazine.com). Reprinted with permission. This article is for informational purposes, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and may be considered advertising under applicable state laws. This article is only the opinion of the authors and is not attributable to Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP, or the firm's clients.

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