Up in Smoke
Whenever a company announces a rebrand, we’re reminded of one of yesteryear’s stranger moments. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, there was a fad where people were attaching Rolls Royce grills onto the front of VW Beetles. Anyone who’s seen the two cars knows a switched grill doesn’t do much to conceal the Beetle’s iconic identity or any of the strong connotations associated with its brand. The Beetle’s ever-consistent promise of practicality and affordability powered Volkswagen into its current status as the world’s largest automobile manufacturer. No grill changes that. Regardless, the mashup drew attention to itself and made appearances in Cheech and Chong’s “Up In Smoke”, baseball comedy “Major League”, and even had its own toy replica made by Revell. To be fair, the people who were doing this (probably) didn’t think they were fooling anyone. It fit a counterculture image and was likely done for the sheer absurdity of it. Still, the slapped-on nature of those strange cars blatantly masquerading as something they aren’t isn’t far off from what most modern companies who have “rebranded” end up looking like.
When we hear agencies boasting about “rebranding” an organization, we can usually expect their shiny new initiative to take the form of a new logo and tagline. Maybe even a new colorway, but certainly not much else.
Like changing the nose of a Beetle, these brilliant displays of hot air do virtually nothing to shift a brand strategically. Logos and taglines are merely brand identifiers, elements that represent the position of an organization or product in the minds of their consumers and competition. Drafting up a new version and calling it a day simply doesn’t cut it. A complete rebranding effort occurs only when an organization seeks to change their strategic focus, when they expand their project scope, undertake a merger or acquisition, or simply choose to set themselves apart from the competition in a new and genuine way. In every case, like branding, rebranding should account for the combined activities of the organization. The new brand must accurately reflect the changed offering, process, and culture of the organization. Successful rebranding efforts always start under the hood. If you choose to undertake a true rebrand, it’s vital that a clearly defined brand strategy is developed before any body work is even thought of — try it any other way and your rebrand won’t be much more than a junkyard facelift.